Naomi Wise

June 3, 2009

Tomorrow is my 22nd annual walk and talk on Randolph County history for the Asheboro-Randolph Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber’s “Leadership Randolph” program was the whole reason I started this blog several years ago, and the reason I developed the Randolph County Chronology and Bibliography that are attached to the blog. In my attempt to get things down in writing that I’ve spoken to the class about for years, I’ve written more here this year than in all the other years combined. Some major topics I have avoided, however, because they really need a modern, in-depth treatment—more than I can usually justify on this site.

Naomi Wise is one of those topics. The nutshell version is that Naomi Wise, an unmarried Randolph County girl, was supposedly drowned by her lover, Jonathan Lewis, in a lover’s quarrel in April 1807. Beyond that, details vary, but over the years the story was set to song, and became very popular. The song is now considered the oldest American murder ballad, and its music is actually the living landmark of the event.

The murder on which the song is based really happened in Randolph County more than two hundred years ago, yet sadly, little physical evidence remains. The tombstone shown above is located in the graveyard at Providence Friends Meeting, on Providence Church Road west of New Salem Road in Providence Township, Although a hundred or more years old, the stone is not original; it moreover bears an inaccurate date of her death. Perhaps that makes it the perfect emblem of the story of Naomi Wise.

I’ve told the story for Leadership Randolph, and lately in the computerized multimedia age I’ve played the 60s Doc Watson version on CD through my Jeep speakers. Here’s the 21st-century equivalent, the embedded YouTube video of the Doc Watson recording-

Doc Watson is just the most contemporary artist who has sung a version of this song. Folkorists such as Bascom Lamar Lunsford and others have collected and recorded other versions, with widely-varying lyrics. As discussed at length in the most recent publication on the subject [NAOMI WISE: Creation, Re-Creation and Continuity in an American Ballad Tradition,” by Eleanor R. Long-Wilgus (Chapel Hill: The Chapel Hill Press, 2003)], the many versions of the ballad occurred as a lost original version was gradually passed down from singer to singer since the actual events occurred.

(a copy of the ballad of Naomi Wise in the handwriting of Miss Laura Worth, on a 1920s voter registration form)

The “standard” version of the ballad is the one attached to the 1851 narrative story by Braxton Craven entitled “Naomi Wise: Or, The Wrongs of a Beautiful Girl.” Craven, the headmaster at that time of the Normal College, soon to be Trinity College and ultimately Duke University, romanticized the story so as to make Naomi Wise an innocent victim and heroine of the story in a fashion that is still familiar with the Lifetime movie channel, Nancy Grace and Greta van Susteren on cable TV. In Craven’s story, the innocent virginal 18-year-old orphan girl was lured to her doom by a dastardly sexual predator who was ultimately caught and punished for his crime. That’s the version perpetuated in the ballad text printed by Craven, and in its numerous reprintings and transfigurations over the years. It’s a version that was probably written to conform with the age-old English song tradition of “Murdered Girl” ballads.

A story I’ll tell you

About Naomi Wise,

How she was deluded

By John Lewis’ lies….

He promised to meet me

At Adams’ springs;

He promised me marriage

And many fine things…

I got up behind him

And straightway did go

To the banks of Deep River,

Where the water did flow…

“No pity, no pity,”

The monster did cry;

“In Deep River’s bottom

your body shall lie.”

The wretch them did choke her,

As we understand,

And threw her in the river,

below the mill dam….

(The Story of Naomi Wise was once considered the signature event of the Randleman area, and for several years high school students acted it out in a spring pageant on the riverside. But the bicentennial of the event in 2007 passed without notice.)

As Eleanor Long-Wilgus discusses briefly in her much longer analysis of the ballad lyrics, the true story is, as usual, much less black and white. A detailed analysis of the history behind the ballad can also be found in “Omie Wise: The Ballad as History,” by Molly Stouten, published in Spring 1997 issue of The Old-Time Herald magazine. Hal Pugh, owner and operator with his wife Eleanor of the New Salem Pottery, are modern Randolph County’s guardians of this story, and have done more research than anyone else I know about Naomi Wise (publish! Publish!) In recent years an early 19th century document has been discovered in the Special Collections of the UCLA Library which is the only contemporary account of the event. Entitled “A true account of Nayomy Wise,” it is a lengthy poem found in a penmanship copybook belonging to Mary Woody and her brother Robert Woody.

“To Such as here [hear] and Wants to Know

A Woman Came Some years ago

Then from a Cuntry named by hide [Hyde County, in eastern NC?]

In Randolph after did reside

And by Some person was defil’d

And So brought forth a bastard Child

She Told her name neomy Wise

Her carnal Conduct Some did despise

It was not long till She’d another

That might be Call’d a basturd’s Brother…”

The actual story appears to be that unmarried Naomi Wise was in 1807 already the mother of Nancy (b. 1799) and Henry Wise (b. 1804), and was probably pregnant by Jonathan Lewis, a well-to-do store clerk employed by Benjamin Elliott, the Clerk of Superior Court and future owner of the Cedar Falls cotton factory. The “Bastardy Bonds” for Nancy and Henry can be found in the Randolph County papers at the NC State Archives (for years they were hidden by local historian Laura Worth, who disapproved of the facts). Following the child support law of the time, Naomi charged each father with “begetting a child on her body;” each man then posted a bond publicly insuring that the county would never have to pay to support their children.

(Cost sheet from November 1810 term of Superior Court, showing the expenses of arresting and holding Jonathan Lewis for trial.)

Apparently the argument between Naomi Wise and Jonathan Lewis arose when she revealed her pregnancy, but demanded that Lewis marry her rather than post a Bastardy Bond. Lewis was in fact charged with her murder, jailed after the inquest, but escaped before trial. He fled to Elk Creek Indiana, where he was eventually re-arrested and extradicted back to Randolph County. Jonathan Lewis was tried and acquitted for the murder of Naomi Wise in 1811 (all of these court records are in the state Archives).

What physical evidence remains beyond the site of her grave?

“He promised to meet me at Adams’ Springs” — Adams’ Spring is located on the west side of Brown Oaks Road, about a hundred yards south of the Woolen House (NS:11, p. 116 of my architecture book) which fronts on New Salem Road.

The local school was once located near the spring, which was for many years marked by a gazebo. Nothing marks the spot now, save oral tradition.

To the left of the shed in the grainy newspaper photograph above is a piece of paper tacked to an almost-invisible stump—the very one, it was said, used as a mounting block for Naomi Wise to mount Jonathan Lewis’ horse and ride to her death. This is the kind of local landmark once a common part of every historic site, but gradually lost to the passage of time and the deaths of all those with first, second or third-hand knowledge of the event. Compare the open landscape of the early-20th-century photo with the modern view of trees, weeds, scrub pines and brambles…

Finally, the site of the murder survives: Naomi Falls, taken near dusk from the Naomi bridge over Deep River. The camera position is just west of the site of the remodeled Peter Dicks Mill (see that entry), and the distant rocks in the center water mark the site of the falls and ford once covered by the dam impounding water to power the 1881 Naomi Cotton Mill. Here it is in daylight….

And here, a hundred years ago- Victorian picnickers at the site of the murder….

(from the historical photograph collection of the Randolph Room, in the Asheboro Public Library.)

There you have it—Randolph County’s most famous murder.  Both more, and less, than local history recognizes.

NOTES:

Here’s the wikipedia link:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omie_Wise .  The article perpetuates some errors but includes a good general overview of the topic.

Here’s an internet transcription of the classic Manley Wade Wellman retelling of the tale in his book Dead and Gone; it is by far the most readable version of the story:  http://www.allredfamily.org/naomiwise.htm .

