Franklinsville Manufacturing Company
The "Upper" (Upstream) Cotton Mill
The Franklinsville Manufacturing Company is the oldest water-powered cotton textile mill still standing in North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia- perhaps in the entire South. Although its present bedraggled appearance doesn't showcase its historic value, it is one of the landmarks of the industrial revolution in America.
The drive to establish Deep River's second cotton mill culminated in a public meeting on April 2, 1838, when "The Randolph Manufacturing Company" was organized and Elisha Coffin was dispatched "to the North" to buy equipment. On March 4, 1839 the corporation advertised for bids on the construction of the "Factory House," which was "to be 80 feet by 40, 3 stories high" materials brick, and covered with shingles, the whole to be finished off in the most workmanlike and best style..." This, the county's first large brick building, was nearly complete by February, 1840, when the local newspaper reported that "they are putting up the Machinery. It is expected that they will commence spinning in a few weeks-- by the first of March at furtherest."
The true appearance of that original building is largely uncertain. The only contemporary description of the 1839 factory is included in a newspaper account of the fire which destroyed the building on Saturday, April 18, 1851. "The fire was first discovered about nine o'clock at night, in the dressing room, which was in the upper story of the building. In a short time the flames were communicated to the roof… The walls of the building were of brick, but the falling in of heavy burning timbers left them in a ruined state." Much of the mill's solidly-built lower structure seems to have remained standing after the fire. The factory was soon rebuilt on the original first-floor walls; the dividing line between old and new brickwork can be clearly seen. This earliest section of the building is now visible only at the northwest corner and on the upper west facade, where the antebellum sash are still in place.
Ironically the stone "Picker House," the one part of the mill complex designed to be fireproof, was not even involved in the 1851 disaster.
The picker house was considered the greatest fire threat in any mill due to its atmosphere of combustible cotton dust. The stone walls of the building were built to contain a fire and allow the roof and interior to be rebuilt easily and inexpensively. These walls remain today, embedded in later additions: the county's only major stone structure.
The late nineteenth century saw a number of expansions of the original "Factory House." In 1882 a two-story wing was added to enclose the water wheel and provide space for an auxiliary steam engine. The mill was doubled in size in 1899, with the construction of a three-story addition on the eastern side of the original factory. This addition is the present river facade of the mill complex. Some alterations were made for the sake of safety. In 1883, the gable roof was rebuilt as a flat roof with brick parapet. A stair tower was added in 1892 and the open interior stairwells were removed; the tower also supported a large water tank which fed a new sprinkler system. Kerosene lanterns and lard lamps were replaced in October, 1896, when electric lights were installed.
To Make a Donation to support the restoration of the factory and the creation of the Franklinville Mill Museum, go here.
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