(This was partially written years ago as part of a walking-tour brochure of Franklinville, but I revised it recently to put a better face on the rather sad present condition of this historic factory, which is now Randolph County’s 3rd designated historic landmark.)
The 140-year story of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company has one of the best-documented visual histories of any North Carolina cotton textile factory. Portrait photographs of stockholders are known dating from the mid-1850s, the same time a professional artist, David L. Clark, lived in the community and left an extensive written account (although none of his sketches have been found). A daguerreotypist is listed in the 1860 census, and F.L. Ellison operated a photography business in the community during the latter 1800s. At the turn of the century, both Hugh Parks, Jr., the mill owner, and George Russell, the mill superintendent, were amateur photographers. Their work is now indistinguishable, as the oldest Franklinville photographs all descended among members of the Parks and Makepeace families, who were related to both Parks and Russell. Approximately the time of the 1923 sale of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company to Randolph Mills, Inc., George Russell compiled a an extensive written and photographic history of the mill in identical scrapbooks, one kept by him and one given to Hugh Parks, Jr. The Parks scrapbook descended to Carrie Parks Stamey, the middle daughter of Hugh Parks, Jr., and was copied in 1985. Mrs. Stamey also possessed a number of unique individual photographs, which were also copied at that time. The George Russell scrapbook descended to Margaret Williams of Franklinville, and was given to Mac Whatley in 1987. Most of the following pictures come from those scrapbooks, although various individual views are used from other sources now found in the Whatley collection. The quoted passages are taken from the written history of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company as found in the scrapbooks and compiled from the original corporate records, the location of which are now unknown.
Faith Rock. The power of water falling over a series of stone ledges in the path of Deep River is the whole reason manufacturing grew up at the place which became known as Franklinsville. As the river flows from Guilford County through Randolph County its level drops some five hundred feet. As it reaches Franklinville it strikes a huge stone outcropping known as Faith Rock and turns, creating a dogleg bend in the river. In 1782 Faith Rock was the site of a Revolutionary War confrontation between the pro-British Colonel David Fanning, who chased the Whig Andrew Hunter along the ridge and into the river. Soon after the spot was recognized for its industrial potential, and several speculative owners purchased land around the falls before the site was developed as a mill seat.
Coffin’s Mill on Deep River. Flour milling is Franklinville’s oldest activity. Tradition credits construction of the first mill to Christian Moretz (or Morris) in 1801. The 2 ½-story frame building shown here was about 30 x 30 feet in plan, and housed a wooden water wheel that powered three mill stones and a minimum of flour-processing machinery. By 1802 Morris was being taxed for the operation of a large cotton gin, and he also operated a saw mill and wool carding machine. The availability of such a variety of products and services led to the formation of a lively rural trading community even before Elisha Coffin bought the property in 1821. Much if not all of the building pictured must dated from the time of Coffin’s ownership, as the oversized twelve-over-twelve window sash are appropriate to the 1830s. The southern wall of the Boiler House is visible in the left background. In 1912 the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company replaced the antique grist mill with a greatly-expanded modern operation which used steel rollers instead of stones to grind the grain. That three-story “Roller Mill” opened in 1913, operated until 1990, and burned in 1992.
Elisha Coffin (b. 11-23-1779, d. 5-22-1870). Elisha Coffin was born in the New Garden section (now Guilford College) of Guilford County. He was the son of Quaker emigrants from the island of Nantucket who moved to North Carolina in the late 1760s and early 1770s, and both his father and grandfather had served as crew members on whaling voyages to the Arctic. Elisha Coffin learned the trade of a miller and millwright, buying and building a number grist mills in Guilford and Randolph. For 60 years Coffin’s family of Nantucket Quakers served as the liberal backbone and conscience of Piedmont North Carolina, spearheading the fight against slavery. The very year Elisha Coffin purchased the mill on Deep River, he and his father assisted nephew and first cousin Levi Coffin, “the President of the Underground Railroad,” in transporting escaped slave Jack Barnes to freedom in Indiana. Coffin ran the various mills on Deep River until 1838, when he allowed the new Randolph Manufacturing Company corporation to purchase the operation as an adjunct to textile manufacturing.