Local historian Calvin Hinshaw says that he was told back in the 1950s by New Salem resident George Newman Hinshaw that the narrative poem first printed by Braxton Craven was written by Levi Beeson and his mother soon after the event.  The format of the poem copies a traditional “ballad of experience,” which always begins with a call to the audience (“Come all ye-“) and then proceeds to explain the sad story of the subject victim.

There are MANY different versions and printings of the original Craven story, and even more versions of the ballad.  The original ballad, reconstructed by Eleanor Long-Wilgus, was said to have been sung to the hymn tune “How Firm a Foundation,” composed in the 18th century by Anne Steele (It works- try it with the Craven ballad transcription).   Two of the most recent singers to try out the ballad are Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello- quite a journey from the banks of Deep River in 1807!

Franklinville Methodist Cemetery

May 24, 2009

Franklinville M.E. Church Cemetery, ca. 1900; taken by George Russell?; author’s collection.

On this Memorial Day weekend I am speaking to the good people attending the Homecoming Services at the Mount Tabor United Methodist Memorial Chapel in Jackson Creek, and in a few days I’ll post pictures of that interesting little church and cemetery.

Appropriately, Memorial Day was originally (in 1868) begun as a way to honor the Yankee war dead, as family members “decorated” their graves with flowers. I’m offering here my favorite historic photograph of a cemetery, to illustrate the MASSIVE changes that have taken place over the past hundred years in our attitudes about honoring the dead. (The name wasn’t changed to Memorial Day until 1882, and for historical completeness I will note that Confederate Memorial Day in North Carolina occurred each May 10th, the anniversary of the death of Stonewall Jackson).

This photo shows the Franklinville Methodist Church Cemetery, part of the original 1830s village. It now crowns the hill top across from my home, the Coffin-Makepeace House, built originally by Elisha Coffin and for generations the home of George Makepeace family (for a thumbnail sketch see http://macwhat.googlepages.com/franklinvilleresidences – someday I’ll have a much longer post).

The “Factory House” in Franklinville was in full operation by March, 1840 [ Southern Citizen, 21 January 1840]; also in operation by that time was the Franklinville Methodist Church. On August 14, 1839, Elisha Coffin deeded a 1.64 acre tract to Phillip Horney, Alexander S. Horney, Elisha Coffin, Bethuel Coffin, and J.M.A. Drake, “Trustees for the Methodist Episcopal Church…who shall erect thereon a house or place of worship.” [Deed Book 24, page 190, Randolph County Registry]. The Quarterly Conference of the Randolph Circuit was held in the Franklinville Church on March 2, 1840, the church having been rapidly completed over the winter.  The congregation was five years old before a cemetery became necessary.  The oldest known burial is that of William Arnold (1786-1844), just east of the brick cemetery.  That grave, however, was not included in “half an acre laid out for a burying ground” deeded from Elisha Coffin the Phillip Horney, Alexander S. Horney, Benjamin F. Coffin, John M. Coffin, John Miller, John Hendricks, Joshua Pool, Trustees of the Franklinsville Methodist Church, on November 2, 1844.  The next oldest known burial is that of “Marcara” McCuiston Coffin (1778-1845), wife of Elisha Coffin.  Mrs. Coffin’s grave was specifically included in one-quarter of an acre deeded by Elisha Coffin to members of his family on July 5, 1848, and now known as the “Brick Cemetery”.

The Brick Cemetery, enclosing the grave of Marcara McCuiston Coffin, the Horneys, and the Makepeace family.

The Brick cemetery (a 4-foot-tall brick wall about 15 by 30 feet) isn’t visible in the historic photograph, but it is an example of the first rule of pre-20th century cemeteries: they were all enclosed with walls or fences, to keep out the horses, cattle and swine which ranged free across the landscape up to the time of the enclosure votes of the 1890s. The “Stock Law” votes reversed the ancient custom of stock ranging free on the ‘common lands,’ and thereafter livestock were required to be kept inside their owner’s fence. The wooden pale fence that still enclosed the entire Franklinville cemetery in 1900 is visible in the upper right background, and was the only part of the cemetery that was maintained by the church; by the 1920s it had been removed.

Maintenance of a cemetery has always been the responsibility of the “owner,” but the conception of who owns a cemetery has changed during the 20th century. At the time of the photograph, Franklinville residents would have said that the family of the deceased owned the plot that their loved one was buried in. Therefore, it was the family’s responsibility to keep the plot properly maintained. This picture shows us what proper maintenance looked like in the 19th century: 1. Each burial plot is individually marked with both headstone and footstone; 2. Each burial plot is properly mounded with dirt, to hide the inevitable sinking of a plot as the coffin and its contents decomposed; 3. The marble markers are kept clean and polished; 4. No weeds or grass are allowed to desecrate the surface of a grave.

At least once a year, but especially around Decoration Day, families would assemble in the cemetery to whitewash the fences, straighten the stones, repair or replace wooden markers (since only the wealthy could afford store-bought marble and granite), haul in extra dirt to top off the mound, and hoe out the invasive grass and weeds. That grew into a tradition of returning to the old family church for Homecomings and Dinners on the Ground, a tradition of country churches all over the South now coupled to Mothers Day or Fathers Day instead of Memorial Day (now more the starting gun for summer vacation than for remembering our war dead).


Franklinville Methodist Cemetery, May 24, 2009. Taken by the author from the same position as the historic photo above. The camera position is just off the southwest corner of the brick cemetery, looking west from the driveway separating the brick cemetery from the Victorian section of the grave yard.

As Americans became more mobile in the 20th century, families no longer lived in the community and attended their traditional family church. Gradually the church itself began to assume responsibility for maintaining the cemetery, and maintenance by committee revolutionized the look of country cemeteries. The first and the biggest change was in the grass- or actually, in the end of the complete and total lack of grass. Modern cemeteries are maintained, a great expense in time and energy, in the same fashion as 20th-century lawns came to be maintained- as open monocultural fields of non-native perennial grass. This resulted in shaving away of the mounds of dirt above each plot, and the loss of all footstones, so that lawnmowers didn’t have to negotiate these hazards. (Such things aren’t allowed on a golf course, so obviously they shouldn’t be allowed in a cemetery- right?) And as push mowers became riding mowers, and as riding mowers became bigger and bigger, even headstones were considered hazards. (This is why modern “memorial parks” require headstones flush with the ground, so mowers can ride right over them), and examples of these can be found right beside the brick cemetery).


More and more, headstones in cemeteries are considered obstacles to traffic, and only certain approved types of markers are allowed. The cast iron, painted wood and pottery markers that many Randolph County cemeteries once sported are long gone (some of the pottery markers have been preserved in museums, ironically).

Another change began in the 1980s, as shrinking small engine technology produced light-weight string trimmers (a/k/a “weed eaters”). This has also been deadly to tombstones, especially the oldest slate and soapstone markers, stones which were chosen because they were soft enough to be easily carved in the days before mass-market marble and granite. In any contest between soft stone and weed eater, the centripetal force of the nylon string will win. Early string trimmers ran between 3000 and 5000 RPM; 21st century trimmer commonly turn 10,000 or more RPM.


The result is ancient monuments being worn away where the base meets the ground surface, until they look like sharpened pencils. Then the weakened stones become even more vulnerable to riding lawnmowers driven like bumper cars.

There are of course people who argue against treating historic cemeteries like golf courses; the National Park Service recently hosted a national conference about cemetery preservation (http://www.ncptt.nps.gov/index.php/cemetery-landscape-preservation-workshop/ ). But even well-meaning people can go off track: I think of a large church cemetery north of Franklinville which raised money to sandblast its collection of headstones. It cleaned the mildew and moss off the marble, making them pearly white in the sun. But sand-blasting eroded the carving so that many markers are now almost impossible to read. Discolored marble can best be cleaned with a mild abrasive hand cleaner, a plastic bristle brush, a bucket of water, and some effort. Lichen and mildew can be killed by brushing a Chlorox solution on the stone.

