Franklinville Historic District
The Franklinville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Franklinville Historic District located within the town of Franklinville, originally two antebellum villages, each built around a textile mill located on Deep River in central Randolph County, is a remarkably intact example of the growth of the textile industry and attendant villages during the 19th and 20th centuries in North Carolina. Franklinville lies along the north bank of Deep River with the major street, NC 22/Main Street, running east-west along the river. Main Street is lined with one- and two-story frame dwellings and brick commercial buildings. At each end of Main Street is a brick textile mill anchoring the ends of the town. Residential streets run several blocks deep to the north with short east-west connectors. Twenty-two pre-1860 structures survive, including the 1819 Johnson-Julian House, 9 ca.1838 mill houses, the 1840 first floor walls and 1851 rebuilding of the "Lower" mill, the 1850 Hanks Lodge, and several ca.1850 mill houses, as well as the more substantial houses belonging to the incorporators of the mills. The growth of Franklinville paralleled the growth of the two mills. The largest intact body of architecture is from the late 19th and early 20th centuries when a number of one- and two-story dwellings were built to house the growing number of mill operatives. The town of Franklinville is a rare and important surviving example of two antebellum mills and villages, representative of the large number of mills and villages once found in North Carolina, recording the growth and decline of the textile industry in the piedmont section of the state.
Although the Saponi, Tutelo, and Keyauwee Indian tribes which were the native inhabitants of the Randolph County area had vanished long before the power of Deep River first began to be harnessed, the memory of their influence lingered. An Indian burial ground, now lost, was an early landmark between present Franklinville and Ranseur. The site of Franklinville was an important river crossing for the natives; with the arrival of white settlers it became known as the "Island Ford." Rising out of the river several hundred yards upstream from the site of that ford is Franklinville's major geographic landmark, a huge bluestone opucrop known as Faith Rock. It was the setting for one of Randolph County's best-known Revolutionary War legends, an incident which has been both elaborated and confused over the years.
David Fanning was the notorious Tory guerilla leader of piedmont North Carolina, and Andrew Hunter was a southwestern Randolph resident. On May 2, 1782, Hunter and a neighbor were captured by Fanning while taking a wagon of produce to trade for salt at the Pee Dee River market. Promised immediate execution by Fanning, Hunter took a desperate chance for escape. In Fanning's words, Hunter "sprung upon my riding mare, and went off with my saddle, holster pistols, and all my papers of any consequence to me. We fired two guns at him; he received two balls through his body but it did not prevent him from sitting the saddle; and make his escape." Enraged, Fanning plundered Hunter's home, kidnapping his slaves and holding his pregnant wife as hostage for the return of Bay Doe, "a mare I set great store by, and gave One Hundred and ten guineas for her. Hunter, however, coolly called Fanning's bluff. The war was over; the British had begun the evacuation of Charleston; Fanning and his men could not afford to wait. They were forced to release Mrs. Hunter and ride to rejoin the British.
But before he left, Fanning determined to risk a final return to Randolph for the single purpose of recovering Bay Doe. He rode out of Charleston on September 4, 1782, and left the county in frustration of September 22. Fanning does not describe the incident at Faith Rock, which must have occurred at this time, although Caruthers is most specific. Hunter "was riding the Bay Doe, on the high ground South of Deep River, and not far above the [Island] ford, where the village of Franklinville now stands" when "he was like to be overtaken by some of Fanning's men. He first attempted to gain the ford; but found they were heading him in that direction. He then turned his course up the river, but they were there ready to receive him. The only alternative was to surrender, which would be certain and instant death, or to make a desperate plunge down a precipice, some fifty feet high into the river. He chose the latter.... It was such a daring adventure that his pursuers, though they were burning with revenge, would not dare to follow him, but stopped short, in a kind of amazement, and contented themselves with firing two or three pistols after him. As there was no level ground at the bottom of the descent, he plunged right into the river and turned down the stream, sometimes swimming and sometimes on terra firma or floundering over rocks, until he found a place where he got out on the north side and made his escape." Today a plaque placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution on the nearby highway bridge commemorates Hunter's escape.
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. 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. Either Mendenhall or Trotter may have been the first to utilize the property as the site of a grist mill. Mendenhall owned the substantial mill on Deep River now known as Coltrane's Mill, and he seems to have acquired sites for other mills on a speculative basis. In 1801, Trotter sold the property to Christian Morrie; that deed refers to "Benj'n. Trotter of Randolph County and State of No. Carolina (Miller)." Local tradition, however, states that the first mill at the site was built in 1801 by the aforementioned Christian Morris, or Moretz, a member of the German community of northeastern Randolph. Whether or not Morris built the first mill, by 1802 he is known to have owned and operated one of the county's first five cotton gins. His was one of the larger machined, 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 sawn into lumber, gin the seeds from his cotton, and have the wool from his sheep carded either for sale or 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's 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. In 1821, Ward conveyed the property to Elisha Coffin, who continued to operate the various mills 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 Mill on Deep River" until the name "Franklinsville" was officially recorded in the town's 1847 legislative act of incorporation.
