Monday, May 9, 2016

Cotton mill heated in 1816 by a young Robert Mills

Robert Mills, the American born architect of two Washington Monuments - Baltimore in 1815 and DC in the 1830s - designed a soap stone and brick furnace for the large (100 feet by 40 feet, three story stone) cotton mill a mile down the Patapsco River from Ellicott's Mills.  It was run by Edward Gray, father-in-law of John Pendleton Kennedy.  More on "Patapsco" HERE

Robert Mills architect (1781-1855)
At 21 Mills moved to Philadelphia from Charleston.  After he designed some local buildings, a reform styled prison in NJ, and a church in Richmond, he moved to Baltimore where he designed a variety of buildings and the famous monument.  In 1820 he took a position over seeing public buildings in SC, but in 1836 his design won for another Washington monument, in DC.  Following that win he stayed in DC and designed many still-admired buildings including the Patent Office, the Treasury, and the Post Office.

Soapstone heater or furnace
Mills was interested in fireproofing construction when possible, and his enclosed furnace was heated by a fire stoked from outside, so there was no open fireplace inside (with the cotton ‘dust’ and cotton).  The enclosed masonry heater (some called a Russian Fireplace) needed less fuel because once the stone and bricks absorbed the heat from the fire within, it radiated an even heat.

Izba [a Russian peasant home] by John Augustus Atkinson (1803) depicts a Russian family using the ‘stove’ as a bake oven (note the long handled tools) and a way to heat the home. In the three volume work based on his trip to Russia,  A picturesque representation of the manners, customs, and amusements of the Russians in one hundred coloured plates by Atkinson and James Walker in three volumes.

Paper mill to cotton mill
Thomas Mendenhall built the paper mill in 1795, and advertised for "paper makers" but he sold the new mill to John Hagerty in 1798.  Scott [A Geographical Description of the States of Maryland and Delaware by Joseph Scott. Philadelphia: 1807] described Hagerty’s paper mill as “one of the largest paper mills in the United States… 120 feet long, 40 wide, and three stories high, built of stone.”  He sold it to John Conrad, a publisher and in 1800 opened a bookstore at 30 Chestnut St., Philadelphia  but the business was dissolved in 1812. At that point Edward Gray (who lost his money when his ship sunk) and other Philadelphians bought the paper mill in 1813 to convert to a cotton mill.  In 1820 he hired 40 men and 75 boys and girls.  The large building burned in 1820, but was rebuilt, as seen below.

From the source:  Niles Weekly Register, Baltimore: 1816 (supplement to v9, p183) -  

ECONOMY OF FUEL.  An experiment on this subject has lately been made with the most complete success at the Patapsco Cotton Factory, near Baltimore.  The person [Edward Gray] who has the management of this concern, having last winter failed in producing the necessary degree of heat in so large a building, even at an enormous expenditure of fuel, and wishing to avoid the expense of steam apparatus, applied to 

Mr. [Robert] Mills, the architect of the Washington Monument [Baltimore, 1815], to remove the difficulty. The plan proposed by Mr. Mill’s appearing to possess the requisites demanded, viz. a sufficient quantity of heat, perfect safety, and economy ; it was determined to make the experiment —The house required to be heated is 100 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 60 feet high, making 240,000 cubic feet. 

The furnace is placed against one side of the building. The fire place opens without [feeds from the outside]—At 3 o’clock in the morning the fire is lighted—at about 6 o’clock in the morning the wood is nearly carbonated when the register is let down, and during the whole day an agreeable and wholesome heat is produced, which is perfectly under the control of the superintendant [sic] who can increase or diminish the quantity of heat in each room at his pleasure. At 8 o’clock in the evening small fire is made which keeps up the heat until 3 o’clock, when the same operation is repeated. 

By actual experiment made during the coldest weather this season, not more than one-eighth of a cord of dry oak wood was consumed in the 24 hours, and the rooms were at no time under the temperature of 70 degrees of Far. Last winter one cord per day was consumed with not 1 4th the effect.  

The furnace being almost entirely composed of soap stone and brick, and the flues of the latter material —and pure atmospheric air being the agent employed in conveying the heat, no unwholesome or disagreeable smell is produced ; and what is of infinite importance the heat is equally diffused through each room; the room being as warm 50 feet distant front the fire as within 10 feet of it—and instead of cold air rushing in through any crevices which may be in the doors and windows, warm air rushes out. None of that disagreeable feeling is produced which is usual in open fire-places, where in cold weather (as is commonly said) your back is freezing while your face is burning. On the contrary you feel in the factory the mild temperature of May. To place the matter in a clear point of view, we subjoin the following statement—

A steam apparatus sufficient to heat the column of
air in the Patapsco factory will cost at least      $3000
Cost of the furnace, flues, &c.                              700
Difference in favor of the furnaces,                    2300
Fuel necessary for the steam apparatus, 6 ½
    Cords per week, at 4 dollars,                           $26 00
Fuel necessary for the air furnace, by actual
   Experiment, 1 cord per week,                              4  00
Saved per week by the air furnace                      $22 00

Mr. Mills states that his plan can with facility be adapted to any sort of large buildings where heat is required, as also to dwelling houses; and that the result as to saving and comfort will be the same.  A firm impression that the public may be benefitted, and a desire that the merits of this ost deserving and modest individual may be more generally known, is the sole object of the writer in making this communication. – Fed. Gaz.

Niles Weekly Register, Baltimore: 1816 (supplement to v9, p183)

©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
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