I know of no historic cemetery which has been ‘restored’ in the way buildings have been, but it’s not impossible. We would just have to recover an appreciation for what our ancestors considered respect to the dead and responsibility to our ancestors. Instead we homogenize our cemeteries to remove all of their historic character.

NOTE:  Here is a blog showing the ongoing restoration of the old First Presbyterian cemetery in Greensboro, now the back yard of the Greensboro Historical Museum.  It is a fascinating read, and just the kind of thing I wished to see above.  The restoration company, Stone Setters Gravestone Repair [ http://www.stonesetters.biz/index.html ] are doing fantastic work.  I wish I had the money to set them loose on our Franklinville Methodist cemetery! (August ’09)

Coffin’s Mills

May 21, 2009

Coffin’s Mills, 1912, from the George Russell album of Franklinsville Mfg. Co. Author’s Collection.

Flour milling is Franklinville’s oldest activity. Since at least 1801 the falls of the river there powered a grist and saw mill which had in turn nurtured a small community of shops and houses. In 1821 those mills were acquired by Elisha Coffin; from him the settlement took its name, “Coffin’s Mills,” and became the site of one of North Carolina’s oldest textile factories.

That’s Franklinville history in a nutshell, but the answers to the basic “who, what, when and where” questions of the town’s founding are all more complicated.

The first person known to have held title to the site of Franklinville was Jacob Skeen, who in 1784 received it as a grant from the State of North Carolina [See Randolph County Deed Book 2, p.136 (State to Jacob Skeen, 2 Nov. 1784) and Book 4, p.108 (Skeen to daughter Jane, 23 Sept. 1790)]. In 1795 Skeen’s daughter and heir, Jane Safford, and her husband Revel Safford, sold the 400-acre tract to George Mendenhall, who in turn sold it to Benjamin Trotter, both of whom could recognize good mill real estate [Book 17, p.226 (Jane & Revel Safford to George Mendenhall, 9 Sept. 1795) and Book 8, p.401 (Mendenhall to Benjamin Trotter, 28 July 1797)]. Both men were millers, but it is unclear whether they made any use of the site, and their intentions may have been purely speculative. Mendenhall owned the substantial mill on Deep River now known as Coletrane’s Mill, and he seems to have acquired sites for other mills as investments. In 1801, Trotter sold the property to Christian Morris; that deed refers to “Benj’n Troter of Randolph County and State of No. Carolina (Miller).” [Deed Book 8, p.441 (Trotter to Christian Moretz, 15 Oct. 1801)].

Either Mendenhall or Trotter could have been the first to utilize the property as the site of a grist mill. Local tradition, however, states that the first mill at the site was built by the 1801 buyer, Christian Morris (or Moretz), a member of the German community in northeastern Randolph. [J.A. Blair, Reminiscences of Randolph County, 35 (Greensboro: Reece & Elam, 1890)].

Whether or not Morris built the first mill, by 1802 he was being taxed for the operation of a large cotton gin (verbal shorthand for ‘engine’). Invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, the unpatented invention spread quickly around the South, and Randolph County had five gins subject to taxation the year Morris erected his machine. [“Return of the Cotton Machine for the Year 1802,” in Randolph County Miscellaneous Tax Records, C.R. 081.701.5, North Carolina State Archives]. Morris’s was one of the larger machines, featuring 30 saws designed to pull the cotton fibers from the seeds. Since Morris also operated a wool-carding machine and saw mill at the mill, it appears that the site rapidly acquired the characteristics of a rural trading community. At the tiny frame mill a farmer could have his corn and grain ground into flour, have his timber sawed into lumber, gin the seeds from his cotton, and have the wool from his sheep carded for his wife to spin into yarn.

Morris died about the year 1812, and his extensive property holdings were divided among his children by the county court. Morris’ oldest son, John, received the mill tract, but since he had moved to Lincoln County, North Carolina, someone else must have run the mill until it was sold to James Ward in 1818. [Deed Book 14, p.124 (John Morris to James Ward, 2 April 1818)].


Elisha Coffin, taken about 1855.

Elisha Coffin (23 November 1779 – 22 May 1870) was a son of Nantucket Quakers who moved to the New Garden community (now Guilford College) in the 1770s. In 1816 he purchased a mill site on the Uwharrie River (Deed Book 13, Page 127), but soon sold that and purchased the Deep River mill from Ward [Deed Book 14, p. 531 (Ward to Elisha Coffin, 25 Dec. 1821)]. Owner and operator of several other mills in Guilford and Randolph Counties mills, Coffin was also a farmer, merchant and politically active Justice of the Peace. He organized a group of investors under the name of “The Randolph Manufacturing Company,” with the aim of building Deep River’s second cotton factory. [Southern Citizen (Asheboro), 3 March 1838], and ambitiously named the small community to honor Jesse Franklin, then the governor of North Carolina. It continued to be known locally, however, as “Coffin’s Mills on Deep River” until the name “Franklinsville” was officially recorded in the town’s 1847 legislative act of incorporation. [Chapter 200, Private Laws of 1846-47, ratified 18 Jan. 1847]. Coffin sold his property in 1850 after pro-slavery interests took control of the factory (Deed Book 28, Page 479), and purchased 345 acres on Richland Creek (Deed Book 28, Page 480) from Thomas Lucas—probably the mill site now known as “Kemp’s Mill.” He eventually moved back to Guilford County, ending his career as proprietor of the “College Mill” at New Garden.

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. It is probable that the original windows were closed only by sliding wooden shutters, as in the Walker/Nixon mill and Dennis Cox mill. The dormer window lighting the attic floor is even later, probably added around 1880. The steeply-pitched roof of the building provided space for grain storage, and the north-facing lucam in the gable allowed wagons to be unloaded between the cotton factory and grist mill, and the grain sacks hoisted into the attic. An earlier photograph suggests that the lucam might have been remodeled, and could have been enclosed originally as at the Walker/Nixon mill.

The 2 ½-story frame building shown above is the smallest, and probably the oldest, Randolph County grist mill in any surviving photograph. The photographer is looking northeast, at the western and southern walls of the building. The grist mill shown here was about 30 x 30 feet in plan, and was situated about 75 feet west of the river and 25 feet from the south wall of the cotton factory boiler house and smokestack. At that location the building was sitting approximately 15 feet above the level of the river, and judging from the water level of the race the water wheel under the shed must have been a “pitch-back” style breast wheel. The flowing water would have hit the buckets of the wheel somewhere between 10 and 11 o’clock, causing the wheel to rotate counterclockwise. The shed roof to the right (or southern end) of the building covered the water wheel, and to its right, out of frame, was a sash sawmill. The head race is dry while the crew rebuilds it, but the mill operates even without the water power. The smaller shed roof to the left, at the northwest corner, is attached by piping to the vertical steam boiler visible at left, and exhaust steam spraying out of the pipe just above the jib boom crane indicates that the engine must be running.


1885 Sanborn map (the 1888 map is identical). The boiler and engine house of the cotton mill is just to the north.

According to the 1885 Sanborn Insurance Company map of Randolph County, the mill was heated by an open grate fireplace and lit by candles. It featured three “run” of mill stones on the first floor, with a “smutter” machine and “bolting chest” on the second floor. From this we can reconstruct the entire operation of the mill. A farmer delivered his harvest to the base of the north wall, where the windlass in the lucam hoisted the grain into the attic, called by millers “the sack floor.” From there the grain dropped by gravity to the “bin floor,” where the grain was cleaned and stored in large wooden bins. The smutter and bolter
mentioned by the insurance agent were on bin floor, and were the minimum machinery required to produce high quality flour. A smutter is an enclosed fan which cleans the raw grain by blowing mold, rust, fungus and dirt particles off the kernels. A bolter is an inclined, revolving wooden cage covered with silk; flour conveyed into the bolter was sifted by the silk, with the smallest particles falling through the silk at the high end to make the finest quality flour, the next grade through the silk in the center called the “middlings,” and the coarse bran collected from the bottom as breakfast cereal and animal feed.

