Manchester Cotton & Woolen Manufacturing Company, Richmond Virginia
Richmond's highly acclaimed tobacco, flour, and iron industries obscured the role cotton manufacturing played in the area during the nineteenth century. The country's largest flour mills shipped the staple to markets around the world while numerous tobacco factories processed the brown leaf for European and domestic buyers, each overshadowing the production of the cotton mills. The location of the city's two cotton mills along the southern bank of the James River in the suburb of Manchester further contributes to the absence of good historical documentation. Perhaps coverage of this industry would be more extensive if it had enjoyed greater prosperity. Nevertheless, the history of one company, the Manchester Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company, does contribute to a better understanding of an early attempt to diversify the region's predominantly agrarian economy.
Cotton manufacturing in the antebellum South developed slowly and unevenly. While visionary manufacturers established large mill towns throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, southern planters invested their money in the cultivation of cotton and tobacco fields. They bought land and slaves rather than factories and machines. As long as cotton prices remained high and land relatively cheap, Southern planters had few incentives to invest in manufacturing.
Those individuals who considered opening a factory soon realized that there was little Southern demand for ready-made clothing because the region's craft tradition satisfied most of the South's textile needs. Southern families, white and black, spun and dyed cloth and sewed many of their own garments; few bought factory-made vestments at local stores. They had little reason to do so since the cotton was readily available and inexpensive, and because the nearest stores were often miles away from the scattered farms.
A few Southerners, however, did attempt to establish cotton factories in the region. Some took advantage of the British sea trade embargo during the War of 1812 which cut off the South's cotton from northern manufacturers. These men established small yarn factories throughout North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. But after the war, northern companies resumed production, putting the infant industries out of business.
Another hesitant step towards large-scale Southern textile production occurred during the 1830s when southern leaders reacted angrily to the national tariff. The tariff raised the price of British manufactured goods, including textiles. This was detrimental to Southern cotton farmers who sold their raw product to English manufacturers. During this period, local merchants and commercial agents established mills throughout the region. Most of these mills remained profitable into the 1840s when a slump in cotton prices lowered factory labor costs and encouraged planters to make investments in manufactures.
Geographical and financial problems, however, kept Southern textile investors from realizing substantial profits during the antebellum years. The lack of urban growth stunted the demand for ready-made clothing and allowed local household production to satisfy the region's textile needs. Poor roads and limited railway lines failed to reach the sources of waterpower. The region's small streams which turned the cotton mill's water wheels and turbines generated insufficient horsepower during the fall months and often dried up during the summer months.
Many antebellum manufacturers confronted these problems. In Virginia, however, there were many rivers, easy access to ocean ports, urban markets, and sufficient cheap labor, so prospective manufacturers found starting cotton factories less risky. By the late-1830s, Virginia had twenty-three cotton mills, many located around Petersburg, a town situated about 30 miles south of Richmond. In 1837, the Manchester Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company opened a mill in Manchester, on the southern bank of the James River.
In spite of the early optimism that characterized these initial efforts towards textile manufacturing in Virginia, economic conditions for textiles worsened during the 1850s. The resurgence of cotton prices forced factory owners to outbid planters for workers. High labor costs were compounded by the lack of sufficient investment capital and high interest rates. The region's wealth was invested in land and slaves, leaving Southern bankers short on funds to lend factory owners.
These pressures diminished profits and forced some mills to close. In 1855 the Manchester Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company stockholders considered selling their mill because of its low earnings. The company board members formed a committee to study the establishment's prospects and ascertain its future profitability. This group finally concluded, however, that recently purchased new machinery and improvements made in the carding and spinning departments would make the mill solvent in the near future, and they recommended that the board members retain ownership of the cotton mill.
Those mills that survived the 1850s faced a serious challenge during the Civil War. The hostilities slowed the flow of raw cotton from the plantations into the mills and disrupted sales to foreign and domestic markets, while in some cases, military occupation stopped production altogether.
