Historic Structures

Building Description Indiana Cotton Mills, Cannelton Indiana

Although several buildings were constructed at Cannelton, only one mill building was erected. Construction of the mill building, which faces the Ohio River on an 8.8 acre lot, began on 21 May 1849 and was completed in January 1851. Although the mill was considered an Impressive structure, and was frequently mistaken by river travelers for a government building, its owners were quick to point out that it was not intended to be an expensive structure. Its style, which reflects Tefft's interest in Lombard architecture, closely integrates mechanical and architectural components. During a period when New England factory design was simple and functional, the Indiana Cotton Mills was built to be both functional and monumental, a visible challenge to the industrial hegemony of the cotton manufactures of New England.

The main block, which contains three stories plus a basement and attic, is rectangular, flanked by twin towers. The last three bays at each end extend slightly from the southwest facade and are topped by gables containing oculus windows. Between the central towers is a block, topped by a smaller gable, which contains four large arched doorways (one per floor) which were used to move equipment. All the decorative elements--window sills, corbles, and cornices--are sandstone. The cornice around the entire building projects out approximately 1 1/2 feet and is supported by brackets similar to those supporting the window sills.

The towers were true utility cores. The east tower contained the stairway for the building and a large bell used to call workers to the factory. The west tower contained toilets, a ventilation system, and a cistern used for fire prevention. An elevator shaft was added to the west tower sometime after the initial construction was completed and has obliterated all traces of the ventilation system.

The mill is constructed of rubble masonry walls faced with coursed sandstone ashlar. The stone was taken from nearby quarries, while the wooden columns and beams were made from the white and red oak obtained from nearby forests. James charged McGregor with overseeing the 200-man carpentry and stone-cutting crews employed in the mill's construction. Because labor was inexpensive and local resources provided the building materials, the owners believed that construction costs could be kept at a minimum. The original owners seriously underestimated the cost of the building, however, and construction costs, along with increased fuel and machinery costs, led to a shortage of working capital which eventually forced them to sell the mill.

In addition to the mill building, there were several other structures occupying the site. A one-story wing housing the picker room is attached to the east end of the main block; a similar wing (which no longer survives) was equally wide but not as deep, and was attached at the opposite end. The picker room was set off from the main building as a fire prevention measure. The superintendent's house in the south corner of the lot was constructed in 1850-51 according to plans furnished by the superintendent, Ziba H. Cook. The frame house still exists although somewhat modified by the renovation carried out in 1912. Other buildings on the site included two stone warehouses north of the mi 11, two brick boiler houses west of the mill, a stone smith shop, a stone gas house and a brick waste house in the north end of the lot. Frame buildings included an ice house, waste shed, and privy in the far north section of the lot, a warehouse in the northeast corner of the lot and a frame office building east of the mill. in addition, there were gas reservoirs, cisterns and water tanks.

were gas reservoirs, cisterns and water tanks. Adjacent to the boiler house and west of the mill was the original smoke stack, a 135 foot stone structure that was a great source of pride for the factory. A brick stack 91 feet high was constructed before 1890 but both of these stacks apparently proved too low. A third, a giant stack over 200 feet high, was completed sometime before 1900.

Tefft's design was progressive in its careful integration of aesthetic and engineering requirements.- The overall shape of a spinning mill is determined by two considerations: the lightweight machinery and the need for ample light. Hence, cotton mills are multi-storied and narrow.8 Tefft took these two requirements and created an aesthetically pleasing structure by giving careful attention to proportion. He conceived of the mill as a series of overlapping squares. For example, the height of the towers is equal to one-half of the length of the main block, and is also twice the length of the gabled end section plus the end wing at their base. (Originally there was a corresponding wing at the other end, and the building was symmetrical.) The height of the main block is equal to its depth, and is also half the distance from the far edge of one tower to the edge of the main block at the other end. In addition, the width of the gabled end section plus the end wing above their bases is equal to the height of the gabled section to the top of its base. The end wing itself is square.

At a secondary level, the width of the central tower section is half the height of that section up to the central gable; the width of the gabled end section is one-eighth the length of the main stock.

in addition to their aesthetic role, the towers functioned as part of the extensive fire prevention system. A masonry vault in the west tower connected with the main boiler stack and served as an air exhaust system to clear the air of flammable lint. As trap doors on each floor were opened, the draft produced by the boiler was capable of pulling air from the factory through a connecting tunnel and expelling the lint from the boiler chimney. The system was used twice a day while the mill operatives were at lunch and dinner. The .east tower housed a wide stairway which could be easily reached in case of fire.

Other precautions were taken to avoid fire. The mill was heated throughout by steam pipes held by metal hook plates to avoid contact with wood, and where the pipes passed through the floor the adjoining wood was covered with metal. A permanent fire ladder was attached to the north facade of the building and is still in place. Gas lighting was added in 1854.

In 1851 a fire engine, or water pumping engine, of "much power and superior finish” was purchased by the company and kept in the basement. Two cisterns behind the mill held 100,000 gallons of water. There was a 150-foot hose on each floor for fire use. It appears that a more permanent fire insulation was installed before 1890. In the insurance survey for that year, there Es a description of two vertical pipes connected to stationary steam pumps which could flood each floor. The steam pumps were housed in a building outside the mill and were installed solely to fight fires.

During the period when the mill building was under construction, housing for the factory workers was built. The first operatives were young New England women who were brought west under a two-year contract. The use of women operatives in Mew England's mills was a well established practice by the 1840's. These women often came from the farms of Vermont and New Hampshire to earn money to help a hardpressed household or to build a bridal trousseau. "Clean, intelligent, and dutiful” New England women were attracted to Cannelton because wages there were higher than In the eastern mills.

Under the supervision of Bucklin, tenements and a hotel were built to house the women. The original plan called for the tenements to line an esplanade leading up to the mill from the river. However, the company changed the site of the tenements and their exact location and structure cannot be determined. The hotel was built on the corner of Front and Adams Streets and was later incorporated into the Cannelton Sewer Pipe Company building, which has been demolished.