Island Ford Manufacturing Company, built 1846. No photograph or drawing of the original Randolph Manufacturing Company mill is known, but the Island Ford mill half a mile downriver was built 7 years later by Elisha Coffin, George Makepeace and a very similar group of investors. The two mills probably looked much alike, although the Island Ford mill was built of wood while the Franklinsville factory was of brick. (The two-story weave shed in the foreground was added to the Island Ford mill in the 1850s.) Construction began on the Franklinsville factory in the summer of 1838, and spinning and weaving operations started in March, 1840. The monitor roof effectively gave the mill four usable floors; in the Franklinsville factory it appears that this was used as the “dressing room,” where hot starch was applied to warp yarns. It was there that the fire started which destroyed the building on April 18, 1851.
Franklinsville Manufacturing Company. 1874. Samuel Walker, Agent. The west side of the mill, with all the employees lined up for the camera. A ladder leans against the gable roof. A Greek Revival-style bell cupola covers the northern gable peak, while a chimney stack rises from the southern end. Lighter-colored brick are clearly visible up to the level of the second floor joists, marked by cast iron tie-rod ends; this indicates where the original 1838 walls were found to be solid enough to build upon. There are at least forty workers posing on the ground, three on the tall ladder, and one sitting in a third-floor window. From March 21, 1859, the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company had been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Cedar Falls Company, under the supervision of George Makepeace. Ten looms designed to weave seamless cotton bags were installed in April, 1872, and ten more were installed in July, 1874. George Makepeace having died in December, 1872, the mill was now under the management of Samuel Walker.
George Makepeace (b. 9-19-1799, d. 10-9-1872). Makepeace learned the textile industry in small mills around Wrentham, Massachusetts, on the Rhode Island border not far from the birthplace of the textile industry in Pawtucket. Makepeace was hired by the Franklinsville company to install the machinery and train the workers. He was en route to Randolph County on December 25, 1839, when his daughter Lucy was born in Petersburg, Virginia. For many years Makepeace was one of the region’s only skilled experts in textile manufacturing, consulting with mills all around the Piedmont and training the next generation of North Carolina’s textile management. During the Civil War the Cedar Falls Company under Makepeace’s management was the largest integrated textile manufacturing operation in the state, processing raw cotton into yarn, cloth, and clothing. In 1862 he reported that the Company “had been furnishing the State Government for the past year with a large amount of its manufactures for the use of the Army and is now under contract to supply fifty thousand shirts and drawers for the army.”
Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1876). Taken from the northwest, with the northern gable end clearly visible, although the sun reflecting off what appears to be a metal roof is hiding the bell cupola in its glare. The lighter-colored brick of the original first floor is still visible, as are the two chimneys at the south end. Wooden board sidewalks are provided across gulleys and muddy tracks. There are approximately 35 people posing on the ground, and at least two looking out of third-floor windows. The factory had undergone three ownership changes in the previous two years. The Cedar Falls Company had sold the mill to the Randleman Manufacturing Company on July 28, 1875, but less than a year later, on the Centennial day of July 4, 1876, the partners Hugh Parks, Benj. Moffitt and Eli N. Moffitt bought the property for $24,500. Hugh Parks was then the Mayor of Franklinsville and the primary owner of the Island Ford mill downstream. “At this time the mill was a three-story brick building, 40 x 80 feet, with picker room, 34 x 40 feet, built of stone and some distance from the main building. The mill was then equipped with twenty looms for weaving seamless bags, and the necessary preparatory machinery. The only bag made then was a 16 ounce bag, branded ‘Franklinsville,’ which had both double warp and double filling. Hugh Parks and Benj. Moffitt took charge of this mill at once, keeping James F. Carter, Overseer of Carding; Nathan A. Fergerson, Overseer of Spinning; and Jesse P. Arledge, Overseer of Weaving. It was only a short time until Hugh Parks put in Matthew Sumner [as] Superintendent, who was also Superintendent of the Island Ford Manufacturing Company.”
