THE COTTON MILL 1849-1954 by Michael Rutherford


CANNELTON REPORTER, Saturday,  24 June 1854


An act to incorporate the Cannelton Cotton Mill

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana: That C.T. James, E.M. Huntington, Hamilton Smith, S.P. Chase, James Boyd, Jacob Beckwith, Thomas M. Smith, James Low, Randall Crawford, Pearly Chamberlain, and John N. Breden, their associates, successors, and assigns, be and they are hereby made a corporation, by the name of the "Cannelton Cotton Mill," for the purpose of manufacturing cotton and other goods, at the town of Cannelton in the county of Perry, Indiana, and for this purpose shall have all the powers and privileges, and be subject to all duties and requisitions contained in the statute of 1843, Chapter 32, Article second, respecting corporations.

Be it further enacted: That the capital stock of such corporation shall not exceed five hundred thousand dollars, and that the said corporation may be lawfully seized and possessed of such real estate as may be necessary and convenient for the purposes aforesaid, not exceeding the value of fifty thousand dollars exclusive of buildings and improvements that may be made by the corporation.

This act shall take effect and be in force as a public act during the term of fifty years, from and after its passage, unless said corporation shall sooner be voluntarily dissolved by the stockholders, of which due public notice shall be given.

William A. Porter

Speaker of the House of Representatives

Paris C. Dunning

Speaker of the Senate

Approved, February 15, 1848

Jas. Whitcomb

State of Indiana: I, John H. Thompson, Secretary of State, for the State aforesaid, do hereby certify the foregoing is an entire and correct copy of an act entitled an "Act to incorporate the Cannelton Cotton Mill," taken from the original enrollment, now on file in my office. In testimony whereof, I have set my hand, and affixed the seal of the state, at Indianapolis, the 15th day of February, A. D. 1848.

John H. Thompson, Secretary of State

By W.R. Strange, Deputy


CANNELTON COTTON MILL- Directors and Stockholders

The Cannelton Cotton Mill was fully organized on the 22nd of September 1848 by election of the following officers and directors,


William Richardson, Pres.
Charles W. Short
Lewis Ruffner
Pearly Chamberlain
Oliver J. Morgan, of Carroll Parrish, La.
Alfred Thruston, Treas.
Wm. F. Pettit
James C. Ford
T.C. Coleman
William McLane, of Bedford, Ind.
Hamilton Smith, Secretary

This charter represents the first substantial result of years of research and promotion since 1833 by Hamilton Smith of Louisville, Ky. Of the names listed as incorporators on 15 February 1848 and as officers on 22 September 1848 only 3 are known to have had direct personal knowledge of some facet of the cotton industry. C.T. James of the incorporators was Gen. Charles Tillingham James of Providence, R.I., who had managed the design and construction or conversion of 22 steam cotton mills along the east coast during the preceding 10 years. Oliver J. Morgan and James C. Ford were owners of plantations in Louisiana which grew cotton. Four others-- E.M. Huntington, James Boyd, Hamilton Smith and Thomas M. Smith (brother of Hamilton Smith)-- at the time had additional interests in the Cannelton community. Huntington was to be a resident on a 700 acre estate 1 1/2 miles downstream from Cannelton; Boyd was agent and lessee of the American Cannel Coal Company since 4 July 1843; Thomas M. Smith was soon to be in Cannelton prospecting in other business ventures.

Of the incorporators 5 are known to have been stockholders of the ACCCo: Huntington, H. Smith, Boyd, Beckwith and P. Chamberlain. James was appointed a director of the ACCCo without being a stockholder. It is logical to presume the Thomas M. Smith was also a stockholder in the ACCCo. Of the mill directors, W. Richardson, Ruffner, Ford, Coleman and McLane were known stockholders in the ACCCo.

For more than 2 years following the issuance of the charter Hamilton Smith worked at increasing the number of stockholders. According to a sketch in the Cannelton Telephone, 13 October 1892, "An addition of wealthy stockholders was secured to whom were issued quantities of the stock at a sacrifice of from 30 to 50 per cent to those who had borne the expense of erecting the building. Means were thus raised to purchase the machinery costing $200,000."

