This week we continue to follow William Miller Boling’s column from 1946 in the Messenger offering a unique view of Meade County history from 75 years ago.
WILLIAM MILLER BOLING
Half a league south of Garnettsville upon the waters of Otter Creek, nestling in the hollows of the hills lies the ancient town of Grahamton.
Unlike Garnettsville, this town is both new and old. Here one may see the old cotton mill constructed over a century ago as the first textile plant in the entire Ohio River valley and still in operation. Passing near the old stone structure is a modern highway, U.S. 60, exemplifying the indubitable truth that the old and the new must live amicably and usefully in the same progressive program.
Grahamton lying in her surroundings of scenic beauty has played a long and faithful part in the development of Meade County.
With apologies to Whittier, one may say:
“Still sits the cotton mill by the creek, a mighty, giant humming.”
Note: Since writing the above Garnettsville and Grahamton have passed into oblivion at the decree of Uncle Sam, but Otter Creek like you and me flows on.
The following article by Dr. William Allen Pusey, the celebrated American Dermatologist, and former President of the American Medical Society should prove especially interesting and valuable to all who call Meade County home.
Dr. Pusey read this article before The Filson Club, April 6, 1931 and kindly gives me permission to use it.
Grahamton And The Early Textile Mills of Kentucky
There was at one time a woolen mill at Franklin, Simpson County, but it has long since been dismantled. Two of the oldest mills now in operation are the Henderson Woolen Mills, organized in 1860 and the Grahamton Cotton Mill. There are some interesting small custom mills in isolated locations in the State such as the Green River Woolen Mills established in 1890 at Phil, Casey County, which manufactures and deals in jeans, linseys, flannels, blankets and yarns; but these are not old.
In my correspondence on this subject, I frequently have had the comment that there had been older power mills in the State, but nobody could designate any of them; if any existed, I have not been able to find trace of them.
I am inclined to believe, that except for horse-driven mills, I have found the oldest mills in Kentucky.
There are two textile mills in Kentucky of authentic old age that are of distinct interest in the history of the textile industry in this country. Although they are situated a thousand miles from the district where the textile industry had its start and its first great growth in the United States, they date back to the very beginning of the industry in this country.
These are the Maysville Cotton Mills at Maysville, and the Grahamton Cotton Mill at Grahamton in Meade County, both of which have had a continuous existence of over ninety years.
The Maysville Cotton Mill was established in the 1830’s and is still in operations.
The Grahamton textile mill is located in Meade County on Otter Creek, five miles from where this stream empties into the Ohio River. It is not surprising to find an old cotton mill at Maysville, for Maysville is one of the oldest settlements in the State. Maysville and Louisville were the most important early ports of entry. With river transportation dead and railroads the arteries of heavy traffic far away, it is hard to realize now, how this mill at Grahamton could have been located, and successfully operated for ninety-three years, forty-five miles from Louisville in the gorge of Otter Creek and the hills of Meade County, for, while the Otter Creek Valley was settled early, it is still a wild and primitive district—not one in which technical industries would be expected to flourish. Otter Creek, however, and the next creek west—Doe Run—have been a region of grain mills. Both of these creeks in cutting their way through the escarpment that connects the plateau of Meade County with the level of the Ohio River descend rapidly and furnish several good water-power sites.
In the early part of eighteenth century there were built on these creeks, including the Grahamton Mill, three stone mills that are now standing. The best of these water-power sites was at the “Big Falls” of Otter Creek at Grahamton. Here Otter Creek has cut a chasm 400 to 500 feet deep through the limestone to the bottom of the gorge. At one point it has a fall of about twenty feet. David Brandenburg, in 1813, bought this water-power site from Philip C.S. Barbour, a son of the first owner, who had acquired 3,000 acres above the mouth of Otter Creek, and immediately thereafter Brandenburg built a dam and a grain mill at this location.
It is a wild and beautiful spot.
As Prof. Samuel G. Boyd vividly describes it:
“Grahamton is one of the most picturesque spots in Kentucky. After tumbling over the falls, the creek swings away to form a giant horse shoe seven or eight hundred feet across, the eastern bank rising abruptly 200 feet above the stream to a cedar-crowned crest, the whole forming a huge amphitheater, with the weather-beaten cottages of the village and the four-story mill buildings of Greystone occupying the stage.”
Even today its big stone buildings, active with manufacturing, seem incongruous in this rough backwoods setting.
The mill and business that became the Grahamton Manufacturing Company were established in Louisville in 1829 by Robert Graham and Mr. Snead. It can fairly claim to have had a continuous existence since 1829, although it was moved to its present site on Otter Creek in Meade County in 1837.
It was a complete mill from its beginning in Louisville, having not only cards and spindles, but looms, and made cloths.
It and the Maysville Mills may contend for the honor of being the oldest textile mill in the State, but Grahamton is, as far as I can find, the first complete textile mill in Kentucky, probably the first one west of the Appalachian Mountains, and one of the oldest, if not the oldest in continuous operation in the country.
It is surely the oldest complete textile mill now in existence in the State and furnishes an interesting item in the history of the textile industry. I can find no other mill that has been so long in continuous operation in any other part of the United States.
The Graham and Snead mill in Louisville was a steam mill, and Graham, becoming disturbed by the competition of eastern goods sought a water-power site for the mill. At this time Thomas Anderson was interested in a lithographic stone quarry on Otter Creek.
Prof. Boyd says that Anderson probably called Graham’s attention to the power site at the “Big Falls.” At any rate Graham and Anderson formed a corporation, Robert Graham and Company, and on October 21, 1835, bought David Brandenburg’s 335 acres, including the mill site and the water power.
They shipped the machinery from Louisville to the mouth of Otter Creek. Today one can hardly find a steeper, rougher road than that from Grahamton to the mouth of Otter Creek.
At that time there was no road but Graham and Anderson dragged their machinery with oxen up the valley of the creek to the mill, put the machinery in it, and named the place—Grahamton—not Grahampton.
Snead disappears from the picture when the mill was moved to Grahamton. The firm then became Graham, Anderson and Company, probably including at first only Robert Graham and James Anderson. After a number of years, probably in the late forties, Graham withdrew from the firm and concentrated his interests in warehouses and other businesses at Rock Haven, on the Ohio River, the shipping point which the mill’s business had made an important landing. It is now a desolate and abandoned landing.