Stockholders of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company, 1876. On January 26, 1877, the three partners formed a corporation, contributing $30,000 of capital in shares valued at $500 each. The first stockholders meeting was held March 28, 1877, at which Hugh Parks was elected President, Benj. Moffit Secretary- Treasurer, and Eli N. Moffitt, director. The new capital was used to modernize the mill’s equipment.
Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1883). Hugh Parks, Sr., Pres. Benj. Moffitt, Sec. & Treas. Baling Room Completed. The factory has undertaken a major expansion in the intervening 7 years. In July 1879 the old throstle spinning frames were replaced with ring spinning frames purchased from and erected by the Lowell Machine Shop. A spooler was installed at the same time. In February, 1880, new railway heads, drawing frames and speeders were erected, and in December 1880 and January 1881 a new picker and eighteen cards were installed. A two-story addition was built to the mill in July 1882. Called the Wheel House or Engine House, this wing was much more elaborate architecturally than the old mill, having brick quoins at each corner and gothic-style hood moldings over doors and windows. The wing provided space for a new water wheel and the first steam boilers and engine, which were installed and started for the first time on November 24, 1882. The smokestack for the boilers is visible at the south end of the Wheel House. At some undisclosed time the 1850’s gable roof was replaced by a flat roof with paneled brick parapets. This was undoubtedly done to qualify for insurance protection by one of the Factory Mutual insurance companies based in New England. The Factory Mutual companies had determined that the wooden trusses of gable roofs were fire hazards, and promoted replacement by flat roofs built with “slow-burn,” or solid tongue-and groove decking, construction. The one-story Baling Room housed the printing, sewing, baling and shipping operations of the mill. The Baling Press was operated by the rope-drive pulleys punched through the walls of the mill and separate Baling Room wing. A new picker, eight more cards, a spooler, a warper, and ten more looms were also installed at this time. This new equipment heralded the weaving of the first 14-ounce bags, having a double warp and single filling. The new product was branded “Parks,” in honor of the company’s President, Hugh Parks.
Group Employee Picture, Franklinsville Manufacturing Company, ca. 1885. The group is assembled in the mill yard between the oil or waste house and the mill, facing the company store, where the photographer stands. Oil for lubrication and lamps was housed in a separate building from the factory, as were rags and cotton waste used for cleaning.
Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1886). Taken from the southeast, with the 1838 stone Picker House in the foreground. The Wheel and Engine Houses are still just two stories, and it is obvious that the boilers are fired with wood. Four different weights of seamless bags were now made in the mill, the increase having been made possible by the addition of a slasher, which made lighter weights of yarn suitable for weaving by strengthening them with starch. “In February 1884 the first slasher was put in, which was known as a hot air slasher and was made here in the mill. It was in March of the same year when the first single warp bags were made. They were a 12 ½ ounce bag branded ‘Chapman,’ and an 11 ounce bag branded ‘Dover.'” These products proved popular, and increased the demand for bags beyond the mill’s capacity to spin lower counts of yarn. Therefore, in 1887, a 17×40 foot addition was made on the west side of the Picker House, “and five new Lowell spinning frames and a new spooler were added, and the manufacturing of Chain Warp began, by use of the Circular Mill.” In October 1888 the Baling Room was expanded and the first cylinder slasher was installed. By 1893 the demand for seamless bags was such that ten more looms were installed, and in 1894, as the orders for single warp bags increased and those for double warp bags lessened, it became necessary to add two more cylinders to the slasher. The first self-feeder and opener was installed in the Picker House in February, 1896.
Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1892) Hugh Parks, Sr., Pres.; Benj. Moffitt, Sec. & Treas. Tower Completed. The most obvious new feature is the brick tower positioned at the northeast corner of the original building. “Up until 1892 all the roving and yarn were carried in bags, up and down the steps, by boys; but after the tower was built and the elevator installed, the task was made much lighter.” A separate tower for stairs was another requirement of the Factory Mutual companies, as the old open stairways inside the mill could act as chimneys during a fire. Besides new stairs and an elevator, the tower also supported a wooden water tank feeding the new sprinkler system. Even though the scrapbook label clearly states that the above picture dates to 1892, when the tower was completed, it appears that it actually dates to 1895, as a third story is obviously present atop the 1882 Wheel and Engine House. “In 1895 the third story was built on the engine room; and two new Hopedale twisters were put in, replacing the old ones, for making selvage for bags and twine for hemming.”
Employee Group Picture, ca. 1895. The employees are assembled in front of the stair tower, facing the company store.
Smoke Stack. Built 1897. “In October 1896 J.E. Duval started the first dynamo in this mill, and then tallow candles and kerosene lamps became a thing of the past.” But the boilers and draft stack of 1882 proved inadequate to handle both the increased production of the mill and the new technology of the 1890s. “In 1897 a new engine room, 19×36 feet, an addition to the boiler room and a new smoke stack were built, and a new boiler and engine were installed and started on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1897, by Benajah T. Lockwood of Providence, R.I.” The double door under the shed roof led into the boiler room. The steam engine was located in the wing to the left of the door. The dynamo was evidently a D.C. generator, as the subsequent 1920 turbine boiler powered the first AC generator. “The old No. 1 Keeler boiler was sold and delivered to Kersey-Carr Company on February 23, 1921.”
1897 Franklinsville Mfg. Co. Corliss-type steam engine. The original steam engine installed by the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company in 1882 had been purchased from the William A. Harris Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Harris had worked with the original George Corliss company before starting his own factory, and specialized in large mill engines using the highly-efficient Corliss valve gear. The original engine had a 14″ diameter piston with a 36″ stroke; its flywheel was 11 feet in diameter. On July 29, 1897, the Franklinsville company ordered a new engine having an 18″ piston, 42″ stroke, and 13-foot flywheel designed to carry a 24″ leather belt to power the mill’s lineshafting. After installation the engine was used continuously until December 23, 1920, after which the mill was renovated for electrical drive. On July 21, 1921 the engine was sold and removed to C.R. Preddy of Builder’s Sash and Door Company of Rocky Mount, N.C. On April 5, 1933, it was again sold and moved to Williams Lumber Company of Wilson, N.C. Williams Lumber was bought out by Stevenson Millwork in 1965, and the engine operated until that business was liquidated in 1972. It was disassembled and stored in a field in Smithfield until 1977, when it was purchased by Shell Williams of Godwin, N.C. Williams moved the engine to his home on U.S. 301 in northeast Cumberland County and re-erected it on a concrete block foundation. It was located there in 1995, and identified from the original W.A. Harris records now in the possession of the New England Museum of Wireless and Steam. Inside the upper half of the flywheel is faintly visible, in red paint, “Franklinsville Mfg. Co., Franklinsville, N.C.”
Unloading Water Wheel (1909). The mill’s original power undoubtedly came from one or more wooden water wheels, probably of the breast (or “pitch-back”) type. The type of “new” water wheel installed in 1882 is unknown. In the major expansion of the mill of 1899, a 44-inch Leffel turbine wheel was installed and started August 14, 1899. The dynamo which provided lighting in the mill was run by this wheel until 1901, when a separate steam engine was installed for that purpose. In 1909 the old water wheel and water house was torn out, and a 285-horse power horizontal turbine wheel was installed by D.J. Heiston and Jake Lindemuth of the S. Morgan Smith Company of York, Pa. After conversion of the mill to electric drive in 1920, the turbine was used as back-up power for emergency pumps until about 1940. The wheel housing visible on the railroad car still exists in place under the mill, although the runner wheel appears to have been removed.