To start the grinding operation, a wooden chute was opened to funnel grain from the bin floor to the “stone floor,” where it fell into the “hopper,” held in place by the four-legged “horse” atop the “stone case,” a circular wooden frame enclosing the working pair of millstones. From the hopper grain vibrates into the “shoe,” a tapering wooden trough through which the grain is fed into the stones. The turning upper stone, or “runner,” does the grinding work against the fixed “bed” stone. The ground meal or flour worked its way to the center or “eye” of the bed stone, where it was channeled through a spout into a bin or bag on the “meal floor,” at ground level, or conveyed back to the sack floor for bolting or further storage.

Grist mills with just one or two stones were considered “custom” mills, because they ground to the personal specifications of the farmers who patronized the mill. What the farmer brought in (wheat, rye, barley, oats or corn) was what he got back, in a different form (flour, meal, bran), less a portion retained by the miller as his fee (the toll”– no money changed hands). The bolter was another step in refining the finished product, and allowed the miller to collect an additional toll. A “merchant” mill had three or more “run” or pairs of stones and operated year-round, packaging the flour in 100-lb. bags and 196-lb. barrels for sale to the general public. Although a single pair of stones could be used to grind any kind of grain, one stone was usually reserved for grinding wheat and one for corn, and the stones were furrowed in a way that worked best to grind each type of grain (no one bothered with 5-lb. Bags then!). Many mills used an expensive “buhr” stone imported from France for grinding the best quality white flour, while corn could be ground on American granite or sandstone. In a merchant mill, the third stone was sometimes used to clean grain or de-hull oats, barley, or buckwheat; but by 1885 it is likely that the third stone was being used to regrind the middlings, producing higher quality flour. That procedure was called “new process” milling, and it was developed to compete with the new “roller mill” technology developed in the late 1870s which used grooved porcelain or toothed steel rollers to pull the grains apart rather than grind them. Roller milling was the biggest technological change in the milling process in 2,000 years. The invention of roller mills not only outmoded grist mills, but caused a complete shift in the types of wheat that were produced by American farmers.

In 1912 the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company replaced this antique grist mill with a greatly-expanded modern roller grinding operation. That three-story “Roller Mill” opened in 1913, operated until 1990, and burned in 1992. When their picture above was taken in 1912, the gang of men were building wooden forms for the concrete walls of the new roller mill head race, or “forebay.” At least eight of the fifteen men in the photo appear to be African-Americans; they are not the ones white shirts, vests and ties. At this time the only jobs in or around the factory for black workers were the ones requiring heavy lifting, usually in the mill “yard,” loading and unloading wagons or managing the 500-pound bales of cotton in the opening room. Here the construction crew digging and forming up the new race appear to be entirely or predominately black.

Nixon’s Pond/ Husbands’ Mill

May 7, 2009

The more complicated the history of a tract of land, the more likely it is to be known by a multiplicity of names. This gets especially confusing with the sites of grist mills.

Where Old Liberty Road in Liberty Township crosses the main branch of Sandy Creek in the present-day community of Melancthon (named after the nearby German Lutheran Church) is a mill known to those few who actually remember the building pictured above as “Nixon’s Mill.” Demolished in the late 1940s, the mill was known in the 20th century more for its recreational picnic and swimming grounds. But history associates it with one of Randolph County’s best-known historical characters, the Regulator Herman Husband.

Cornelius Julian, the Franklinville correspondent of The Courier, opens a window for us on Nixon’s Pond in the 1920s when the annual picnic of the Franklinville “Betterment Society” was held there.

A Picnic at Nixon’s Pond [August 17, 1922]

“On Thursday, August 10, the Franklinville Betterment Society held its annual picnic at Nixon’s Pond on Sandy Creek which is an ideal place for a day’s outing. Bathing, rowing, and games were enjoyed by both children and grown people. A tempting dinner was spread on the ground, and all were invited to help themselves. Soon after dinner a watermelon feast was provided, the melons being raised in Randolph County, which raises the best.

“About 250 people enjoyed the picnic which not only afforded a good time, but also made everybody feel better for having spent a day in the great outdoors. The Betterment Society, by inviting the entire community to join in its picnic, increased our interest in the community and made us all feel that community fellowship is very beneficial.”

Community Picnic at Nixon’s Pond [August 30, 1923]

“The annual picnic of the community under the auspices of the Betterment Society, was held at Nixon’s Mill Pond on the state highway, a short distance east of Gray’s Chapel, Friday. The Randolph Mills closed down for the occasion and a large crowd attended. Fifty or more automobiles conveyed the crowd out to the picnic grounds. At 5:30 dinner was spread upon the grounds in real picnic fashion. During the evening quite a number of games and contests were participated in. At 6:00 about three-fourths of a ton of watermelons, which were furnished by John W. Clark, were cut, adding very much to the enjoyment of the evening. Some of us want an annual picnic every week.”

They went at least once more, cited in advance on July 31, 1924: “The Betterment Society will go on their annual picnic to Nixon’s Pond, Sandy Creek, Friday afternoon, August 15th. Everybody is invited to go and take a basket of rations. They expect to leave the Academy at three o’clock PM.”

It wasn’t just the Franklinville worker’s club who used mill grounds; on August 11, 1927, one of North Carolina’s best-known recording stars was to attend and perform: “A reunion of the Poole family will be held at Nixon’s Pond, Sandy Creek, on State highway 62, Thursday August 11.  A picnic dinner will be served.  All relatives and friends of the family are urged to attend.  Charlie Poole, of near Leaksville, promises to have his string band at the reunion.  Mr. Poole’s band has recently been playing for records for the Edison Phonograph Company, and have been in New York City for some time on this mission.”

The father of the present owner purchased the mill in September, 1943 (DB 370, P519) from the Thomas Nixon estate. Thomas Nixon obtained part of it in 1912 from A.T. Nixon (DB282, P40), and the mill itself from Quentin Nixon (see 234/556). The recreational nature of the site was acknowledged in a five-year lease in March 1924 (DB205, P197), when Nixon rented to Charles Melvin “all that body of water known as Nixon’s Mill Pond… together with such portions of Sandy Creek flowing into or out of said Nixon’s Mill Pond… together with the right… to the reasonable use of the banks of the said mill pond and the said Sandy Creek for the purposes of fishing in the said waters…”

Old Liberty Road, looking east at Sandy Creek.

The two-and-a-half-story mill illustrated above stood on the south side of the current one-lane concrete bridge, with the dam on the north side of the bridge impounding a 10-acre lake. The present owner says that during a hurricane in the 1950s (possibly hurricane Hazel), “the county broke the dam so high water didn’t wash away the bridge.”

Grist mills once came in many sizes. Alexander Spencer, born on Fork Creek near what is now Seagrove, wrote that his “Grandfather used to own a little tub mill two miles down Little River from where he lived.” [Seagrove Area, 1976, p.82]. A tub mill was the smallest and most primitive kind of mill, a one-story building no larger than 15 feet square. A horizontal wooden wheel under the mill was directly connected by a vertical wooden shaft to a single pair of grindstones, and stream water was funneled onto the wheel from above, similarly to a modern turbine water wheel. A step above this was a two-story grist mill with both corn and wheat stones, and simple wheat cleaning and flour processing machinery. The 1801 Moretz/ Coffin Mill in Franklinville was an example of such a mill. More elaborate where the 3- or 4-story merchant mills, with multiple grindstones and more elaborate processing machinery; the Dicks Mill, Bell-Walker Mill, and Dennis Cox Mill on Little River (all built circa 1830) were examples. After 1880 boxy, multistory Roller Mills began to replace all previous grist and merchant mills, and were built in urban areas closer to the demand for white biscuit flour.

