The Town of Franklinville
Michaela Bramwell (2020)
According to Franklinville’s mayor Perry Conner, “The portion of Highway 64 from Loflin Pond Road east to the Ramseur city limits represents the future for Franklinville.” The town is currently working to provide public water and sewer services to the area in the next few years, to create more commercial development and allow the town to truly thrive.
Franklinville’s main attraction is the Deep River, which allows for recreational canoeing and kayaking. Their development of a three-quarter-mile walking trail on an old railbed beside the river called the Deep River Rail Trail, has also brought in more tourists looking to hike, bike, horseback ride, and fish while still being able to socially distance themselves from others. To access the trail from Highway 64, take Highway 22 North to Rising Sun Way and follow the sign that directs visitors down to the trail.
Gladly, the COVID pandemic hasn’t impacted the town to a large degree, with 80 confirmed cases and less than 5 deaths. According to Mayor Conner, “The town was impacted to a degree financially by the Governor’s executive order preventing us from charging late fees/cut-off fees to our utility customers for several months. We do not believe it has had much impact on local sales taxes due to the limited number of retail sales businesses in our town.”
Mayor Conner describes Franklinville as a “bedroom community,” a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life. Franklinville, NC is an old textile mill village that was built on the banks of the Deep River, located 10 miles east of Asheboro. In 1838, two mills were built beside the Deep River to take advantage of water power. The upper mill processed raw cotton and turned it into cotton thread, which was then shipped to the lower mill for fabric weaving. For 140 years, life and work in Franklinville centered around the two mills. The closing of the last mill in 1979, caused extreme economic hardship for the town and left a population of about 1150, with half living on the north side of the Deep River, and the other half living in two mobile homes on the Southside of the River, near Highway 64.
NC Textile Mill Museum
Ali Butler, 2023
Mills refer to factories or facilities that take certain resources and transform them into usable materials. For example, textile mills use yarn and fabric to produce usable textiles for apparel, furniture, agriculture, and other industries. Grist mills grind grain into flour, which is then used for food production. In the state of North Carolina, these kinds of mills have a rich history–especially for the town of Franklinville in Randolph County.
Franklinville is a cotton mill village that was founded in 1838 on Deep River, NC. In the early 1770s, before the town was formally established, one of the first grist mills was built here. This foundation was a unique effort by local Quakers and anti-slavery activists to create a form of financial investment that did not include human slavery (source).
As the years progressed, Franklinville became known for two things: Dainty Biscuit Flour from the grist mill, and textiles for flannel. However, these businesses would soon begin to plummet primarily due to Chinese competition overseas as President Nixon opened trade with China in 1972. By 1977-78, the mills would no longer be in service.
The downfall of grain and textiles took a blow to Franklinville’s identity. The town had become known for its signature products of Dainty Biscuit flour cornmeal and pajama flannel. Luckily, there came along those with a determination to preserve this aspect of Franklinville and revitalize the town as a whole.
Mac Whatley has been a resident of Franklinville since 1978. In 1994, he founded the Randolph Heritage Conservancy (RHC) to preserve the “unique built environment” of Franklinville. For the last forty years, Whatley has advocated for the preservation of the historic mills in Randolph County. Finally, after years of educating others on the value of mills and their history, Whatley’s work has paid off through the North Carolina Textile Museum.
In 2019, the NC General Assembly commissioned a strategic plan that recommended the NC Textile Museum be established in partnership with the RHC. Using the RHC properties in Cedar Falls and Franklinville, the museum will grow over a 10-year period to tell the whole story of textile craft and industry in the South. The goal of the NC Textile Museum is to give visitors an authentic experience of the distinctive history and unique places, artifacts, and activities that tell the stories and represent the people, past and present, of NC’s textile industry (source).
Whatley became fascinated with mills because of the way they can take one power input and transform it into a usable output that is a necessary material for survival. He believes that behind these mills is an important story of hardworking people and communities that deserve to be preserved and appreciated, even if industrial and economic history is not prioritized in schools the same way other “glamor subjects” are.
The NC Textile Museum hopes to open in a year’s time, although it will not immediately open at full-scale. Between the Franklinville and Cedar Falls locations, Whatley hopes the two will combine to share the full landscape of antebellum cotton mill villages. They will function like a typical museum does with galleries that tell historic stories of the mills and their workers, along with a rail trail at the Franklinville location that goes up and down Deep River and is available for participants to hike and experience the scenery. Additionally, Whatley hopes for the museum to include workshops that restore machines and actually operate them to make materials.
For more information on the NC Textile Museum, visit https://www.nctextilemuseum.org/home.
A Day in Franklinville, NC
Ali Butler, 2023
Franklinville is a small town located centrally in North Carolina as a part of Randolph County. A former textile mill village, the town describes itself as “idyllic,” as it is located on the banks of the Deep River and provides a naturally serene atmosphere. For 140 years, Franklinville was defined by its two textile mills that produced biscuit flour and pajama flannel. After Chinese competition led to the downfall of these mills, the town’s identity–and local economy–took a hit. In recent years, efforts have been made to rejuvenate the town and rebuild its opportunities and growth. Curious as to what Franklinville has to offer, I took a day trip to the small town to get a feel for its community.
After a quick drive–just over an hour long–from my home in Wake County, I entered Franklinville around noon. The first thing I stumbled upon was the StoryWalk trail. Along this trail were panels containing pages from a children’s storybook; to read the book in its entirety, you had to keep walking along the trail, stopping to look at each panel. It was a fun and unique way to encourage children and their families to get both their reading and steps in! The trail itself was wide and open-spaced, overlooking a section of the river. I even spotted three turtles sunbathing on one of the giant river rocks situated above the water.
After exploring this trail for a while, I got back in my car and kept driving along the main road. Before long, I came across one of the main sites of Franklinville: the old mill. It was heavily dilapidated and covered in graffiti, but it was fascinating to imagine what it must have looked like in its prime, and how it functioned in the community.
Directly across from the mill was an entrance to the Deep River State Trail, a part of Riverside Park. Despite it being a clear Saturday afternoon, the park and trail were empty. I walked down a small portion of it and took in more of the river scene before deciding it was time for lunch.
For lunch, I ate at the Franklinville Diner. This little place is a local gem with a loyal following. A quick visit to its Facebook page reveals that it has about 1,700 site followers–that’s more than the population of Franklinville itself, which is about 1,231 (source). I ordered a plain cheeseburger and can confirm that it was delicious. Throughout the restaurant, there were people of all ages enjoying their meals together. It appeared that many of the customers were familiar with the restaurant staff, which created a nice, friendly atmosphere. I would definitely recommend eating here.
Overall, Franklinville provided a warm, small-town community feel that is hard to come by these days. I am excited to see how the town continues to grow, especially with the addition of the NC Textile Museum coming hopefully by next year. Visit Franklinville yourself and be sure to walk some of the trails and stop by the diner to meet some of the friendly locals!