THE COTTON MILL 1849-1954 by Michael Rutherford


CANNELTON REPORTER, Saturday,  24 June 1854


Preparing the Mill for operation occupied the summer and autumn of 1850, running at 6 to 8 months behind the originally contemplated schedule. (21 September 1850): Mssrs. Cole and (George) Beebe have just arrived from Providence, R.I., at the instance of Gen. C.T. James, to superintend the cotton operation at the cotton mill. 350 or more workers have been secured. Mr. (Ziba) Cook is expected by the 1st of next month."

(26 October 1850): "Mr. Cook arrived a few days since. About 20 families from the east landed last Tuesday (24 October). Capt. E. Ayers is keeping the new hotel of 70 rooms." According to DeLaHunt, Capt. Ayers "resigned command of the Louisville and Henderson packet MADISON BELLE to become keeper of the new inn." (16 November 1850): "On Monday (11 November) the steamer CHARLES HAMMOND arrived from New Orleans with more machinery for the mill."

On 18 December 1850 the CALIFORNIA, owned by H.D.Newcomb of Louisville, under the command of his younger brother, Capt. Dwight Newcomb, arrived from the plantation of stockholder James C. Ford at Lake Providence, La., with 129 bales of ginned cotton. Superintendent Cook later complained that most of the cotton provided by the stockholders was of the poorest quality; they sold their better cotton at the market at New Orleans. Architect McGregor apparently recognized the short- sighted characteristics of the Mill directors in his cautionary remarks of 21 May 1849-- "penny wise and pound foolish."

Shortly after the arrival of these bales Daniel Murphy began a long career in the Mills boiler room by "throwing the first shovel of coal" into the furnace. The cotton fibers (probably of the shorter 11/16 size) were extracted from the layers by a series of "opening machines," formed into rolls (laps) of batting from the "pickers," rearranged into loose ropes (slivers) by carding machines, then into smaller slivers by drawing frames, and finally, into smaller slivers, "roves," with a slight twist (slub) on roving frames (slubbers). The cotton fibers were now ready for spinning into a desired size of thread. One pound of ginned cotton could produce 15 miles of #50 thread. During nearly all the 100 plus years of the Mills operation, the lengthwise thread (warp) was size #14; the cross thread (woof/filler) was somewhat smaller, around #20. This combination yielded a product classified as coarse cotton--- muslin--- brown sheeting.

On 4 January 1851 THE ECONOMIST was still able to maintain enthusiasm: "The Cotton Mill continues to roll up huge volumes of smoke, giving ample testimony that working hands are within its walls. The number of carders and spinners are being gradually increased and next week we expect to be able to announce the weaving of the first piece of cotton cloth ever made in Cannelton."

(18 January 1851): "Our factory is now in operation and employees from seventy to a hundred hands daily. Everything moves like clock work and harmony and efficiency seem to characterize the whole establishment. There are now about 30 looms running to which number additions are being constantly made. The first piece of cloth was woven by George Beebe, the superintendent of the weaving department on Tuesday, the 7th inst."

Editor Masons assessment was a bit over enthusiastic on the "clock working" of the operation, his reporting being colored by wishful thinking. It was to be a year, under different management, before matters began to move in a clockwork fashion and another year or two before they did to an acceptable extent.

Masons report of 22 February 1851 listed 150 looms and 7,000 spindles in operation, making an average of 28,800 yards of No. 14 sheeting per week. In May there were 217 looms operating. On 9 July 1851 THE ECONOMIST reported: "At the present moment it has nearly 7,000 spindles in motion, and 226 looms, and manufactures about 8,000 yards of cloth per diem." Efficiency seems to have improved between May and early July. By 6 August 1851 all 372 looms were producing No. 14 cloth, 36 inches wide, weighing 2.82 yards to the pound.

Three recent articles on the Cotton Mill by Wilson (A) (1965), Torrey (B) (1977), and Winpenny (C) (1985) contain glimpses of the practices and problems encountered in these first 8 months of operation. (A)- "The girls at Indiana (sic) Cotton mills worked 12 hours a day... six days a week. Each day they get 45 minutes for breakfast and lunch." (C)- "Less than 2 months after 7 January 1851 lime had to be scraped from the bottoms of the boilers. This subsequently had to be done every 3 weeks or so, requiring 2 or 3 days of stoppage. This problem continued for more than 3 years." (A)- "The entire system" (of the original boiler room) "had to be replaced in five years because of lime in the water. In May 1851, the superintendent" (Ziba Cook) "wrote that fifteen days operation coated the boilers with 1/16 inch scale that required two days to remove." (B)- "In July 1851 Cook wrote: "The cotton I have for the last forty days was not fit to spin."

(B)- "A late drought in summer 1851 so reduced the town well that there was not enough water to stock the mills boilers... The drought did force the company to build a water works and canal from the Ohio River to the mill, providing what was hoped would be a better quality and more consistent supply of water... Throughout October 1851 the Ohio River remained at its lowest level in more than a decade, and by mid- November the cotton mill was again forced to close temporarily." This is the only mention found regarding a canal to the mill and specifics as to its size, location, and operation are not here know .

In the 9 July 1851 item in THE ECONOMIST noted above a summary of the attendant activities of the Cotton Mill Company appeared: "The company have just erected a neat and convenient office for the use of the agent and secretary of the mill, an engine and fire house, and a cistern, 25 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep, within the factory enclosure, and, with some assistance from our citizens, have purchased a fire engine to protect the mill and the property surrounding it, in case of fire. It has also nearly completed a large and commodious warehouse in the rear of the factory, in which to store away the cotton which may be from time to time delivered here. The Agent is also building, in the corner of the factory lot, next to Washington and Front streets, a beautiful dwelling house, two stories high, of a nondescript style of architecture, it being neither Dorian, Ionian, nor Corinthian, but a kind of fanciful combination suited to the taste of its owner."

The September 11, 1852 INDIANA WEEKLY EXPRESS stated "The proprietors of the Cotton Mill are erecting in the rear of the Mill, a large stone fire proof building, intended for a Cotton warehouse. It will hold 1,500 bales." The frame building referred to above apparently proved to be inadequate.

In the first week of March, 1921 the CANNELTON TELEPHONE stated "the old firehouse on Washington Street opposite the Episcopal church, commonly known as Torrent No. 2 to old timers is being torn down this week by its owner, Indiana Cotton Mill. It was erected in the early fifties. The Irish occupied the building." The bell was removed in late April, 1915 to the old city hall; it is now hanging in the concrete tower by the community building on Sixth Street.

The warehouse is described in the announcement of its demolition in the CANNELTON TELEPHONE which commenced on October 30, 1923. " The building was about 100 x 50 feet boarded and stripped. It was painted and before the paint was dry it had been sanded. The sand stuck to the building and they say this prevented, to some degree, burning."

"The frame work on the inside of the building has disclosed the fact that it had been on fire at least once during its career. The Cotton Mills fence will be extended up to Fourth Street."

The Superintendents house built in 1851, shown in this lithographic print in OBeirnes 1861 Map of Perry County, generally retained this appearance until it was razed in the late 1960s. In 1859 gas manufactured at the Mill was piped to this residence and farther up Front Street to Dwight Newcombs Oak Hall. Some years later steam from the Mill was also piped to this residence and used for heating.