The mill here was larger than the Moretz-Coffin Mill; it was smaller, and probably older than, the Dicks, Bell/Walker, and Dennis Cox mills. Like the Cox and Walker mills, Nixon’s Mill had vertically-sliding wooden shutters instead of glass windows. Like all of those mills it has a steep gable roof, providing useable attic space, but without any dormer windows. One unusual feature of Nixon’s mill is the “lucam” running the full height of the attic gable, a survival from medieval European mills.  A lucam is a projecting bottomless enclosure at the peak of the gable which shelters the wooden windlass used to hoist grain sacks out of wagons on the ground up to the top floor storage areas. Vestigal lucams all exist in the larger merchant mills, but have become more of a minor roof extension or cover than a fully-formed space.

Privy.

What now remains at the site is the antebellum miller’s house, a circa-1930-vintage service station, and one of the only (if not THE only) surviving two-seat privies in Randolph County. The privy stood just to the rear of the mill, and is visible in the documentary photo at the head of this page. The service station and attached pool hall have been remodeled into the 1950s-era home that currently fronts the road.

Miller’s House, 2009.

The miller’s house stands between and behind the other structures, about 75 feet south of the road. One local story says that the miller during the Civil War hid grain from local deserters and outliers, and from the Confederate soldiers who camped in the area at the end of the war, by filling all the framing spaces between the exterior weatherboards and interior wainscoating with grain. Coincidentally, this also would have insulated his house better than the average dwelling at the time!

Mill circa-1948.

Herman Husband (1724-1795) moved to the area from Maryland in 1751 (and settled on the east side of the Ramseur-Julian Road “where W.P. Fox, Esq., now lives” said J.A. Blair in 1890). This mill site would have been about a mile south of the site of Husbands’ dwelling. Although local tradition says that this is the site of “Husband’s Mill,” Herman Husband owned a number of mill sites, and more than one just in this area of Sandy Creek. A surveyor by training, Husband purchased thousands of acres of land in the Piedmont (more than 10,000 acres, say some sources). There are 18 separate grants from Earl Granville to Husband: 1 on Horsepen Creek and 1 on Alamance Creek, tributaries of Haw River; 8 of them on Sandy Creek; 2 on Sandy Creek and Rocky River; 2 on Love’s Creek (a tributary of Rocky River); 4 on Deep River (one at “the Cedar Falls” and 3 near Buffalo Ford, not far). from his miller brother-in-law Harman Cox. One tract on Sandy Creek “called the Mill Falls” was entered by Husband in July 1760, and sold in 1768 to Jacob Hinshaw, “weaver.” In August 1768, Husband mortgaged 8 tracts containing 3,688 acres to Jacob Gregg, “millwright” (Orange County Deed Book 3, Page 522). Gregg’s loan to Husbands of “1500 pounds Virginia money” for 20 years was very unusual by colonial standards- unusual that Gregg would have so much cash, and unusual that Husbands would borrow and use his property (Husband’s “Cabbin” tract and adjoining property) as security. This may have been part of a plan to protect Husband’s property and investments during the Regulation period, where Husband was more than once arrested and imprisoned.

Mill house in the 1950s.

In the aftermath of the Battle of the Alamance, Governor Tryon and the militia forces camped on Husband’s “plantation” for more than two weeks, and must have used Husband’s Mill to supply the needs of the troops for fresh flour and meal. It appears that all of Husband’s property was either confiscated or destroyed by Governor Tryon, and it isn’t clear whether Gregg’s mortgage was respected. Husband himself had left the state before the battle, and made his way to western Pennsylvania, where he was later involved in the Whiskey Rebellion (their version of the anti-tax Regulation revolt).

Within just a few years after his arrival Husband planned and built a grist mill, which was at that time considered a public utility and was regulated by the County Court.  He was given “leave to build a public Grist Mill on his own land on waters of Deep River” in September, 1759, by the Justices of the Orange County (Abstracts from ORANGE CO NC COURT MINUTES 1752-1761, by Weynette Parks Haun).   This section of modern Randolph was then part of Orange County, and Sandy Creek is a tributary of Deep River, so this could date this mill site to circa-1760.

If Tryon burned the colonial mill in 1771 it’s unclear when it was rebuilt. The mill pictured would have been built, in my estimate, circa-1820. It might have been earlier, but without seeing anything more than these two photos, that’s my best guess. Herman Husband’s son William (b. 1763) was evidently a miller; when he moved to Christian County, Kentucky in 1801 he purchased “a water grist mill on the Barren Fork of Little River” (Deed Book A, Page 133 of Christian County, KY, dated 9-21-1801). William Husband had inherited some of his father’s property, including “60 acres on South side of Deep River, known by the name of Cedar Falls” (sold to Joseph Hodgin for $15 on Sept. 20, 1797 in DB7-280); and 243.75 acres on Sandy Creek sold to John Brower, Jr., for 927 pounds, 10 shillings on October 13, 1800 (Deed Book 6, Page 252). The large sale price indicates substantial improvements, so may have included this mill, or could be the site presently known as “Kidd’s Mill,” which was once also known as Brower’s Mill.

A lot of work remains to be done to untangle Herman Husband’s history in Randolph County. In 1975 I received a $250 grant (large for those times) from the Sophia and William Casey Foundation of New York, to assemble materials about Herman Husband and to determine whether I could write my undergraduate thesis at Harvard on him. I used the money to travel to Somerset, PA, where Husband lived the last quarter century of his life, and to copy his material in the NC State Archives and the Secretary of State Land Grant Office. I ultimately decided that it was too big a project for a 100-page thesis; I’d like to take this first opportunity in print to thank the Casey Foundation, belatedly, for their support!

P.S.— I forgot to mention that the photographs came to me in a circuitous way.  They were taken by local historian Calvin Hinshaw, who took them in the late 1940s/ early 1950s.  Calvin gave them to local historian Warren Dixon, who gave copies to nearby business owner Ed Christenbury, of ChrisCo Machinery, who emailed them to me.Warren notes that Calvin told him “ ‘First building was built for Herman Husband and was burned in 1771. 2nd mill was known as Walker’s Mill during the Revolution.’ (Everyone takes for granted that Tryon burned the mill, although Tryon says nothing about it.  It stands to reason that he would, although historically mills were left alone because of their value to the community.) ‘In 1830 the Browers bought Sam Walker’s Mill.   A slave sent down to the mill one night used a burning pine knot for light and caught the mill on fire.  The 3rd mill, Nixon’s Mill, was built about 1850, and was known as York’s Mill during the Civil War. ‘”  Note that Calvin’s dates based on local tradition are 20-30 years more recent than my dates based on the photos.

Midway Filling Station/ ‘Mineral Springs’

May 1, 2009

This structure at 547 N.C. Highway 22 North (part of Franklinville but with a Ramseur mailing address) is currently dressed-up like a church, but started out life in the late 1920s as “Midway Filling Station,” an automobile service stop located halfway between Franklinville and Ramseur.   In addition to oil and gasoline, a grill provided hot dogs and hamburgers, and in the basement those in the know could purchase non-tax-paid liquid refreshment.  It was located directly across the street from the CCC Camp, which must have contributed mightily to its popularity with local young people.

A very interesting sidelight on Midway Station is provided by several notes from The Courier during the 1930s.