Village life in Franklinville
From the time that the first textile operations began in Franklinville, the mill stockholders and directors were responsible for providing housing and other basic human services to the workers. Therefore the town was in some sense a "planned" community, since streets were laid off and houses were built according to the direction of the corporate leaders. The Island Ford corporation laid off "Mulberry Street" (as Academy Street was originally called) and sold lots to private developers and stockholders. The same seems to have been true of "Prosperity" Street (now renamed Rose Street). By the 1850s Franklinsville and Asheboro vied for position as the major metropolis of Randolph County.
The first incorporation of Franklinsville as a municipality was sought in 1846 and ratified by the state legislature on January 15, 1847. The town area included just the "Upper" factory and surrounding community including the mouth of Bush Creek and the hill where the town cemetery is now located. The act provided for the election of a Magistrate and three Commissioners charged with governing the town. They were empowered to appoint a constable and a clerk, and to collect taxes for such necessities as street repair. In January, 1851, the act was amended to include the Island Ford community by extending the corporate boundary to the east. The act was also amended in 1855, increasing the number of Commissioners from three to five and raising the limit on taxation.
Civic and political boredom seems to have set in during and after the Civil War, when failure to elect new officials caused the act of incorporation to lapse. Thus the town was re-incorporated in 1867, and 1875. The final "Act to incorporate the town of Franklinville" was adopted on December 19, 1917. This was the first act to drop the 's' from the town's name, creating Franklinville from Franklinsville. The town government currently operates under this charter.
The community was awarded a post office on June 25, 1840. The importance of this event can be read in the May, 1844 real estate advertisement of a Franklinsville resident "moving west": "...The premises are well adapted to keeping Entertainment — there being no other tavern or house of public entertainment in the place. It is also to be remembered that, from a late arrangement of the Post Office department, this place is directly on the state route from Raleigh to Salisbury...."
The postal stage route remained the major means of Franklinville's communication with the outside world until the arrival of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad on May 17, 1890.
The lack of adequate facilities in Franklinsville at the time of the founding of the cotton factory was a major impediment to recruiting a labor force. Despite the advertising for young men to work in the mills, the majority of the work force was made up of women and children. The male residents of the town were almost exclusively engaged in skilled trades such as blacksmithing or wagon manufacturing, or in a craft such as pottery. Because these craftsmen owned or farmed no land of their own, the mills were a natural opportunity both to rent homes and employ members of their families.
The close company during the long work hours naturally bred a tight-knit social order among members of the mill labor force and created a number of hereditary mill families. Although child labor laws and other social changes have eased the apparently hard life of early mill villages such as Franklinville, many of the more positive traditions remain, such as the strong feeling of community and a desire for local economic self-sufficiency.
Coexisting with the economic and social system of the mills was the separate local community of artisans and small merchants. In the last half of the nineteenth century Franklinville boasted cabinet- and wagon-makers, manufacturers of mill machinery and chairs, potters, saddlers, carpenters, a painter, and even a photographer. Other retail establishments also flourished, providing an alternative to the lines of dry goods carried in the company stores. The farmers of the surrounding area, whose daughters were often employed in the mills, provided the residents of the town with fresh agricultural products. In return, Hugh Parks established a modern dairy farm between Ranseur and Coleridge, stocked with prize-winning, blooded cattle available to the local farmers for stud service.
Three of the most important trades in the town were the Franklinsville Iron Works, the Jones Wagon and Buggy Factory and the local pottery. The Franklinsville Iron Works on Bush Creek had been opened in 1849 to process ore from the mine at Iron Mountain, near Holly Springs. The company provided armaments for the Confederate Army all during the Civil War by obtaining an exemption from the draft for its employees. After the mine closed down in 1868 the works were sold to George H. Makepeace, who bought scrap metal for processing and continued operations for a few years. By 1884 his son, U.B. Makepeace, was using the facilities as a chair factory. The wagon and buggy works, begun by Isham Jones in the mid-nineteenth century, manufactured horse-drawn wagons and buggies until the advent of the automobile. Drawing on its experience, the company then built its own early versions of pickup trucks in the Franklinville shop. The potters on Academy Street and Walnut Branch provided the area with a varied ceramic output in the tradition of the many potteries in Randolph and Moore counties.
The town's first school was built in 1845 across from the Methodist cemetery (Smith Street), and incorporated by the legislature in 1850 as the Franklinsville Academy. A later Franklinville Academy was established in 1903 as a public school across from the Baptist church. In 1852 some of the stockholders of the factories joined with residents of Cedar Falls to support Middleton Academy, a private school located halfway between the two towns. The school was taken over by the Freedman's Bureau after the Civil War, and was destroyed in a racial incident during the Reconstruction period. The present Franklinville School (not in the district) was built on the corner of Academy and Pine Streets after a disastrous fire destroyed the previous school in 1954.