The following list of stockholders was printed in THE ECONOMIST on 20 April 1850. The (*) has been added to denote those known to have been Coal Company stockholders; the (#) has been added to denote those who were cotton growers. One of the latter, M. (J.) Sellers, was not in the group listed as such in The Economist. However, Thomas Winpenny (see below) wrote: "In April 1853 Louisiana planters led by M.B. Sellers....;" he cited the Stockholders Minute Book, 1853, of the Indiana Cotton Mill.

Stockholders of the Cotton Mill:

Wm Richardson, Louisville *
Dr. Charles W. Short, Louisville
Hamilton Smith, Louisville *
Lewis Ruffner , Louisville *
Pearly Chamberlain , Louisville *
Wm. F. Pettit, Louisville
Alfred Thruston, Louisville
Robinson, Peter & Carey, Louisville
Robinson & Bros. , Louisville
Joseph S. Morris, Louisville
Edwin Morris, Louisville
Thomas C. Coleman, Louisville *
James C. Ford, Louisville *#
E. Hutchings, Louisville *
Col. Thomas Anderson, Louisville
Robert G. Cantray, Louisville
James E. Breed, Louisville
Col. Stephen H. Long, Louisville *
T.G. Richardson, Louisville
Jacob Beckwith, Louisville *
Samuel L. Nock, Louisville
John L. Martin, Louisville #
Thomas E. Wilson, Louisville
Wm A. Richardson, Louisville
James Boyd, Cannelton *
Hon. E.M. Huntington, Cannelton *
J.B.Smith, Cannelton
Col. Wm. McLane, Bedford *
Hon. Robt. D. Owen, New Harmony
Dr. David D. Owen, New Harmony
Randall Crawford, New Albany
Hon. O.J. Morgan, Carroll Parish, La. #
Hon. Henry Bry, Monroe, La. *#
Dr. M.J. Sellers, Lake Providence, La. # ?
Hon. Maunsel White, New Orleans, La. *
F.Y. Carlile, New Orleans, La. *
Rt. Rev. L. Polk, Philadelphia
Col. Wm. L. Campbell, Greenville, Miss. #
Hon. Francis Griffin, Greenville, Miss. #
David Hunt, Rodney, Miss. #
John Hutchins, Natchez, Miss. #
R.M. Gaines, Natchez, Miss. #
Charles T. James, Providence, R.I.
Willis Ranney, Louisville *
Charles H. Lewis, Louisville


At mid 19th century there was at least 24 cotton mills in operation in the Ohio Valley from Pittsburgh to Louisville. Each of them was smaller than the Cannelton mill would be, ranging in size from 500 to 6,300 spindles except for one of 10,000 spindles. Nine of them produced sheeting, 11 produced yarn only. Yarn production did not utilize spinning frames or weaving looms; the spindle count in yarn mills was that of the roving frames (slubbers). (See below in the description of operation.) There were 4 other mills at Lexington and Paris, Ky., and at Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, totaling around 10,000 spindles of unspecified production. At Bon Harbor, 3 miles below Owensboro, Ky., was a mill owned by Robert Triplett with 2,000 spindles producing sheeting. The Cannelton mill was to have 10,800 spindles.

This overview from the Cincinnati Price Current reprinted in THE ECONOMIST of 20 April 1850 totaled the spindle count at 89,000, soon to exceed 100,000 when the Cannelton Mill was in operation. The Cannelton Mill was to be the largest mill west of the Appalachians and the largest factory in Indiana for some years.

Another mill was under construction at Labanon, Tenn., with a production goal of specific usage for the immediate neighborhood. It was to be a steam mill, fueled exclusively by red cedar wood, of several 3 or 4 story buildings, each with only around 175 square feet per floor. There were to be 6,000 cotton spindles, 2,000 wool spindles, and looms for both kinds of cloth. The mill would also gin cotton, dye the cloth, grind corn, and make flour. All the raw material was to "grown within the sound of the factory bell."