These factors and others impeded the growth of Southern textiles mills before and during the Civil War. After the war, the economic climate for cotton manufacturers did not improve significantly. Nationwide economic depressions severely affected the South's marginally profitable cotton mills. The 1870s were especially difficult years, as many mills owners throughout Petersburg and Richmond were forced to temporarily suspend production while others found it necessary to sell their factories. The Manchester cotton mill changed owners two times during this decade, once in 1871 and again in 1876, when slumping profits induced the cotton mill's owners to sell the building and its machinery to S. P. Arrington of Petersburg.
The economic problems of the 1870s spurred Southern leaders to call for greater investment in manufacturing during the 1880s. Prominent journalists, writers, and businessmen campaigned for a "New South" based on a well-balanced economy of farms and factories, fields and cities. Many of their ideas sprang from a belief that Washington politicians, particularly Republicans, had not dealt fairly with the South and that a stronger economic base would help solve problems of poverty while creating jobs, roads, schools, hospitals, and more productive farms.
The New South advocates called for a concentrated program to invest capital in land and manufacturing. They urged Southern politicians to lower corporate taxes, build railways and highways, and invest in public works. They insisted that the South had the resources to compete successfully against northern capitalists. They pointed out that coal deposits had gone untapped during the slave years and called for a concerted effort to exploit the South's mineral deposits.
While cotton mills were never very successful during the antebellum period and even into the 1870s, textile manufacturing flourished during the 1880s. Most of this spurt in production came from Southern based capital, not as a result of the migration of Northern funds. Cities like Augusta, Georgia and Charolotte, North Carolina became the centers of large textile companies as well as the home of engineering firms, machinery manufacturers, and financial institutions.
However, the success of these Southern cotton mills in the 1880s was not totally without an industrial precedent. Several other Southern industries flourished during the antebellum years, especially in Richmond. The city on the James enjoyed numerous industrial advantages. Tobacco, cotton, and coal supplies were abundant, while the river allowed easy access to ocean ports where ships brought goods to markets located throughout the country and around the world. Richmond's industries attracted migrants seeking jobs in the various factories, and this growing population, in turn, constituted large markets for manufactured goods. By the Civil War, Richmond had become the South's greatest industrial metropolis.
Raw tobacco remained Richmond's most valuable export commodity through the first two decades of the nineteenth century, as local farmers constantly expanded their holdings into nutrient-rich fields to increase output. By 1818, increased European demand raised prices and Richmond's export trade boomed. At that time, however, some Richmond tobacco merchants switched from exporting the raw leaf and began processing the valuable crop in their newly established factories. Richmonders labored in eleven tobacco factories in 1819, forty-three by 1859, and fifty by 1860, the most of any city in the country.
Though tobacco was the city's leading commodity, wheat was Richmond's oldest, having first been milled in the 1790s. By the 1830s wheat was the city's second leading export product. The city's flour mills were producing large quantities of the staple and shipping it to buyers in Latin America and Brazil, where coffee was imported in exchange. By the 1850s the flour trade supported seven large mills, one of which, the Dunlop and McCance mill, operated in Manchester.
Though the region around Richmond was rich in coal, the source of coke needed for iron smelting, it took the laying of Virginia's railway in the 1830s and 1840s to stimulate the growth of the metropolis' iron industry. By the mid-nineteenth century, city foundries molded wrought-iron, cast-iron and manufactured related products such as steam engines and cannons. The Tredagar Iron Works, established in the late 1830s, soon became the city's largest employer and played a leading role in arming the Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1860 iron manufactures employed twenty percent of Richmond's labor force and grossed more than two million dollars.
By the mid-nineteenth century these Richmond industries had attracted new residents and the city's population grew steadily. From 1850 to 1860 the population increased from 27,500 to nearly 38,000. Ten years later the city had grown to over 50,000.
The small town of Manchester, situated along the southern bank of the James River, benefited from Richmond's growth and its emergence as a major Southern industrial center. By 1873 Manchester had just over 5,000 residents. By 1879 the town's population had risen to about 6,500 and by the early twentieth century it had reached 15,000.
