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NC Textile Mill Museum

Updated: Apr 19

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

--Ali Butler


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