On 27 October 1849 THE ECONOMIST printed in a letter written by "H" (Huntington?) on 23 October on board the riverboat "Saladin." Conversation with Mississippi cotton planters on board yielded the following suggested organization of cotton mills along lines related to those proposed for the Lebanon Mill. Planters, possibly also stockholders in the mills, would have their cotton processed by the mills at rates or on shares, the latter arrangement similar to that in use by grist millers. The planters would then own the cloth produced and could more effectively speculate in the market with cloth than with baled cotton. The mills would avoid the complications and risks of marketing cloth. Even though they would not have any opportunity for windfall profits in marketing, they should have a more stable and dependable manufacturing schedule. This type of practice could also be followed "without discouraging the regular business and system of the manufacturer."

This rather far fetched proposal illustrates the experimental and pioneering nature of "western" manufacturing ventures in mid-19th century.

In his appointed position as overseer of the design and construction of the Cannelton Cotton Mill, Gen. Charles T. James hired the architectural firm of Tallman and Bucklin in his home town, Providence, R.I. To a member of the staff, Thomas Tefft, was assigned the drawing of the mill plans. Mr Bucklin designed some of the boarding houses and the superintendents house built by the company.

The business of erecting the mill was under way by spring of 1849. Already on 16 August 1848 the Coal Company had granted rights to free coal for 15 years from 1 July 1848, thus, until 1 July 1863; these rights were transferred to the Indiana Cotton Mill on 1 April 1854. The Coal Company also donated the 3 blocks bounded by First, Adams, Fourth, and Washington Streets amounting to around 8 acres. During the second week of May THE ECONOMIST (12 May) noted that around "75 masons, stone cutters, carpenters, and laborers" were at work. Excavating the site in preparation for the foundation stones and cutting these immense stones from the cliff behind town were the chief activities.

However, a third activity was necessary for any progress to result from those two: A railroad to transport the stone to the building site had to be built. Whether this was of wooden or iron rails is not certain; one somewhat offhanded reference has been made to a wooden tramway. Since Boyds coal railroad already passed from southeast of Washington and Richardson Streets diagonally across mid- Cannelton, across the north corner of the Mill lot (Fourth and Adams), the mill railroad had to cross it at some point. The route for the stone had to originate northwest of the coal mine and railroad and from a higher level: The stone strata was above that of the coal. A likely route would have been on Washington Street.

On 21 May 1849 conditions were right for installing the first foundation stone "upon its long resting place" at the west corner; the structure above the foundation would not be of solid wall- thick stones. An informal ceremony developed due to the local novelty of such events. The "concourse of attentive observers" was first addressed by James Boyd, the Coal Company Agent in Cannelton since 4 July 1843. "And if our foundations are laid right, the structure carried up plumb, square and level -- and the management of our affairs hereafter also plumb with the line of integrity; square with the front of justice; and level with the rights of the employed as well as the employers, there is no doubt on my mind but that we will see in a very few months, one of the grandest specimens of architecture, and one of the noblest institutions for promoting industry, that is to be found west of the Alleghanies."

"Your work being done, Mr Achitect, then comes the job of another set of men: those whose duty it is to erect a structure sound to the cause of industry, economy, good morals and religion."..."The list of stockholders... are men, many of them rich...but, not one of them rich at the expense of honor and honesty."... "I therefore anticipate that our moral structure will hereafter stand as correctly with plumb and rule, as your stone one will."

Alexander McGregor, the construction architect and supervisor, made a shorter speech in reply to Boyd. "It will be my constant care to lay these foundation stones, now before you, deep and true, that they may repose in security and that the superstructure to be reared thereon, may rise, according to the plummets law-- its angles squared by the square of truth, and the cement which is to unite its component parts into one mass, may be spread with the hand of fidelity and skill, so that when the whole is completed, and its good proportions seen, we may look back with pride on the work of our united efforts." He sounded a note of prophetic gloom when he warned the directors to "Let no penny wise and pound foolish notions enter into their counsels, but let a fair and judicious use be made of their means and opportunities, and then all will be well."