The town's population growth, particularly in the 1870s, fundamentally transformed its social character. While in the early 1800s Richmond businessmen had established summer residences in Manchester, by the late-nineteenth century it had taken on a working-class identification. As black and white laborers became a permanent and significant part of the small town, Richmonders increasingly looked down on the community. During a struggle over annexation in 1879, Richmond's political leaders complained about the impact an increased number of blue collar voters would have on city elections. Eventually Manchester came to be referred to as "Dogtown."
Despite the aspersions cast by Richmond residents, blacks and other white laborers probably found Manchester a viable alternative to the larger city's segregated and expensive neighborhoods. Antebellum black servants lived near their white employers, but by the eve of the Civil War, blacks increasingly formed their own areas in the city. After 1870, whites closed off their neighborhoods and forced blacks to the city's peripheries. Manchester provided the outcast group with old and inexpensive housing located near employment opportunities in Chesterfield County's tobacco fields and close to menial jobs in Richmond's industrial sector at the north end of the Mayo Bridge. Typically, blacks worked as housekeepers, farm laborers, and industrial laborers in the tobacco factories and grain mills. Irish and Scottish names appear throughout the census rolls, listed as laborers, housekeepers, seamstresses, and in the cotton and grain mills.
Manchester's growth at the end of the nineteenth century came only after decades of efforts by town leaders to attract residents and employers. Colonel William Byrd II originally laid out the town in 1769 and soon several British commercial agents and tobacco inspectors took advantage of the settlement's inexpensive land prices and established trading outposts in the area. Captain John Mayo, who in 1788 built a toll bridge between the suburb and the metropolis, constructed a flour mill and a power canal alongside the James sometime before 1769. The town of Manchester purchased the flour mill and the canal in the early nineteenth century.
The Manchester Canal required constant maintenance and repairs. Throughout the nineteenth century, frequent storms brought high water that damaged the canal's walls and gates. The town improved the canal's stone dam, head gates, and waste gates. During periods of low water, town officials authorized the extension of the stone dam and the dredging of the head race channel to increase the flow of water to the mills. In the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s floods on the James River ravaged the dam and canal. In October of 1870, a flood forced several mills to close temporarily. Afterward, the trustees determined that the headgates, the water gates, and the wasteway needed repairs. In August of the next year a drought decreased the water level in the canal and temporarily halted production.
The canal that Manchester officials labored so hard to maintain in good repair was the town's major civic investment. It began on the west with a 3' high, 900' long stone dam that reached into the James River. Manchester residents paid $2,570 for the dam, most of which was built in 1858 with the final 50' constructed in 1878. On the east the canal emptied into a pond that probably helped to regulate the amount of water available to the various mills in the area. In 1867, the canal carried over 7,000 cubic inches of water under a three-foot head. Current maps indicate that the canal is 38' wide near the Manchester cotton mill and about 4,500' long from its western opening to the point where it empties into the James River.
The canal appears typical of the water power channels in the region. Because the James lacked a substantial water fall at any one point, mill owners and town trustees were forced to build rather long canals. In the case of the Manchester cotton mill, the water entered the canal and traveled about 2,000 feet before it reached the mill. It then stood about seventeen feet above the river. This drop produced a powerful head which turned the turbines that powered the textile machinery.
The need for a sufficient fall between the canal and the river played a significant role in determining the location of mills along the Manchester canal. Because the height of the fall increased with the distance from the western opening of the canal, all of the large mills occupied sites on the eastern end of the canal near Mayo Bridge. Smaller mills, that did not need a significant amount of water power could locate closer to the western end.
The canal system boasted certain advantages and disadvantages for the mill owners and city trustees. The owners benefited because the city paid all canal maintenance costs, while the mills simply paid water rents. The city trustees benefitted because the canal was a valuable selling points which they used to lure manufacturers into the area.
