Initial Corridor Interpretation
For the present, four of the corridor themes will be interpreted through development of trail literature and signage.
I. The Textile Trail
A self-guided driving tour of the nineteenth-century mill villages along Deep River, through Guilford, Randolph and Chatham counties, combined with an actual greenway/ hiking trail linking Randleman to Ramseur largely following the right-of-way of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway.
Historians have called the Deep River factories "the cradle of the industrial revolution in North Carolina." The industrialization of textile production moved the pattern of work from the home, the fields and small shops to the factory. Gradually this forever changed the agricultural heritage of the South, and introduced new concepts of industrial work and urbanization. A dozen mills were organized in North Carolina during the 1820s and 30s; thirty-two were proposed during the 1840s, and eleven during the 1850s. Six factories were built by regional investors before the Civil War, with five of them in Randolph County alone. By the time of the Civil War, the South produced almost one quarter of all U.S. cotton and woolen textiles; but the spindles running in all of the southern cotton mills barely equaled those found in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Franklinville, founded in 1838 and incorporated in 1847, was the residential village of one of the first cotton textile mills in North Carolina, and state's first incorporated mill village. The two factories in Franklinville made it the economic heart of the county until the end of the nineteenth century, and provided the training ground for some of the most prominent industrialists of the post-war era. The Franklinsville Manufacturing Company factory building is one of the oldest textile mills in the number-one textile state in the country; only the 1836 Salem Manufacturing Company (now the Brookstown Inn) is older. Several 1880s-vintage villages in the region contain important collections of buildings, but nowhere can the entire history of the industry be traced better than in Franklinville. The Franklinsville factory and much of the surrounding community was listed as a National Register Historic District in 1985, and few early southern industrial villages are as well documented. There are more than two dozen antebellum buildings still standing in the Town, all having some connection to the mill. These are by far the oldest collection of textile industry structures in the state. Numerous related industries were also be found nearby, from grist mills to gold and iron mines, metal foundries and wood-working factories.
The significant historic and natural assets of the Franklinville area made it a logical focal point of the region in promoting the textile heritage of the entire state at a critical period. True appreciation and awareness of the historic effects of industrialization on Southern culture can only be gained among the authentic buildings and artifacts of that industrial heritage. Displays of isolated historic machinery can only provide a pale insight into the heat and noise and smell of a weave room or spinning room, and only a factory itself can demonstrate the intimate connection between the machines and the lineshafts and belting that transmitted power to them from steam engines and water wheels. This was recognized by the National Park Service and the American Textile History Museum when they both created working weave rooms in their restored Lowell, Massachusetts, museums. The Franklinsville Manufacturing Company mill could provide a similar setting here in North Carolina.
Jamestown and Freemans Mill in Guilford; Randleman, Naomi, Worthville, Central Falls, Cedar Falls, Franklinville, Ramseur, Coleridge in Randolph; High Falls in Chatham, the Cane Creek Factory at Snow Camp (this is on a branch of the Haw, not the Deep, but it was organized in the 1830s by local Quakers). In Franklinville, major portions of the antebellum upper mill survive, as do more than two dozen privately-owned structures in the historic district, including worker and supervisor residences, the superintendents home, and the 1851 Masonic Lodge. Antique machinery has remained in place in Franklinville; additional unique items have been collected, and surviving machinery, such as the 1897 steam engine, has been discovered in other private collections. The mill and village in Franklinville make up the best preserved and best documented antebellum industrial community in North Carolina. The antebellum mill in Ramseur also survives, as do structures from the later 19th-century in Jamestown, Randleman, Worthville, Central Falls, Cedar Falls, and Coleridge. The mill in High Falls and the original Randleman factory have been destroyed by fire.
Although the original records of many of the 19th-century factories have been preserved in manuscript collections at Duke, UNC-CH, and the state archives, the best collection of documentary materials on any North Carolina factory is Mac Whatleys collection on the upper and lower mills of Franklinville. Unique manuscript materials include original antebellum record books, personal records of mill owners and workers, hundreds of hours of recorded interviews with workers, and over a thousand documentary photographs.
- The Museum of the New South in Charlotte is currently undergoing renovations which will include a small textile history gallery, and would be a potential partner.
- The National Park Services Boott Mill Museum at Lowell, Massachusetts would be an excellent partner, especially in regard to its restored weave room and its unparalleled industrial education programs for school groups.
- The American Textile History Museum in Lowell would be a potential partner. The museum in fact is looking for a southern partner to carry more of the interpretative load for the history of the cotton textile industry, as the museums roots in Massachusetts and its primary collecting focus have been in documenting the woolen textile industry.
- The remaining textile corporations in North Carolina appear to have little concern for the history of the industry. Northern textile museums were all started to memorialize the industry after it had already followed cheap labor to the South, and this may be what must happen in North Carolina.
- Although North Carolina has three state-supported tobacco museums, it has no comparable textile museum, and no evident interest in one. The only justification provided for this lapse is that such a project would be costly and uncomfortably large-scale. An outside observers explanation is that neither the state Museum of History nor the Historic Sites section has a thematic interpretative plan, and that both institutions are frequent victims of internal turf battles and legislative meddling.
- Although Preservation NC has been a recent convert to the cause of "preserving North Carolinas industrial history," the only real value the organization sees in factory buildings is in adaptive re-use for upscale housing. This began with their initial experience in Edenton, continues in Glencoe, and appears to be the plan for the Loray mill in Gastonia, site of the bloody 1929 Communist-led strike and labor war. With no evident sense of irony, the organization has slated this historic workplace for redevelopment as luxury condominiums. Preservation NC has also allowed the gutting of other historic industrial properties of their original machinery and equipment, insuring by deed restriction that the exterior of the properties would be preserved while the historic interiors could be destroyed without even being documented. Although historic preservation has been the basis for most "heritage tourism," Preservation NC does not appear to be a willing or serious partner in preserving the nuts and bolts of industrial history.
- Textile industry corporate foundations have been solicited for support, without success. Local Randolph County corporations have been more forthcoming, but do not have the assets necessary to make significant headway.
- A $20,000 grant was obtained in 1998 from the discretionary funds of the Secretary of Cultural Resources, but despite the urgent recommendations of the historic preservation section, no substantial historic preservation funding has been available.
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