"In conclusion, sir, let me announce to you that the first stone of the Cannelton Cotton Mill is now laid-- in the name of God, in due and ancient form, hoping the all- seeing Eye, that looketh with complacency on all laudable undertakings, will guide and govern all our actions, and preserve us in health and strength during the erection of this edifice."

These lofty remarks left Rev. John Fisher, the Unitarian minister just arrived from Boston, little to add along that line in "any desultory observations of my own." He then spent more than a column in THE ECONOMIST, somewhat inappropriately, outlining the material and mechanical details, history, and prospects of the mill. "This village comparatively unnoticed and unknown will rise...and...stand prominently forward on the map of the world, as the proved artificer of her own future, and eventually become, what Nature and Natures God ordained she should be, the great manufacturing emporium of the West."

In his closing remarks in the paper Editor Charles Mason observed, "As the building progresses, we hope and expect that arrangements will be made for laying the corner stone, in the presence of greater numbers of our friends." No mention has been found as to when or if such a ceremony took place. The foundation was completed sometime in June.

The original plan of Thomas Tefft called for stone tenements between the Mill and First Street to be built at the same time as the Mill. However, the "penny wise and pound foolish notions" of the directors feared by McGregor in his 21 May remarks were already a reality at the time. At least, the supply of capital was not equal to the designs of the plan.

(THE ECONOMIST, 23 June 1849)---"According to the original plan they (the boarding houses) were to be twelve in number, and situated at right angles with the factory, extending thence toward the river. Six of these being thus placed upon each of the parallel streets, the factory being in the background with its entire front exposed to view, would leave, between that building and the Ohio, a most beautiful esplanade, which, being ornamented with trees... would prove the most attractive feature in all the arrangements which the Company, in the expenditure of their capital could possibly make." ... "It is now contemplated to erect these houses on a lot of ground in the rear of the factory, leaving the space to which we have referred, to be filled up by other buildings."

Mason then raised questions as to the reasons for making these changes which he regarded as being detrimental to the entire project. A letter from Louisville, dated 23 June, probably from Hamilton Smith, pled the shortage of time as defense for changing to "ten to twenty double frame boarding houses as near as practicable to the factory lot." ... "Next summer, the stone boarding houses can be erected." At that time the hope was that the Mill would be operating by late spring. Also changes in plans were made for the company hotel being built on the north corner of Adams and Front Streets. The proposed structure of 35 x 121 stone with 43 rooms became one of 65 x 121 frame with 70 rooms. For the time being, the optimism of Hamilton Smith was not throwing in the towel on raising enough money to keep to the proposed construction and operation schedule.

Further changes in boarding house arrangements were to be made within several months. On 22 December 1849 THE ECONOMIST made this announcement: "The Directors of the Cannelton Cotton Mill have directed their Engineer to put up and have completed by the 1st of May next, fifty tenements for operators. By the 1st of next July about an equal number will probably be put up by individuals."

Already by 2 February 1850 the numbers were changed. "In the last 8 months 50 tenements have been erected, all of which are occupied, and are paying high rent." ... "During the ensuing season, besides two churches and a first class hotel, there will be erected here more than one hundred tenements." ... "They are to be built on this side of Castlebury Creek."

Four weeks later (2 March) the progress report read thus: "Several private dwellings & stores are now commenced. Workmen are now engaged on the hotel, and a few weeks only, will be required to complete it. Owing to the immediate want of additional means of accommodating the public, it has been deemed advisable to construct the hotel of wood instead of stone, as at first contemplated,"

In erecting the Mill the schedule was generally kept during the first year (1849). On 21 July 1849: "Our Factory -- The basement story of the Factory is nearly completed, and work goes bravely on. In a day or two the second story will be commenced and then we shall be able to report more rapid progress." (11 August 1849): "The Mill basement is completed." (18 August 1849): "The east wing is ready for roof and the cornice is being put on the west wing."( These wings were one story with basement.) (8 September 1849): "Mill --- Two wings are completed and the greater part of the first story above the basement. Yesterday Mr. McGregor fixed the keystone above the front door --- Erected 1849." (10 November 1849): "About one hundred and fifty persons are actually employed by the latter Company (Cotton Mill) as mechanics and workmen." ... "The new Cotton Mill four stories in height is now almost ready for the roof ... So far, it has gone up without the slightest accident of any kind. ... The first stone of the building was laid not six months ago; in six months from this time we have reason to believe that the factory will be nearly ready to go with operations."

