Historic Structures

Lenoir Cotton Mill, Lenoir City Tennessee

Date added: August 3, 2022 Categories: Tennessee Mill

The Lenoir Cotton Mill, built sometime between 1810 and 1821, was one of a series of mills in the community along Town Creek, and was the only one surviving in more than a ruinous state. They were built by William Ballard Lenoir, a prosperous farmer, manufacturer, miller, land surveyor, and merchant who settled here in 1810. His entire estate remained intact following his death in 1852, and in 1890 was taken over by a development company, the Lenoir City Company, who laid out the present town. At that time there were 1000 spindles operated in the mill. It was later converted to a grain mill, then sold to the city, it had been unused for many years. In 1991 it was destroyed by fire. Some of the walls were stabilized and it is now the site of a city park.

Excluding the basement, the mill has four levels. The basement level is partially built into the hillside and was probably never used due to its limited headroom and probable ground water problems. The first and second floor plans measure 43' x 49' and the third level measures 28' x 49'. The fourth floor was an unused attic space. There are two stairways leading from floor to floor.

The exterior brick walls rest on two-feet wide foundation walls on all four sides. The walls are horizontal coursed rubble which was laid up wet. The six interior columns originally were bearing on grade. However, several have been altered to bear on small concrete pedestals.

The tin roof which presently exists is probably not original. Most of the roofing used in the East Tennessee region in the early 1800's consisted of either slate or wood shingles. Due to the weight problems of the slate and its limited accessibility, it is reasonable to assume that the roof was originally covered with wood shingles.

Windows are placed symmetrically and are basically the same size throughout the building with the exception of those at the third floor at the east and west sides and those at the north and south sides of the fourth floor. The concrete lintels shown above the windows at the second, third, and fourth floors are imitations. Originally the lintel was intended to take the load over an opening. In this case the builders applied a layer of mortar over the brick located above the window to create a false lintel. The first floor windows had false lintels also, but these were of wood and had a more elaborate design. They no longer remain on the building.

The mark of the handtool is visible in many parts of the building. Beams, columns and column capitals were cut to fit and connected in many places with wooden pegs. The few tie rods, plates and hinges remaining appear to be hand wrought. Interesting features of the building are the wood trusses found near the ceiling of the second floor and in the east/west walls of the third floor. By using the concept of truss construction they were able to have a column free space at the third level and only two columns at the second level. Apparently they were interested in having as much column free space as possible to more easily accommodate the mill machinery and work activity.

The construction of the building is termed heavy timber construction, but is more frequently known as mill construction since it had its origin in New England where construction using heavy timber construction was developed many years ago to decrease the fire hazard in textile mills. With the exception of the truss hidden in the side walls at the third level the wood frame is completely exposed and consequently makes this building a study in regional nineteenth century craftsmanship.