But the canal also had a major drawback. Water used by one mill could not be reused by others further downstream. In contrast, the mills around Petersburg occupied lots alongside the Appomattox River and each had its own stone dam that brought water into each mill's canal. After the water fell through one mill and powered the turbine, it reentered the river to be reused by another manufacturer downstream. Evidently, this recycling of water could not occur along the Manchester canal as several mills tapped into the water channel and only one stone dam reached into the river. This factor may have contributed to the episodes of inadequate water supply which frequently forced the cessation of production.
However, the design of the Manchester canal was not totally to blame for the lack of sufficient water power. Water supply problems in Manchester and Petersburg also stemmed from the fact that the mill sites sat on small to medium-sized rivers that could not produce much horsepower. While the New England milling cities of Lowell, Manchester, and Lawrence utilized rivers that provided from 12,000 to 15,000 horsepower at each site, the Appomattox River produced little more than 3,000.
Despite these drawbacks, the town of Manchester made the canal the focal point of its campaign to encourage industrial development on the south side of the James River during the mid- and late-19th century. Newspaper ads proclaimed the canal's supply of water sufficient for any miller's needs. Manufacturers need not worry about their power source, one ad suggested, because the "dam and canals are kept in order by (the town of Manchester)." Another ad noted that "no taxes are levied on improvements built or machinery operated" on the Manchester commons, located beside the canal.
The industries located on the canal generated an important source of city revenue. Companies rented water rights on an annual basis, and their payments represented a significant part of the town's funding. Rates stood at $2.50 per square inch of water from the canal's inception until the 1880's when rents increased to $4.00 The owners of the Manchester cotton mills, for example, paid $2,000 per year in water rent. The fees paid by all the companies represented Manchester's second largest source of income and in 1879 produced more than $8,500, or about 25% of the town's revenue and 73% of its total assets.
Manchester leaders realized quite early in the nineteenth century that the canal could be quite lucrative. But this revenue would only come when industries established factories along the southern bank of the James. To encourage industrial development, the town's trustees granted to Turner Sharp a mill site with water rights free of any payment of water rents for fifty years. Sharp did not build on the lot and in 1834 he sold the land and water rights to the Manchester Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company for $6,000. The exact origins of this firm are not clear, but they encouraged its formation when town trustees in 1832 petitioned the Virginia legislation asking that "two general acts. . . be passed incorporating two joint stock companies." They funded this company through private subscriptions with a capital stock of $100,000.
The Manchester Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1834 and between 1837 and 1840 erected the first substantial mill along the canal. Town trustees had hoped that this new company would spur further investment in the area. However, this did not occur. Partial explanations for its failure was because workers had completed the Kanawha Canal on the northern bank of the James River, thus motivating several manufacturers to leave Manchester and relocate near the newly completed ship channel. As late as 1859, only the Manchester Cotton and Woolen mill and the James River Manufacturing Company, cotton mill founded in 1848-49, appeared on maps of Richmond.
By the 1860s, however, Manchester finally began to feel the effects of Richmond's growth. An 1864 city map indicated that several manufacturers had constructed plants in the area, including the Dunlop and McCance flour millers (located east of the Manchester cotton mill), a company that flourished during the later nineteenth century; and the city flour mills, abutting the eastern side of the Mayo Bridge.
By the late-1870s, nine manufacturers had located along the canal. Two companies founded in the last ten years included the Martin Brothers and the Baker sumac mill (1874), located at the far western end of the canal. West of the Manchester Cotton Mills stood the Manchester Paper Mills (founded in 1864). Five factories stood east of the Mayo Bridge: the city flour mills, Marshall Cotton Mills (which bought the James River Cotton mills in 1869), G. P. Stacy's mattress factory (founded in 1862), and an iron foundry.
By 1886 seven companies were using water from the Manchester canal. These included the Richmond Cedar Works (a bucket-making company founded in 1878); the Manchester Paper Mill; two flour mills (Walker and Saunders, Dunlop and McCance); two cotton mills—Manchester Cotton Mills (since 1871 referred to as Old Dominion Cotton Mills), and the Marshall Manufacturing Company; and, the Manchester Corn Mill.