(17 November 1849): "The Factory --- The walls are now completed and the workmen are engaged in putting on the cornice and the roof. About one-third of the rafters are already up. A portion of the hands are carrying up the two towers; some are preparing the ground upon which to build the chimney for the engine; some are sinking the well, and yesterday a few rocks were laid to rest in the foundation of the Hotel, (that is to be) on Front Street."

On 8 December 1849 THE ECONOMIST reprinted an item from THE LOUISVILLE EXAMINER: "The stone of which the building is constructed is a sandstone, found in great abundance in the hills immediately back of the village. When first taken from the quarry it is soft and easily worked, but on exposure to the air hardens and thus becomes very durable. Its pervading hue is grey, but we observe that many of the blocks have a dark purple tinge, which adds much to its beauty. The workmen are at present engaged upon the cornice, which perfectly simple and unique, will add much to the chaste beauty of the edifice."

In three months (2 March 1850) THE ECONOMIST reported: "The finishing of the cotton factory is far advanced. The engine and a portion of other machinery are on the way to this place, and are expected in a few days." In this regard, "the finishing," only tradition provides a few details. The 60 foot beams between floors are said to be made of timber floated down the river from the upper Ohio valley forests. The wood pillars supporting these beams are said to be mahogany from the Philippines. It is a certainty that the floors are 5 inches thick, being 3 layers of dressed 2 inch lumber.

Three weeks later (23 March): "The foundation of the Cannelton Cotton Mill chimney is just laid, and the boilers have arrived. This looks like getting up steam shortly." According to Harold S. Wilson (1965) there were 13 boilers, 30 to 40 feet long.

In this same issue appeared the last optimistic hope for the next to last of the other 11 chartered factories in Cannelton: "Indiana Cotton Mill --- The erection of this mill, which was intended to have taken place last season, is about to be announced. The company is formed, stock subscribed, and in a few weeks the work will be under way. This mill is intended for the manufacture of ticking, jeans and coarse domestics."

The incorporators of the Indiana Cotton Mill were listed as George W. Meriwether, John Harlin, Charles A. Lewis, William F. Pettit and Thomas N. Lindsay. It was to have been built in the block presently bounded by Fifth, Washington, Sixth, and Taylor. The capacity was to have been 2,00 spindles.

Another of those 11 chartered factories from the 1847-48 State Assembly clung to life for nearly 3 years --- The Perry Cotton Mill. The original incorporators were listed by Goodspeed as "the McNights, Anderson, Everett, Brown, and Martin." Anderson and Martin may be Col. Thomas Anderson and John L. Martin who were stockholders in the Cannelton Cotton Mill. By late 1850 the stockholders were listed as Hamilton Smith, President; C.H. Mason, Thos. M. Smith, J.B. Maynard, F.Y. Carlile- Directors; Carlile, Agent; Wm. H. Mason, Secretary. In November 1850 the Perry Cotton Mill through agent Carlile purchased the 95 acre Wells tract 600 feet downstream from Herzeele Street. Streets and lots were platted and plans were made to build a factory. The intention was to produce calico print material. When the plan evaporated, the tract came into Carliles ownership and has been the "Carlile Tract" in subsequent deed references.

The above mentioned chimney for the Cannelton Cotton Mill was built of the same stone as the Mill, 16 feet square and 100 feet high, located 20 feet from the west corner of the northwest wing. It was reported to have been completed in THE ECONOMIST on 17 August 1850. The OBeirne 1861 lithograph of the Mill shows this relationship of the Mill and the chimney.

cottonmills.jpg (39525 bytes)

The machinery expected in the 2 March 1850 ECONOMIST arrived in the second week of April from the factory of William Mason & Co., Taunton, Mass.; this shipment weighed 250 tons. (H.Wilson, citing THE CANNELTON REPORTER, 8 April 1854): "included was a high- pressure twenty- horse power steam engine. Its speed was kept constant by a Pitchers Hydraulic Regulator which worked to a charm." Thomas Winpenny (1985), citing the Cannelton Cotton Mill copybook, gives the engine size as a more logical 250 horsepower capacity.