Seamless Bags made by Franklinsville Mfg. Co., 1901. “The double warp bags were discontinued this year, as the demand was for a single warp and single filling bag; this required more slashing, and a new two cylinder slasher was installed in August, 1901. This year the brands were changed; the 16 ounce bag was branded “Atlantic;” and the 14 ounce bag, “Lone Star.” In 1915 the corporate secretary wrote, “Some months ago Hugh Parks, Jr., saw the destiny of seamless bags, and after visiting Baltimore and New York, decided that the best thing to do was to make a complete change and to manufacture sheetings instead of bags. It was decided to build an addition (52×73) to the weave room and install 160 looms, for weaving sheetings, and the necessary preparatory machinery. In January, 1916, all the bag looms were thrown out; and the last bag was woven by Arthur Ellison on January 30, 1916. Arthur Ellison gave up his position in the weaving room January 30, 1916; when Hugh B. Buie was put in charge of the room. The last bags (22 bales) were shipped November 16, 1917 for the account of Amon Green & Co., Baltimore, Md., to Carleton Dry Goods Co., St. Louis, Mo. These bags were sold April 19, 1915.
Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1913). Benj. Moffitt, Pres. Hugh Parks, Jr., Sec.-Treas. Taken from one of the wooden bridges which crossed the head race, this view looks northeast toward the south sides of (from left to right) the Picker House (now two stories); the Baling House (in the center, now also two stories and housing the slasher, the drawing-in room, the warper room, and spooling); the main mill; the Wheel House (now three stories); the Engine House (one story); the Boiler Room (one story, but having a gable roof with clerestory). The shed porch on the far right belongs to the new Roller Mill, out of sight.
The Franklinsville Mfg. Co. Roller Mill, circa 1920. Built in 1912 and put into operation in 1913, the roller mill made Excelsior brand flour. Later the Excelsior brand was limited just to whole wheat flour, and the new Dainty Biscuit brand was given to more refined white flours. Its drive wheel shared the head race water with the cotton mill until conversion to electric drive.
Construction of the Feed Mill, 1936. This is a detail taken from a larger view from Faith Rock across Deep River, looking northeast. A major expansion of the roller mill operation in the late 1930s provided for increased sales of chicken, rabbit, horse, mule, goat and hog feeds. The terra cotta tile silos were built for wheat storage. The three-story 1899 wing of the cotton mill and the one-story 1915 weave shed are visible in the center of the picture.
Expansion of the Card Room, circa 1944. During World War II John W. Clark received special permission for extensive remodeling and repair of the 100-year-old facility. Steel girders and I-beams recycled from other buildings were used to create a new support structure for the mill, completely independent of the exterior brick walls. The Opening, Picker and Card Rooms were expanded into the court yard between the old wings by bulldozing the intervening hills.
The “Upper Mill” area of Randolph Mills, Inc., circa 1950. Taken by Aero-Pix of Raleigh, this aerial photograph shows the entire complex of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company. The original mill, as expanded in 1899, is at left center; the Baling Room wing to its right and the Picker House just about that. Across the road is the 1884 Company Store, then serving as the machine shop. Directly above it is the 1919 Power House and Smokestack (125 feet, 2 ¾ inches of radial brick on a fifteen-foot-deep foundation of crushed stone and concrete, demolished about 1975). Heading west from the Power House is a house used by the company as a hotel, now the site of the company garage. From there to the dam was the original location of the company stables and barn, and the cotton gin. On the opposite side of the head race just below the dam is the Peanut House; across the road from there is the Chicken Hatchery; adjoining it is the antebellum residence of the President of the Company; then the Feed Mill and Roller Mill.