Those companies grouped around the east end of the canal, conspicuously symbolized the central importance water power played for nineteenth century industrialization. Until the end of the nineteenth century the canal provided the focus for manufacturing. The late-1870s and early-l880s were the canal's peak years with nine factories utilizing its power. By the 1890s steam and electric power allowed factory owners to move away from the channel. By 1895 the city flour mill and Manchester corn mill no longer stood along the canal. The Richmond Spike and Iron Company occupied the old corn mill site. The rest of the area appeared largely unchanged through 1905 except that G. P. Stacy's mattress factory no longer existed. Standard Paper Company, which owned the lot, had erected a structure and between 1910 and 1919 they expanded that building to the east. It was also in 1919 that Dunlop mills expanded their factory eastward.
By 1952, the Sanborn map showed the site altered in numerous ways. The Dunlop mills location was now occupied by Southern States Co-operative Grain Marketing Mills Inc. and Dixie-Portland Flour Mills. The lot on Hull and First Street (formerly the site of Standard Paper Company mill) was vacant. Standard Paper continued to occupy the old Marshall mill building and attached new structures. Of the original nineteenth century structures, only the Manchester cotton mill building definitely remains.
The canal no longer plays a role in the manufacturing activities that take place in South Richmond (formerly Manchester). Today, the railroad lines and highways provide a central focus for several paper companies, a grain cooperative, petroleum refineries, a tobacco factory, and produce distributors. However, though unused, the canal remains a visible reminder of water power's central importance to nineteenth century industry.
From Cotton Mill to Paper Mill
Two significant factors shape the development of this site during its fifty-plus years as a cotton mill. First, all improvements and changes in the operation of the plant had to occur within a geographically restricted area bounded by the Mayo Bridge on the east, the James River on the North, the power canal on the south, and the Manchester Paper Company (after 1865) on the west. Second, the business of textile manufacturing never produced profits which would have allowed extensive reinvestment or expansion of the plant or equipment. Wool manufacturing was abandoned after only a few years, certainly before 1850. While some minor alterations and additions were made in the nineteenth century, and some old equipment replaced by new machinery, the productive capacity of the cotton mill remained largely the same.
Statistics indicate the stagnant nature of the Manchester cotton mill in terms of capital investment and output. The number of spindles and looms, for example, stayed roughly the same beginning at 7900 spindles and 256 looms in 1850, and only reaching 9000 spindles and 250 looms by 1889. The same stagnation was seen in the mill's production. From 1850 to 1870 there was a decrease in the amount of cloth produced and in the total value of the cloth produced.
Certainly, the cotton mill owners did attempt to improve their plant's productivity over the years. In 1855 they invested $21,487 to increase production and turn out "better work and more of it with fewer operatives." By 1867, the mill owners had once again upgraded the factory's technology, this time by importing from England new machines costing $50,000. However, although these changes were made, the mill did not significantly expand either the number of spindles in operation or the level of output. In 1871 the factory's trustees sold the mill.
Another indication of the company's lack of prosperity was the fact that the owners altered the basic mill structure very little during the nineteenth century. The various processes that took place on each floor remained relatively constant. The mill was not expanded or altered significantly, probably because the company had little money to reinvest in alterations.
Mill #1 had 4-1/2 stories and a basement. Throughout the nineteenth century, the first floor housed the packing and storage departments; the second, fourth, and fifth floors the weaving departments; and the second floor and the attic, the spinning departments (with 5000 spindles).
Mill #2 housed departments that both spun and wove textiles. In 1886, Mill stories. The first floor housed the machine and carpentry shop; the "warping" and "slashing" departments occupied the second floor, and the carding room was on the third floor. A second section of Mill #2 (paralleling the James River) was also a three story structure. The first floor housed the "lumber room," the second floor contained the spinning room (with 4000 spindles) and the third floor housed the carding department. South of this structure and connected to it by a "shaft" was the rectangular picker room building with a stable attached to its north elevation and a cotton shed attached to its west elevation.