Wilson compares the estimated and actual cost of the Mill and machinery as follows: "The building, expected to cost $25,000, actually cost $80,000. The high cost of labor in the west, and the inaccessibility of Cannelton may have partially accounted for this." --- "For the mill Hamilton Smith had estimated the cost of machinery at $160,000 in 1849, and yet tooling, much of which proved unsatisfactory, cost $175,000."

The lithographic print of the architects representation of the Mill was first printed in the 440 page Third Edition of THE INDIANA GAZETEER, published in November 1849 by E. Chamberlain, Indianapolis. The Mill was not yet under roof when the print appeared. This GAZETEER describes the Mill as of 10,500 spindle capacity, 372 x 65 by 4 stories high, employing 375 operators; a warehouse, a superintendents house and 25 boarding houses for operators were supposed to be "now in progress."

The same print was used in the Coal Companys "Circular" of May 1850. However, this circular, prepared by Hamilton Smith, gives the most complete and reliable description of the Mill. " The Cannelton Cotton Mill, for 10,800 spindles and 372 looms, as 287 feet long and 65 feet wide; or 282 by 60 feet in the clear. Towers 106 feet high. The attic, 220 by 40 feet, is lighted by windows in the roof, and gable ends." ( The 1952 description of the building by Strongwall Mills gives the main building floor space as 224 x 60 feet, 2 inches. The Picker Building on Washington Street was measured at 23 feet, 10 inches of floor width. By then the original building on the Adams Street end had been replaced with a larger addition.) "Corner stone (sic) laid May 21, 1849. Engine in the basement near the left wing. This edifice is now complete and is receiving its machinery. The chimney, 100 feet high, stands at a distance of 20 feet from the left wing and is made of cut stone, corresponding with that in the main building."

The second paragraph of the following excerpt from this Circular is particularly informative regarding the uses of the towers. However, if and how long the wings at each end were used as indicated in the third paragraph may be open to question.

Its outline and finish give it the appearance of an extravagant work, but the cheapness with which the material is obtained and worked (( cents per superficial foot, "bed and build" for dressing); the great solidity and durability which is required for heavy machinery, and here obtained by large blocks of stone, and the convenient uses to which the towers are put, make it an economical building. There is of course, the greatest effectiveness and the least deterioration of machinery in the most solid building, and the profits of a cotton mill depend very much on the permanency and effectiveness of the machinery.

In one of the towers are wide and easy stairways that secure entire safety for operatives in every room in case of fire; in the other are water closets opening into each room, and between are large doors through which machinery, furniture, & cotton, can be received into each story. Perfect ventilation is obtained by a draught from each room downward through the water closets and vault and by a tunnel from the vault to the bottom of the chimney. This connection is opened at the close of work, morning and evening, and the draught is sufficiently powerful to draw the floating particles of cotton in the attic downwards and then upwards through the chimney. Thus the ornamental parts of the building have been made subservient to the useful.

The mill is heated by steam pipes, and eventually will be lighted with gas; the fire apparatus is connected with the engine, well, cisterns in the rear, in the attic and in the tower. Sufficient hose will connect with water plugs in each room. The well is 14 feet in diameter, and as is believed, will give an ample supply of water at all times, but to guard against all accidents, large cisterns in the rear will be kept full of water. Cheap fuel will enable the company to keep up a head of steam during the night sufficient to set the fire apparatus at work in a few minutes. In the right wing is the agents office and the willow and picker rooms in the basement, and in the other wing the boilers, office and cloth rooms. The roofs are covered with tin; the cornices and guttering are of stone; the main building and wings are as near fireproof as practicable. A fire- proof warehouse for cotton and cloth is to be put up in the rear of the mill.