“A.C. McAlister has commenced work on a seven room bungalow on his farm on Highway 90 near the Midway Filling Station.  This will be a modern building, rock veneer with electric lights and water.  R.D. Garrison will have charge of building.” (7 November 1935) “A.C.” is evidently a misprint for “J.C.,” or Clayton McAlister, who completed the house at 595 N.C. Highway 22 North in 1936. Clayton’s wife Margaret McAlister was the chief secretary and administrative assistant to John W. Clark in the Randolph Mills office in Franklinville. R.D. Garrison (also known as “Pap”) was a well-known local contractor who served several terms as Mayor of Franklinville.

On April 28, 1936, the newspaper correspondent noted that “The Walter Clark Troop of Boy Scouts enjoyed an overnight camping trip at Mineral Springs, south of Midway Filling Station, Friday night.” The name Walter Clark had two meanings in this context; the local troop was named in honor of the father of John W. Clark, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Walter Clark, who had also been a very young officer in the Civil War. John W. Clark’s young son, Walter Clark, was also a member of the troop.

The most interesting part of the note is the reference to “Mineral Springs.” It appears to have been a well-known local landmark, as there is one earlier reference on December 6, 1934: “J.R. Johnson, of Candor, has bought from W.C. Burrow what is generally known as the Craven fish pond tract on North Brook, south of Franklinville, where he expects to build a home and in the mean time will occupy the residence of L.M. Curtis near Mineral Spring.”

No one I’ve asked remembers any reference to Mineral Springs. There were about 40 acres in the J.C. McAlister property, reaching from NC22 all the way south across the railroad to Deep River. The railroad right-of-way and riverfront were purchased by the Town of Franklinville years ago for its greenway project, but no springs are evident on that tract. The spring may be located near a small pond in the middle of the pasture directly south of the McAlister house, but that’s just my best guess.

These weekly Courier notes were penned by Cornelius H. Julian, the long-time Franklinville postmaster, who had been born in “south” Franklinville and had lived in the area his entire life. He knew names for many more local geographical features than anyone presently now recalls, and reading through his Courier notes is a window onto street names and landscape landmarks that are on the verge of extinction.

Here’s a very interesting link to an article about 19th-century “mineral spring” water bottles, many of which purported to cure various ailments and diseases. [http://www.sha.org/bottle/soda.htm ] People back then were almost as concerned with their water as people today, but the packaging was glass, not plastic, and their concern was more about the source of the water than its processing. This bottle from Guilford, Vermont, evidently was good for almost everything that ailed ya.

In these days of mass-marketed bottled water, we forget that discovery and knowledge of the location of clean, safe water for drinking and cooking was a constant concern before the mid-20th century. Consumers once were less concerned with labels marked “Purified,” “Distilled,” “Cholorinated,” and “Fluoridated”, all of which denote treatment processes which subtract or add things to the water; the primary concerns then all regarded the source of the water itself.

Well water and spring water both are found in the natural aquifers located under the soil. Spring water bubbles up naturally at certain places, while a well must be dug or drilled to reach the water at its natural underground level. Creeks, streams and rivers are natural tributaries where the ground level dips below the level of the aquifer, while springs usually are forced up under pressure between crevices in the underlying rock.

Mineral water can come from either a well or spring, but by definition must contain a some amount of trace minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, which taste good and promote good health. (“Iron” water is mineral water but looks dirty and tastes metallic and is used only as a last resort.) “Sparkling” mineral waters just contain some concentration of carbon dioxide which makes them naturally carbonated.

To be called a “Mineral Spring,” the water source here must have been a naturally-occurring spring which contains a higher concentration of minerals than the area’s regular spring or well water. The local people long ago would have been very familiar with the difference, so it’s rather sad that this site, and the distinction of its water, has been lost. Maybe someone can do more research than I have, and restore “Mineral Springs” to the local consciousness.

Civilian Conservation Corps Camp

April 27, 2009

On the north side of NC 22 halfway between Ramseur and Franklinville are these two quartz columns that mark the one-time entrance to Randolph County’s only Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

The western column has a carved stone inserted in the quartz which appears to be something more like soapstone; the carved writing has deteriorated and been partially vandalized, but seems to read “Civ Co C/ 340 C/ NC.SCS 20G/Ramseur.N.C.”

If those hieroglyphs were all we had to go on, we might still be wondering if this was any more than a standard entrance to the modern subdivision that now stands down “Camp” Road.  There are no other structures still standing to tell a story.  Luckily, a couple of notes in the Franklinville section of The Courier (published in Asheboro), explain further.

Randolph County gets a C.C.C. Camp.  This camp will be located on 90 highway, on a 10 acre tract of land opposite Central Service Station, midway between Ramseur and Franklinville.  The camp will consist of 11 buildings, including an office, commissary, and barracks, and will accommodate 226 men.  The houses will be built by local carpenters and are expected to be ready for camp by July 15 at which time they want to begin work if the farm erosion extension is officially confirmed.  We are glad to have this camp in our community, which is centrally located in the new erosion extension.” (June 6, 1935)

The camp was apparently built on a 5-acre tract which the federal government must have leased from J.H. Burgess, who had inherited it after the dead of his father John H. Burgess in 1905. In 1962 Burgess sold the 4.89 acres to W.M. Cox, proprietor of Ramseur Building Supply, who subdivided it into twelve lots known as “Forest Hills” subdivision (Plat Book 10, Page 120). Camp Street runs along the western boundary of the property, and Forestview Street marks the eastern boundary.

A note from the May 12, 1936 Courier tells us that the camp had been built and was in operation doing soil conservation work :

M.F. Cheek has done much work on his farm two and a third miles south of Franklinville. This farm was formerly known as the George York place and joins the late A.J. Curtis home place. Since Mr. Cheek bought this property about eight months ago, more than 20 acres have been cleared. By private work and the aid of the CCC camp, the farm has been mapped, terraces run, pastures built, and land selected for the most suitable crops. The farm is on the headwaters of Curtis Creek and several acres will be run in pasture. Mr. Cheek expects to build a dwelling house and a large feed barn this summer.

M.F. Cheek bought the first of three tracts in this property from the heirs of George York in September, 1935 (DB 268, P425). When he sold out in June, 1943, there were three tracts totaling 124 acres (DB372/459). The 1978 deed in the chain describes the property as being “in Franklinville Township…approximately two miles west of the town of Ramseur, on the road known as Holly Springs Road…”

I’m sure that somewhere (probably in the National Archives) there is a lot more information about this camp, and maybe someone else will track down its entire history one day.

Trinity College Bell

April 26, 2009

The Bell on display under the Trinity College gazebo on the site of the original Trinity College and High School was made by the Henry McShane & Co. Bell Foundry of Baltimore, MD, in 1879.

The Bell and the Gothic style papyrus-leaf columns that the gazebo stands upon are the only surviving Trinity College artifacts in Trinity. Both appear to date to the post-Civil War renovation and expansion of the original 1855 brick Trinity College building.

The photo above, from the Duke University Archives, shows the building from the south in 1861, with President Braxton Craven and the all-male student body posing in their new role as commander and cadet corps of the “Trinity Guard.” The three-story brick building appears similar to any of the five cotton mills built on Deep River from 1838-1850, and in fact the college building was the focal point of Trinity in exactly the same manner as the factory was the raison-d’etre of any mill village. One major difference is that the windows of the college are much larger than the windows in any factory.

Organizing the home guard unit was Craven’s last-ditch effort to keep his student body from enlisting in the army en mass; during the war, however, he and the students were put on active duty guarding the Confederate prisoner of war camp at the former Salisbury Cotton Mill.

The 1855 college building was expanded between 1872-1874 with a large wing that fronted the road which is now NC62. The new wing set at a cross-angle to the 1855, so that the whole made a T-plan. The new wing contained classrooms and a chapel; the balcony of the chapel was supported by the papyrus columns which were re-used in the 1924 Trinity High School building.

