Posts Tagged ‘grist mills’

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.

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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.

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.’