In August, 1839, the organization of a Methodist Episcopal congregation brought the first religious observances in the new mill town. Until a Baptist church was built in 1884, the Methodist church was the primary religious influence except during the Civil War period. The pro-slavery stand of the Methodist Episcopal and Methodist Protestant churches was distasteful to many in Randolph County, and many in the area were very receptive to the abolitionist gospel of a Wesleyan Methodist missionary who preached in the county from 1848 to 1851. One of the six churches he organized in the county was in Franklinsville, to the consternation of some of the mill owners.
A short-lived opposition...flared up in Franklinsville, when the Randolph Manufacturing Company...discharged an employee, L. York, because he dared to attend the abolitionist's meeting house. The Island Ford Manufacturing Company also took this attitude but after a few months it became apparent that this attitude was detrimental to the morale of the organization and accordingly it was rescinded and York was reinstated in his position.
Despite this policy of toleration, the Franklinsville church evidently did not survive the June, 1861, organization of a Home Guard unit in the town to suppress the "Abolitionist and Lincolnite among us." The present Franklinville Wesleyan Church was begun in 1912.
Although several social organizations are active in Franklinville today, the oldest such group is the Masonic Order. The local chapter, known as "Hank's Lodge," was founded in 1850 and built their Greek Revival meeting Hall in 1852. The building was originally sited on the old Deep River Road, but was moved in the 1920s to its present location at 157 West Main Street in the center of town. Another important group was the Ladies' Aid Society, which sponsored for many years the annual "Chrysanthemum Show and Industrial Fair." Prizes were awarded for judged examples of flowers, cooking and needlework. In 1914 the Asheboro newspaper wrote, "The town of Franklinsville is to be congratulated upon the good work that is being carried on by several good people who have the best interest and welfare of the town at heart, and every year have a chrysanthemum show and industrial fair for local exhibitors only. The object...creates a keen local interest in the making of home products. The prize list is just from the press and shows a total of more than 80 prizes offered altogether by the people of Franklinsville...the promoters are to be congratulated upon the success which they have attained."
Franklinville at this time could boast of a wide variety of small businesses and trades. These included a livery stable, grocery stores, a doctor's office, brick plant, ice house, blacksmith shop, tinsmith, and a shoemaker. The mill companies operated dual company stores until 1920, when they were merged into one business, The Franklinville Store Company, and a new brick building was constructed at the intersection of Rose and Main Streets. At the same time the two companies built a common office which also houses the Bank of Franklinville, the town's first and last financial institution. The bank was a victim of the Depression, and is no longer in business. The town's first paved road was built through the influence of John W. Clark soon after he assumed the presidency of Randolph Mills. Businesses then began to shift away from the unpaved River Road, realigning the "business district" along Main Street.
In its position as principal employer and principal landowner in the small community, Randolph Mills provided many social benefits for the townspeople. In 1924 a company-run movie theater was opened providing free movies for children. The same year John Clark supported the creation of the county's first public library in Franklinville, run by Miss Katherine Buie. Park land was developed along the river front, and a 30-acre picnic area including Faith Rock was accessible by foot bridge across the river.
Although the history of Franklinville is tightly bound to the development of the town's textile industry, the corporate history of the mills is of equal interest to the social history of the community. The relationship of the people of Franklinville to the mills and the mill owners is a largely misunderstood aspect of the development of all Southern mill towns and the way of life common to them. The dependence of the mill workers upon the mill owners for many of the necessities of life, and the responsibility to provide for those workers which fell upon the owners was largely dependent on personalities and so certainly paternalistic to some extent, positive aspect such as the self-sufficient nature of the town, its growth and development in harmony with the balance of energy and natural forces, and the close feeling of community among all who lived there, should be of great interest to those concerned with the similar problems of the late twentieth century.
Blair, J. A. Reminiscences of Randolph County. Greensboro: Reese and Elam, 1890.
Burgess, Fred. The Randolph County Economic and Social.
Caruthers, E. W. Revolutionary Incidents and Sketches of Character Chiefly in the Old North State. Philadelphia: Hayes and Zell, 1854.
Courier-Tribune, Asheboro, N. C.
Craven, Braxton. "Randolph in Olden Times," Evergreen, Vol. 1, No. 5 (May 1850).
Fanning, David. The Narrative of Colonel David Fanning. Spartansburg: The Reprint Company, 1973.
Franklinsville Manufacturing Fact Sheet (Unpublished manuscript in possession of Mrs. Carrie Parks Stamy, Etters, Pa ).
(The)Greensborough Patriot, Greensboro, N. C.
(The) Greensboro Record, Greensboro, N. C.
Hinshaw, Quaker Records, Vol. 1: North Carolina.
King, C. Henry. "Iron Hill Iron Mines, N. C.," Rocks and Minerals (July-August 1949).
Laws of North Carolina.
(The) News and Observer, Raleigh, N. C.
Nicholson, Wesleyan Methodism in the South.
Private Laws of North Carolina
Public Laws of North Carolina
(The) Randolph Bulletin.
Randolph County Deed Books.
(The) Southern Citizen.
Tolbert, Noble J. The Papers of John Willis Ellis, 2 vols. Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1964.
United States Census Records, 1850, 1860.
† Virginia Oswald and L. M. Whatley, Franklinville Historic District, Randolph County, NC, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.