The 1874 college building’s pointed windows and door openings gave it a vague Gothic Revival style which was popular for educational buildings and would be carried to its pinnacle in North Carolina in the 1924 West Campus at Duke University in Durham.

My favorite picture of Trinity College is the only one that shows the campus and grounds, a drawing on the cover of an 1883 commencement program. Whether this garden actually existed is unclear (the photo above only shows a field or wild flower meadow), the 1883 drawing shows a lively Victorian knot garden, with extensive flower beds and gravel walks.

When Trinity College was moved to Durham in 1892, the old college buildings were turned into a private college preparatory school, which became a public school in the early 20th century. In 1924 a special school tax district was established in Trinity and a new elementary school and high school building was built on the site of the college. That was in turn torn down in 1981, and the historic site is now a parking lot. The gazebo is squeezed between NC 62 and the fence around the lot.

Trinity Civil War Trail Marker II

April 25, 2009

The Trinity College marker on the North Carolina Civil War Trail was dedicated today.

The marker itself was erected in December, but today was the beautiful warm day to get a good crowd together.

The marker is located beside the gazebo made from the old Trinity College chapel columns which shelters the old Trinity College bell, returned to Trinity by Duke University about 15 years ago.

The story of the Gothic papyrus-capital columns, salvaged from the Trinity High School auditorium, is told in the entry on Trinity High School (TR:16) in my architecture book.

The original Trinity College building had some pointed church-like windows which perhaps suggested the Gothic style which became popular for residences around Trinity and Archdale.

One still stands on the west side of NC62 in Trinity (TR:11 in my book).

Sash Sawmill

April 17, 2009

I love old mill buildings, which means I love the machinery that runs in and outside of mill buildings, because the neat thing to me about mills is that the building and the machinery and the power transmission system that connects it all is inseparable. This is totally different from a modern factory, which is usually just a concrete pad with a wooden or metal shelter over it, and plenty of electrical outlets to plug all the machinery into our power grid. Early mills were dependant on water power and a mill was located where the available fall of water provided enough kinetic energy to do a sizeable amount of work. The first steam engines in Piedmont North Carolina were used in cotton mills such as the Mount Hecla mill in Greensboro about 1830, which liberated mills from the flood plain. But even then, the steam engine and boiler just replaced the water wheel as a prime mover.

I came across this photo in an odd way. I found a hefty old book at a yard sale, almost 500 pages of 19th-century lithographed photos of the landmarks of the world, from the Tower of London and Notre Dame of Paris to the Kremlin and the Taj Mahal. It was a late 19th-century coffee table book, meant to grace a parlor and provide hours of enjoyment in the era before movies, radio, TV, and the internet: Royal Photograph Gallery: Placing on Home Exhibition Photographs of the Majestic and Imposing in Nature; the Beautiful and Inspiring in Art; the Grandly Scenic, Eventfully History and Strikingly Descriptive; Including Impressive Scenes, Heroic Events and Famous Achievements which Mark Human Progress and Distinguish the Nations of Earth. Introduced by John Clark Ridpath, LLD, America’s Famous and Foremost Historian. Philadelphia: Historical Publishing Company, 1893.

On page 419, this picture caught my eye, and the caption really surprised me.

“OLD MILL NEAR ASHBOROUGH, N.C.—

This is one of those picturesque and attractive scenes which frequently greet the eye of the traveler in the old north State. It is equally suggestive of antiquity and poetry. Located in the neighborhood of the county seat of Randolph County, and taking advantage of a natural water power, the primitive structure, with its leaky water wheel and creaky cogs, tells the story of a time when grists were borne long miles to mill and when flour was not evolved by the steam roller. All about the old mill are the somber forests which echoed the rush of waters over the dam, the groaning of the burdened water-wheel, and the monotone of the busy burr. Where once the far-off farmer unloaded his scanty bushels and waited for his snow-white return, the tourist now finds recreation and the artist an object for admiration.”

Quite the poetic description, and pretty definitely wrong. The mill is definitely a water-powered mill, but it’s obviously no grist mill, even though there’s an old discarded mill stone leaning against the axle crib. It’s a water-powered vertical-blade saw mill, also called an “up-and-down” or “sash” sawmill. And it’s the only picture of a Randolph County sash sawmill I know of.

[Illustration from Oliver Evans, 1790, of his design for a vertical blade mill.]

Since their invention in 1844, modern sawmills have spinning round blades, like a hand-held skill saw. The first circular saw mill, powered by a steam engine, was brought into Randolph County by Jonathan and John Milton Worth, who in 1852 contracted to supply lumber for the construction of the Plank Road being built from Fayetteville north to Salem.

[The saw in its sash or frame.]

Before that time, every saw mill was powered by water, and cut wood with a long saw blade mounted in a vertical wooden frame similar to a picture or window frame. The frame was attached to a crank which pushed it up and down on a track as a water wheel turned the crank, with a motion similar to the opening and closing of a window sash (hence the name). A mechanical ratchet mechanism pulled the log, mounted on a cogwheel-driven carriage, against the moving saw blade. The water-powered blade was designed to move at about 150 strokes a minute, so as to cut about 3,000 board feet of lumber in a 12-hour day. Depending on the available water power, however, production could vary down to 500 board feet per day. Water-powered saw mills such as these were an American invention, dating as far back as 1621 in New England, long before similar mills were used in Europe (see Michael Williams, Americans and Their Forests, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992, p. 167.)

The size and shape of the mill building is the giveaway that it’s a saw mill. Saw mills were long, narrow, one-story buildings, while grist mills were squarish, boxy, multi-story buildings. The only convenient early way to grade wheat or flour and meal was to drop it from a height to sift it and scatter trash contamination. Wheat and corn storage bins were also located in the attic, so that the grains could be funneled into the stones from above.

This building has no attic space, and is long and narrow (look at the pitch of the roof- the building can be no more than 15 feet wide). It’s powered by an elderly-looking overshot wheel; the feed from the head race is positioned so it hits the wheel at about 11:55 on a clock face, just slightly off center, so that the wheel rotates counter-clockwise (also evident from the placement of the buckets, designed to fill up and be pulled down by gravity to our left). As the water buckets filled and the wheel turned, the large iron gear mounted on the left side of the wheel turned at the same speed as the water wheel, since they are the same size. But the slow rotation of the wheel was transformed into a fast motion to be transmitted to the saw mill by the large gear being meshed with the smaller gear to the lower left. I can’t really tell how many teeth there are (which would determine the gear ratio), but this arrangement might have powered the saw at a speed as much as 8 to 10 times the speed of the water wheel.

No work is being doing now, though- the wheel is stopped for the photograph. We can tell that because we can actually see the buckets; if the wheel were moving they’d be a blur, due to the slow speed of 1890s photography. And we also know it’s stopped because most of the water is flowing over the side of the tail race behind the wheel, indicating the head gates are closed beside the man (the miller? The sawyer?) standing beside the gate atop the wheel.

I wish this photograph had a location more helpful than “located in the neighborhood of the county seat of Randolph County.” That covers a lot of territory! And I would love to be able to go to this place and compare this photograph with what remains in place, where ever it was. But at least we’ve rediscovered the picture, so as to remind us that we once had a landscape with saw mills such as this.

Dicks’ Mill

April 15, 2009

[Circa-1960 photo of Dicks Mill from North Randolph Historical Society, http://www.stpaulmuseum.org/exhibit_randleman.htm]

The original name of Randleman was Dicks Mill, after the merchant flour mill shown here, built by Peter Dicks about 1830. The mill was built on Deep River above the modern U.S. 220 Business highway bridge, but about 1900 was moved downstream to stand near the Naomi mill. At one time it included not only wheat and corn stones but an oil mill. It was demolished about 1965. Architecturally the building is too big to be an 18th-century mill, and the many large windows (nine over six sash, unusually large) are early-19th century at best. It is the size of what was called a “merchant mill,” a mill that not only ground corn into meal and wheat into flour, but graded the flour through bolting and sifting machinery to produce a more refined white flour.