Between 1886 and 1895 Mill #2 was demolished and rebuilt. The reason for these alterations has not been determined. However, the confined nature of the mill site made expansion difficult and may have precipitated the change. With little room to expand on the site, the mill owners were forced to rebuild upon existing foundations. The insurance maps showed that the building's functions, though rearranged on each floor, remained largely unchanged. It is also important to note that the maps continued to refer to the structure as though it had two parts. In other words, though the former L-shaped structure had been converted into a square structure, the maps continued to make two separate references to the function of the building. On the east side, the first floor remained the machine and carpentry shop, the second floor (warping and slashing departments in 1886) housed the carding section. The third floor (which was the carding section in 1886) now housed the warping and slashing departments. The west side by 1895 had a vacant first floor (the lumber room in 1886), a carding room on the second floor (the old spinning room), and a slashing room on the third floor.
The significance of the map references seem clear. First, they suggested that the old Mill #2 layout and structure continued to influence the square building after its construction. The old mill's foundations supported the new building. Also, since no new activities were added after these alterations, the owners probably initiated the changes to expand old operations. Had there been room on the site they could have simply built a new structure and changed the function of Mill #2. But because of the restrictive lot size they razed Mill #2 and rebuilt an expanded version. That they failed in this attempt to enhance the mill's economic viability is indicated by the fact mill operations were suspended in the 1890s.
Just as the Manchester cotton mill owners failed to significantly expand or alter the mill site or its machinery, they also evidently did not have sufficient funds to increase the mill's overall operating power. There appears to have been little change or addition to the water power system during the nineteenth century. Beginning in the early 1840s, the company had installed two wheels, one serving each mill. This basic arrangement remained intact into the 1880s. In 1884 the "two large turbine wheels," one fifty-two inches and the other forty-eight inches in diameter powered the cotton mill.
The two-wheel system remained intact until 1895 when the Sanborn map indicated the existence of a third wheel. However, there is no way of knowing if all three wheels were in operation. The map showed that wheel #1 powered Mill #1 and stood near the northwest corner of that mill. Wheel #2 powered Mill #2 and was located to the west of wheel #1, along the eastern wall of Mill #2. Wheel #3, which also powered Mill #2, was located just south of where the two buildings of Mill #2 joined. Only wheels #1 and #3 appear on the 1886 Sanborn map. However a figure labeled "old wheel" does appear on the 1886 map in the approximate location of the second wheel. There is no head or tail race connected to this wheel.
While the cotton mill owners did not change the water power system in any substantial way during the nineteenth century, the more successful Standard Paper Company owners made some significant alterations, particularly to the head race that brought water from the canal to the wheels. Initially the head race had to veer eastward and then westward to go around an office and finally reached wheel #1. In 1905, the head race no longer served wheel #1 (since Mill #1 was then being used as a warehouse) so the channel took a straight line into the second wheel. Another factor that may have influenced the changing head race path was the laying of railroad tracks, which first appear on the Sanborn map in 1905.
By 1905 only wheel #2 appeared on the Sanborn map. Physical evidence for this wheel exists today. The canal's penstock gate (10' wide) opens into a head race (66' long) that flows through a trash rack located below the paper company's loading platform. After the water flows past the trash rack it plummets down under the mill until it reaches a concrete conduit on the northern side of Mill #2. This conduit measures 52' long, 10' high, and 7' wide, and is squared with a rounded top. At the end of the conduit is a wheel housing, a twelve-sided stone structure, approximately 11' in diameter and 8' high. After passing through the wheel housing the water flows out the tail race into the river.
Physical evidence is also present for wheel #3 which stood at the junction of the two sections that made up Mill #2. In the head race, just south of the trash rack is a large pipe that appears to have at one time diverted water to the third wheel. The wheel housing and three brick conduits are visible in the paper company's basement. The round wheel housing is approximately 10' in diameter; 12' south of the housing are three brick conduit openings, each is about 6' wide and spaced 2' apart.
