All of us living in these beautiful western North Carolina mountains are aware of the huge pulp and paper mill located in Canton. It is an enterprise that is fixed to the landscape and in our minds — one that seems to have always been here. In fact, that factory started up in early 1908 and has converted wood into pulp and paper for more than a century now, right there in the heart of Canton.
Prior to the chaos of the Champion Fibre Company plant’s physical creation and the eruption of billowing smoke from its giant concrete smokestack, founder Peter G. Thomson entertained conflicting thoughts about where to build his mill.
He had been practically convinced that Canton was the perfect site for his pulp mill because of several advantages, including these: it had an adequate supply of water from the Pigeon River; pulpwood from his extensive timber holdings at the Pigeon River headlands could potentially be sluiced through a water flume down the river to this location; and, importantly, the Southern Railroad’s tracks passed through the small town.
However, even those compelling reasons did not deter some challenging notions. Thomson was lobbied by many entrepreneurs and politicians to build his Champion Fibre Company plant elsewhere. Waynesville, Clyde, Sylva, Bryson City, Andrews, Murphy, Asheville, and even Newport, Tennessee, were among the places where town fathers’ hopes were high that Peter Thomson would favor their communities instead of Canton.
An article posted in the Asheville newspaper revealed one local lawyer’s fervent hopes of securing Thomson’s pulp mill for that place. “When one considers the immense advantages to be gained by the addition of 1,000 workmen to our city population, it would seem that no stone should be left unturned to secure the plum which threatens to drop. I don’t want to wish Canton any bad luck, but that particular spot can’t outdo Asheville when it comes to facilities for factories.”
Not to be outdone, Waynesville had its own gospeler expounding the virtues and logic of building the pulp mill in that fair town. His name was Silas Armistead Jones, and the following account explains the extraordinary proposal he made to Mr. Thomson for constructing the new pulp mill in Waynesville.
Coming of Thomson’s Pulp Mill
Silas Armistead Jones — or Colonel Jones, as he was called — was not a native of Haywood County. He was born in Kentucky and apparently spent some teen years galloping on horseback across the great plains of Texas delivering the U.S. mail. His daughter, Lura Jones Smathers, described him as being “six feet two without his shoes” and had “kind blue eyes and a genial smile.”
Much later, when he came to Waynesville in 1894 from Tampa, Florida, he was completely “broken down from over-work from the upbuilding of that state, with nervous prostration complicated with kidney and bladder trouble.”
Western North Carolina’s mountain climate, pure water, and fresh air apparently worked wonders to restore his health, and he decided to make it his home.
In early 1905, Col. Jones and most everyone else in western North Carolina were aware that a mammoth pulp mill was going to be built somewhere in the mountains.
Jones would also have known that an Ohioan by the name of Peter G. Thomson had met with more than twenty local businessmen in the little railroad town of Murphy, in Cherokee County, to discuss the matter of timberlands and possible sites for his mill. He would have learned that Thomson was particularly interested in locations that had an abundant supply of water and easy access to pulp woods capable of supplying the plant for twenty-five years.
Throughout 1905, Peter Thomson worked to secure spruce and hardwood forests that could provide the specific wood needed for his mill’s pulping processes. A woodsman by the name of Samuel Montgomery Smith guided him to the headwaters of the Pigeon River where bountiful tracts of the desirable timber existed.
Additionally, Smith was very persuasive in explaining how pulpwood from these same headlands could be conveyed by water flume to Canton, located some twenty miles or so downriver on the banks of the Pigeon River and astraddle the Southern Railroad.
Certainly, Col. Jones was mindful of these goings-on and would have understood that it was very likely the pulp mill would be built in Canton, unless he could persuade Thomson otherwise.
Waynesville ValleyCol. Silas A. Jones had spent a large part of his professional career in “upbuilding” Florida’s Gulf harbors and getting the railroads into Florida.” The man was a far-sighted entrepreneur and, upon relocating to Waynesville, he continued to actively promote visionary business ideas for improving the community and, of course, personal enrichment.
He wrote in a letter to the popular magazine, Manufacturer’s Record, that “I located at Waynesville believing …it to be the center and heart of a section of the Appalachian Mountains having tributary to it more resources to build it up as a desirable place to live and as a manufacturing industrial center than any location in the Appalachian range.”
In late 1904, Jones was responsible for the incorporation of The Waynesville Factory Site and Electric Power Company. This new company was chartered with $300,000 capital to “develop electric power for manufacturing purposes and induce enterprises to locate” in Waynesville.