Peter Dicks (b.1771 – d.1843), the subject of the last few posts here, was a farmer and a merchant who operated a general store in the then-thriving village of New Salem. He served in many public capacities, including being one of the commissioners of New Salem (incorporated 1816), who sold lots and laid off streets; he was a Justice of the Peace (what we now call a county commissioner); he also served as Clerk of the Court of Equity. He was one of the founders of New Garden Boarding School, now Guilford College; throughout his life remained a trustee of the school and was an active member of the Society of Friends in both Centre and New Salem Monthly Meetings. Peter Dicks and wife Nancy Ann Hodgson tombstones in New Salem Methodist Ch/Cem.

Even though it is historically clear that Peter Dicks’ mill on Deep River was the focal point around which the village of Union Factory and the City of Randleman subsequently coalesced, there is confusion over when that actually happened.

Some sources say 1800 (“Peter Dicks built a grist and oil mill, on Deep River in 1800.” (library http://www.randolphlibrary.org/historicalphotos.htm ; also Randleman city website http://www.randleman.org/History.aspx). Other sources say 1830 (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randleman,_North_Carolina , no citation). Pioneer local historian J.A. Blair in his “Reminisences of Randolph County” (1890) finesses over the question by saying “Away back in the shadowy past Peter Dicks had a grist and an oil mill at this place.”

I’ll say they’re all wrong, it was even earlier than that. Grandfather Peter Dicks (ca. 1720-1796), brought the family down from York County, PA to Guilford County in 1755, settled in the Polecat Creek area near Centre Meeting. At some point soon thereafter he built a mill on Deep River which became the family business. In the Rowan County Court Minutes, (McCubbins, ed., Book 1: 1753-1772, p. 1), we read:

“On petition of hickory Creek and Russell’s Runn and Poulcatt [Polecat]for a Road to Mill and Market, from Pennington’s Mill through Hickory Creek Settlement the best and nearest way to Peter Dick’s Mill and from thence to the Trading Path, the convenient way to Market on Cap Fair [Cape Fear], and that Peter Dicks, James Green, James Wilson, William Arafield [Armfield], Robert Lamb, George Hodgins, Robert Hodgins, Mathew Osborn, Daniel Osborn, John Osborn, Robert Fields, and William Fields be a jury to lay off the same and make return thereof to our next county court, and that James Green be appointed Overseer for the Lower Part and Abraham Cook for the upper part. Granted.”

Pennington’s Mill and Hickory Creek were in southern Guilford County, with the creek heading on or about the present Sedgefield golf course and running into Deep River below Freeman’s Mill (now under the Randleman Reservoir). “Russell’s Run” or Creek runs into Deep River between Freeman’s Mill and Coletrane’s Mill. Polecat Creek rises in southern Guilford and runs into Deep River below Randleman. So this road ran roughly from Sedgefield to Groometown Road near Jamestown to the Trading Path Ford near modern Randleman. [For more information on this petition and Pennington’s Mill, see http://penningtonresearch.org/resources/articles/Pages%2014-15-PP0602.pdf ). It appears that Peter Dicks either applied for permission to build a mill, or bought an existing mill site, just as soon as he came to North Carolina in the early-to mid-1750s. And if that mill on Deep River wasn’t located at the modern Randleman, I don’t know where else it could have been.

When Union Factory was built just upstream in 1848, it made use of the Dicks Mill dam. James Dicks (1804-1883), owner and operator of the grist mill at that time, became a stockholder of the cotton factory along with a group of fellow Quakers. When the Naomi Manufacturing Company was built in 1879-1880, a new dam was built downstream at the site of the Naomi Falls, and the new dam backed water into the tail race of the grist mill, making it inoperable. Dicks Mill was thereupon disassembled, moved to a site below the Naomi Factory, and reconstructed just beside the new bridge over the ford below the mill. The mill is clearly visible in several photographs of that side of Naomi factory, including one where it is in the background as the steel bridge is being replaced in 1959. The mill remained in business on that spot until it was demolished in the mid-1960s.

The final years of Dicks Mill were chronicled in this article by Ruby K. Marsh, published on Monday, March 28, 1960, in The Greensboro Record. This is one of the last descriptions of an operating grist mill in Randolph County.


Century-Old Mill Still Grinding Corn

Randleman, March 24—

The Old Naomi Roller Mill—grinding corn and wheat for over a century– is still running, using the same machinery re-installed in 1880 when the mill was moved down river for lack of water to operate.

Naomi Manufacturing Company (now J.P. Stevens Co.) built a new plant that year—just below the old grist mill, using up the available water supply to generate power for the cotton mill. The grist mill was torn down and relocated below the Naomi Falls plant where it still stands today- just as it has stood for 80 years.

Hand-hewn beams and rafters from the original mill were used to build this sturdy, three-story plant which is completely furnished with machinery for grinding flour and corn meal as well as other feeds.

The “old corn rock” is still in use with the original boards which were shaped by hand to surround the round rock which grinds corn. The boards were neatly mitred at the four corners, put together with large wedges of wood and look as though they would last another century if needed.

The woods are polished from the passage of corn over the surface over the years. The floor too is polished as slick as though freshly waxed. Here wide pine boards of about two-inch thickness were used, the floor being as solid today as it was when placed there despite vibrations from the heavy machinery.

Just when the mill converted to electricity is not definitely known by present owner W.C. Routh, but he thinks about 40 years ago. The old mill race has been filled in, and boards cover the opening where water flowed underneath.

Six different processes were required before flour could be finished. In the old roller mills section—now idle—elevators carried wheat from one floor to the other, dropping the ground flour down through bins where pure Japanese silk screens bolted the flour—sending any coarse materials back into the elevator to be carried back to the roller where it was reground, then redropped into the screen for sifting. Waste materials went out a separate chute. Some of these old silk screens are still hanging on the wall, though they are now yellowed with age.

Up on the third floor the pan to mill self-rising ingredients is still sitting on top of the scales, just waiting to be used once more. The mixing bins where the flour and self-rising soda baking powder and salt- were added now have dirt-dobbers nests inside. The old wooden barrel which once held three or four bushels of corn is sitting idly by.

Corn was brought up from the wagon outside by a windlass which a man could pull with one hand. About 200 lbs. of corn could be carried up with one hand on the large four-foot wheel with a rope 1 ½ inches thick, being located out under the eave of the roof.

In front of the mill old dutch doors with a long slide wooden latch locks the door at night. The upper half is kept open during the day so people can see the place is open for business.

In the office the old box-type desk was nailed to the wall—right where it was located 80 years ago. The stool, made of two-inch pine, is polished from the millers sitting to tally up the price of a sack of corn meal or flour.

On the wall is a sign telling everyone to beware of the loaded rifle, kept to shoot rats which become troublesome sometimes. Little boys became meddlesome so Mr. Routh put up this sign.

Corn cobs are used to keep the office warn. They are burned in a tiny laundry heater.

On one of the large bins, names of the millers since 1900 are inscribed for posterity. Among them are five names of the seven Routh boys.

Routh and a brother operated a mill down in the borders of Chatham County just outside of Randolph at Bennett before Routh was born at Grays Chapel not far from his present home above the mill.

The mill site has long been a trading center. Indians traded with white settlers long before the Revolutionary War. It is also the site famed for the murder of Naomi Wise by her lover—for whom the mill is named.

Since he is partially retired Routh does not mind the slow pace which his mill now has—selling a little egg mash and other feeds and custom grinding corns for his friends, many of whom delight in going to visit him while he grinds corn on the ‘old corn rock.’


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