The same space constrictions faced by the cotton mill owners also challenged the Standard Paper Company owners who purchased the mill in 1901. Initially they made few changes in the site. By 1905 they had converted Mill #1 into a warehouse, expanded the bridge so it connected both the second and third floors, added a steam boiler to the old "picker room," and renovated the raceway between the canal and the turbine on the eastern wall of Mill #2. Mill #2's open interior, a characteristic of all cotton mills, allowed them space to install a large 90" Fourdrinier paper machine.
But later, from 1901 to 1919, the company found it necessary to expand. The constricted site offered them no choice but to fill in the space between the two mills. They erected an addition which added four rooms, for various operations in the paper making process. They also expanded beyond the site's perimeter. In the early 1900s they bought land across Hull street at First Street where they erected a separate building for finishing and coating paper. Later, after 1919, they bought the old Marshall Manufacturing Company's cotton mill located southwest of Dunlop flour mill, and converted the structure into another paper mill.
To understand the extensive additions initiated by the Standard Paper Company and the function of the paper-making machinery that remains in Mill transformation of rags into paper involved a series of processes that began after scavengers brought the discarded materials to the mill. Workers then dusted the fabrics to open up the fibers and separated the dirt from the material without harming the fibers. After workers removed buttons and snaps, machines called "rag willows" dusted the cloth by agitating it in a cylindrical barrel which required a 2' x 6' floor space. These machines were located on the third floor of Mill #1, probably because the dusting process filled the air with dirt and fine fibers which needed to be exhausted out open windows and ventilation ducts, while workers required good light to pick through debris.
After dusting, the material was cut up and placed into boilers. The cylindrical, cast-iron or steel machines sat on steel, masonry, or wood supports. The boiling process cleaned the rags of all grease and ground dirt, and further loosened the fibers.
Following the boiling stage, the liquid rag substance moved to the bleachers, which were round Hollander tubs, usually cast-iron or steel, with agitators at the bottom. Glazed tiles protected the walls of the tub from the bleach (usually chlorine gas), and reduced friction which harmed the fibers by causing them to bunch up.
After bleaching, the rags became a liquid pulp which workers then transferred to the beater room (second floor in Mill #2) where large vats (usually 25' long, 11' wide and 3-1/2' high) equipped with a motorized wheel, churned the solution stroking out the fibers and orienting them in the same direction. The beaters resembled the bleachers except they were oval rather than round and had a large wheel with many fine bristles that brushed out the fibers. After running through the beaters, pipes transferred the solution to the stock chests generally located in the basement. These vats held the paper solution until it was time to feed it into the fourdrinier machine.
The fourdrinier machine was the largest and the costliest machine in the paper making plant. This long and wide mechanism resembled an automated assembly line. It included many wheels that rolled the wet solution over numerous felt strips and through various suctioning devices which gradually removed the moisture, leaving only sheets of bounded fibers. The machine automatically rolled up the finished paper product on large spools at the end of the line. Workers then transported these spools to the finishing room where employees cut them into smaller rolls, bundled them into stacks, and wrapped them in coverings for transport. They also added glazes, tints, and textures for special paper orders in this room.
Evidence of this paper making process is found in the western additions to Mill #2. Heavy wooden and steel columns that may have supported the large fourdrinier machine are visible in the ruins of Mill #2. Pipes and conduits, hanging in a tangled mess from the ceiling, once carried paper stock to the boilers, bleachers, beaters, and to the fourdrinier, ventilated the work areas, and vacuumed away waste fluid. Other pipes connected with large pumps propelled the stock through the various conduits and extracted liquid waste from the fourdrinier. The four remaining large vats could have functioned as either bleachers or storage containers. The glazed tile vats most surely were bleachers.
PAPER MAKING FACILITIES ON FIRST FLOOR OF WESTERN ADDITION. VIEW FACING WEST (1986)
The paper plant operated at the mill site from 1901 to 1976 when it closed. In 1984, Mill #2 suffered extensive fire damage.