Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TPA Little River Hike

Sunday was the Trading Path Association's First Sunday Hike. This month the hike was in the vicinity of the Little River, just upstream of the US-501 bridge in Durham County. We saw some old road beds and a gradually disappearing homestead, high above the north bank of the river. I saw David Southern there among about 12 or 15 others.

In preparation for the hike, I inspected old Durham County maps and also the Tate map of Orange County. I noted that there are quite a few old mills in the area, which is not surprising, but which I had never really looked into. Here's what I quickly found on the mills of the Little River:

Mills on the Little River

Orange Factory
About the time of the Revolution, William Johnston owned a mill in the vicinity of the Little River and Cabin Branch, which must have been the original mill developed at this site. In 1852 John H. Webb and John C. Douglas built a water-powered textile factory on the Little River in what was then Orange County. The Orange Factory as it was called grew to be surrounded by a village of the same name. It is said that Confederate uniforms were made from cloth produce at this mill, although that is probably true of every textile mill that was in operation at that time. In 1864, William Willard bought the factory and he and various family members Willard Manufacturing Co. for decades. In 1899, G. A. Swain reported that the mill operated 8 or 9 months of the year on waterpower using a 22’ high dam and a 1200’ long race. In 1905, Albert Gallatin Cox bought the mill and formed the Little River Manufacturing Co. In 1916 the operation was sold to J A Long and renamed the Laura Cotton Mill. The site was bought by Roxboro Cotton Mills in 1938, but used more for the housing in the village than for the mill. Today, Little River Lake has flooded the site.

Terry & Lloyd’s Mill
In the late 18th century, John Wade’s Estate sold land that bordered on both Mountain Creek and the Little River, including a gristmill. This may have been the first incarnation of Terry & Lloyd’s Mill. The mill stood just downstream of US-501 on the right bank. It is also flooded by Little River Lake.

Johnson Mill
About 1795 William Cain established a gristmill here. Thomas Cain took over the operation in 1856 and partnered with Samuel H. Johnson, to whom Cain soon sold his half interest. Parts of the millrace and dam are said to still be visible. This appears to be the mill shown on the McRae-Brazier map of 1833.

Mills on the North Fork of the Little River

Little River Park Mill
I don’t know what the name of this mill was, but there is distinctly an abandoned mill site at the upstream-most end of the Little River Regional Park on the North Fork of the Little. It is stated in the interpretive materials for the park that there was a tub mill here at one time, which was later replaced by a waterwheel driven mill. The former dam and raceway are plainly discernable. Little River Park staff said that they do not know who operated the mill.

Turner’s Old Mill
This site is shown on the 1891 George W. Tate Map of Orange County. The remains of the blown out dam can be seen by looking upstream from the New Sharon Church Road bridge in Orange County.

Turner’s Mill
I don’t know who Mr. Turner was, but he must have been busy. This mill is also shown by Tate and must have been near where NC 157 crosses the North Fork of the Little, although no sign of it could be seen from the bridge.

Mills on the South Fork of the Little River

South Lowell Mill
The earliest mill on this site was George Newton’s (1777). By the 1850’s, the gristmill here was being run by John Leather. In 1846, John A. McMannen purchased the rights to manufacture a machine that would sort out wheat that was infected with the fungus known as smut; he commenced manufacturing the machine at Leather’s Mill. McMannen named the area South Lowell after the famous industrial town in Massachusetts. Eventually McMannen got over-extended in the real estate market and was forced into bankruptcy. By 1915 this was Russell’s Mill.

S. P. Gear’s Sawmill
This mill is also shown by Tate in 1891, near New Sharon Church Road in Orange Co. Just upstream of the bridge there are remnants of some destroyed structure in the riverbed, but it is hard to say whether the ruins are of a bridge or a dam. Presumably this refers to Durham businessman Solomon Geer, but no relevant deeds were found.

Woods’ Sawmill
Tate shows this mill, probably somewhere between Wilkerson Rd and Walnut Grove Church Rd in Orange County on the South Fork. John L. Woods conveyed this mill to William D. Woods in 1859 & 1868 (ODB 49, pg 259&260).

Hawkins Mill
No relevant Hawkins deeds were found in Orange County.

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