An intriguing map dated May 26, 1905, and issued by the Waynesville Factory Site and Electric Power Company depicts Waynesville and “its vicinity within a radius of twenty-five miles.” County Engineer (and surveyor) J. N. Schoolbred was the mapmaker—or “Delineator,” as he was called—and he produced the map working under the close direction of Col. S. A. Jones.
They very carefully attempted to highlight the Waynesville environs with this map by charting all the notable geographical features, towns, roads, and railroads. Every bit of spare space along the borders and in the corners of the map was filled with information and statistics that shine a favorable light on Waynesville, surely intended to gain the attention of potential investors, businesses, customers and visitors.
At the very center of the map is a shaded area labelled “Waynesville Valley.” This was the term chosen by the mapmakers to designate where the Waynesville Factory Site and Electric Power Company reportedly “controls about 1,000 acres of land joining the city.” It was the preferred spot along the Southern Railroad and Richland Creek where factories and industry were bound to bloom.
Imprinting on the map describes how Waynesville Valley is a “splendid location for a Chautaugua (a center for activities aimed at intellectual and moral self-improvement and civic involvement), cotton factories, textile factories, furniture factories, paper and pulp mills, tanneries, acid plants, and fruit and vegetable canneries.” It was even promoted as the finest location for a “Female College.”
In case there were any doubts as to the benefits of locating an industry in Waynesville Valley, there were other considerations illustrated by the mapmakers. One very prominent message just below the map’s title offers the bold statement that Waynesville Valley is “absolutely protected from Cyclones and Floods.”
To reinforce this idea, there is an illustration at the bottom of the map demonstrating how Waynesville Valley is shielded from nature’s destructive forces by the surrounding high ridges and peaks.
Other claims on the map invite one to wonder how well Col. Jones and Mr. Schoolbred vetted their facts. For example, they suggest in bold text that there is “MORE PULP WOOD, TANNIC ACID WOOD & FURNITURE TIMBER IN EASY REACH OF THIS VALLEY THAN ANY OTHER POINT IN THE UNITED STATES.” Another one asserts that “Twenty-five Billion feet of timber” can be found within a 25-mile radius of Waynesville Valley. Yes, that is billion with a “B.”
As previously mentioned, the Southern Railroad’s tracks ran right through Waynesville Valley. However, Col. Jones must have believed more railroad infrastructure was required for the “upbuilding” of western North Carolina. So he had Schoolbred delineate the “proposed” railroads that were being promoted at the time. One of these was an extension of the existing North Carolina & Tennessee Railroad from Waterville up the Pigeon River gorge to Waynesville Valley.
Another interesting “proposed” railroad was the Waynesville & Asheville Electric Railway, one in which Col. Jones had a vested interest. This road was incorporated by the 1905 North Carolina Legislature and, not surprisingly, was intended to extend from Waynesville Valley to Asheville. The planned route generally followed the Pigeon River to Canton, but, from there, it veered away from the existing Southern Railroad’s tracks.
Strangely, it now seems, Col. Jones and his advisors chose for the railroad to take a northeasterly course from Canton, crossing Newfound Mountain to reach Asheville.
Near the center of the map, Schoolbred scribed in bold, capital letters the word “PIPELINE” to delineate a long water supply structure extending from the Pigeon River headwaters, above where Lake Logan was later impounded, all the way to Waynesville Valley.
It is notable that the word “proposed” is not associated with “PIPELINE,” as it is with the two proposed railroads previously mentioned. There is reason to believe this proposed water supply pipeline was added to the map for a singular purpose — to demonstrate to Peter Thomson that Waynesville Valley could potentially satisfy a large pulp mill’s demand for water.
Col. Jones’ pipeline plan
Col. Silas A. Jones knew very well that the quantity of water flowing in Waynesville Valley’s Richland Creek was insufficient to support Peter Thomson’s pulp manufacturing processes. The property controlled by The Waynesville Factory Site and Electric Power Company offered easy access to the railroad and ample electric power supplied by an enormous forty-foot-high stone dam and new power generation station on the Pigeon River. Yet, there remained the crucial problem of meeting the pulp mill’s demand for millions of gallons of water every day.
