Out My Back Door – the Doe River Mill Race

12:49 pm | December 5, 2011

“…Doot doot doot lookin’ out my back door.”

Pictured is the old Doe River Overall Factory, which was located on Race Street, north of the Doe River Mill Race (behind Taco John’s.) The Old Mill Stream Condominiums are now located on the site. Pictured at right is the old Power City Mill.

“Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ is a song recorded by the American band Creedence Clearwater Revival. While the lyrics paint some vivid imaginary pictures, there are some interesting scenes that are real in everyone’s backyard.

Out my backdoor is the Doe River Mill Race. I live in one of the Old Mill Stream Condos on Race Street, and if I look close enough I can see the concrete foundation of the old Doe River Overall Plant.

At one time there were several small industries located on the Doe and Watauga Rivers that used water for power. Among them was the Doe River Woolen Mill, which was located on the Watauga side of Race St. It produced woolens, blankets, yarns, wool jeans, and socks, and reportedly employed some 40 people. Adjoining the mill was a commissary operated by D.E. Taylor.

Also, there was a brick factory located between Race Street and the river, which was known as Captain Rhudy’s Brick Plant.

But, right out my back door was where Power City Milling Co. and the Doe River Overall Factory were located, and they, too, were powered by the Doe River Mill Race.

Originally the Watauga Flour Mill, it was later known as the Power City Milling Co. The mill was located just north of Broad and Sycamore Streets, and was operated by J.R. Bowie of Roanoke, Va. from 1910 to 1938. The mill manufactured flour, meal and feed. Bowie sold the mill to Bill Weber of Bluff City. Later owners were T.K. Griffith and N.B. Jackson.

The building was divided into two parts, housing a flour mill south of the mill race, and a pants factory on the north side. The pants factory was first operated by N.B. Jackson and later was owned and operated by W.P. Dungan and L.H. Rhudy. Known as the Island Pants Company, the business operated from 1910-1914.

D.E. Taylor and his son, Burchell (B.R.) and Frank Dungan purchased the factory around 1922. They operated under the name of Doe River Overall Company. Its product, as the name implies, was overalls, with the trade name of “Jobbers.” Hundreds of dozens of overalls and overall coats were manufactured yearly. At the height of its business, approximately 65 women were employed at the overall factor and worked under the supervision of Lee Broyles. According to the Carter County History Book, some of the employees were Dot Ensor, Etta Pierce Grindstaff, Virgie Nidiffer, Alice Bowers, Ruth Garrison, a Miss Stout, and Victor Broyles, who was the cutter.

The overall factory operated up until the Depression, when the WPA employed the factory to run government regulations, which were headed by Mrs. Carrie (B.R.) Taylor and Marguerite Clark Davis, who served as secretary. Commodities were distributed by the Tennessee Emergency Relief, among which were eggs, cornmeal and grapefruit. Mrs. Taylor, in an interview in the STAR several years ago, said some that received the food would take the grapefruits out of the boxes and bags and play ball with them. When they finished playing they would throw the grapefruits in the mill race. The waiting room of the building, where people registered for the food was heated by a big “pot belly” stove.

Another phase of their work was taking and processing applications for jobs with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Several federal funded programs were initiated at this location under the supervision of Mrs. Taylor.

The Power City Mill building – a three-story building, was destroyed by fire in December, 1958. At the time, both it and the overall plant were owned by Verlin Frost, who acquired them in the early 1950s. He made flour at the mill, and used the overall plant as offices.

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