The solution that Col. Jones and Mr. Schoolbred came up with was simple. East of Waynesville Valley, just on the other side of Lickstone Ridge, was a good-sized rushing stream known as the West Fork of the Pigeon River. It was a tributary to the larger Pigeon River and Jones must have judged its flow sufficient for his purposes. He could simply construct a pipeline and divert water from this stream to Waynesville Valley.
Actually, the map itself offers a little more detail on how Jones and Schoolbred intended to accomplish this feat. It appears they planned to dam and impound the West Fork stream just below where the Middle Prong of the Pigeon River flows into the West Fork (near the present-day Sunburst campground).
The captured water would be carried through a large pipeline running alongside of the West Fork stream to the outskirts of Bethel community. From there, the route of the pipeline turns westward, away from the West Fork, and runs across “Davis Gap” (today’s Pigeon Gap) all the way to a storage reservoir at Waynesville Valley. This long — undoubtedly iron — pipeline would traverse through the countryside for almost fifteen-miles.
It was as easy as that to draw on a map. Whether or not this straight-forward and simple approach to supply water for a huge pulp mill would suit Peter Thomson — or could even be done — remained to be seen. Jones would seek a conference with Thomson and lay it all out so the Ohioan could understand this great opportunity.
A fateful meeting
Fortunately, there exists a primary source account of the meeting which took place between Col. Silas A. Jones and Peter Thomson. The unpublished memoirs of Thomson’s attorney, George H. Smathers of Waynesville, captured the essence of the meeting and, certainly, the outcome.
When Smathers first mentioned to Thomson that Col. Jones had requested a meeting to talk about building the pulp mill in Waynesville Valley, Thomson immediately responded that the meeting would be “useless.” He stated that “Richland Creek did not have a sufficient supply of water for washing purposes.”
Smathers respectfully reported back to Col. Jones and communicated Thomson’s doubts and reluctance to meet. Undaunted, Jones replied that “he would be able to overcome that objection” and insisted on having the meeting.
Smathers wrote that he “finally arranged for the conference” between the two men, which was held in Canton. When Peter Thomson “reiterated the reason why he could not entertain Waynesville for the location of the plants,” and stated his belief that there was not sufficient water in Richland Creek, Col. Jones spoke up. He “proposed to meet this objection by cutting a tunnel through the Balsam Mts. dividing Richland Creek from the west fork of the Pigeon River and conveying the water from the west fork of the Pigeon River through the tunnel to Richland Creek.”
Mr. Thomson’s reply to this idea was blunt and clear. The “expense of doing this would be prohibitive, but even if feasible, that from what he knew of the elevation of Richland Creek and the west fork of the Pigeon River that the water supply would not be sufficient.”
Attorney Smathers joined in at this point and voiced his opinion that “the land owners below on Pigeon River would object to the diversion and would have a right to enjoin (stop) the same.”
Smathers’ memoirs reveal that shortly afterward Col. Jones “yielded gracefully and decided that inasmuch as Waynesville could not get the plants, he wanted to see Canton get them. Jones told Mr. Thomson that he would do everything in his power to aid in the location of the plants at Canton.”
George Smathers remembered that Co. Silas A. Jones’ proposal was to access the West Fork of the Pigeon River waters by cutting a tunnel through the Balsam Mountains. Clearly, that is not what is shown on the Jones and Schoolbred map. Attorney Smathers’ memoirs were recorded more than 30 years after Thomson’s pulp mill was built, and there is a good chance his memory might have betrayed him in this instance.
Then, again, if his recollection was correct, there is a distinct possibility that Jones could have revised his plan, soon after the fateful meeting with Thomson, to reflect conveying water to Waynesville Valley through a pipeline. In fact, the depiction of the pipeline on the map seems to have been drawn in such a haphazard manner, it certainly could have been added as a revision to the original map.
Although the record left by Attorney Smathers is silent on the matter, there might have been another conference to discuss the newly proposed pipeline, in lieu of a tunnel through the Balsam Mountains. If so, we know that nothing became of it. Peter Thomson did build his pulp mill in Canton, and Col. Jones’ pipeline, as well as the forementioned proposed railroads, were simply dreams that never came true.
Local author Carroll C. Jones was born and raised in the papermill town of Canton, located in the heart of western North Carolina’s mountains. He is descended from the Hargrove, Cathey, Shook, Moore, and Crymes families who pioneered Haywood County. His latest book is titled Thomson’s Pulp Mill: Building the Champion Fibre Company at Canton, N.C.—1905 to 1908. Find out more about Carroll’s books on his website http://carrolljones.weebly.com.