Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021 - 58

THE FRIES POSTCARD
PROJECT: HISTORY TO SHARE

I

am a postcard person, so one of the first things I did when I
moved to Fries was look for postcards to send my pen pals.
There were none, and the old images I found online showed only
the appalling conditions of child laborers in the mill. Surely life in
Fries held brighter moments.
That's when a friend suggested I create my own postcards.
By concentrating on early Fries I could look for images of the
historical moment when the industrialized world intruded on the
hand-crafted and self-sufficient world around Fries. " When the
factory met the farm " was my theme.
The search for images took more than a year and introduced
me to many generous neighbors. In addition to visiting several
local museums I simply asked everyone I met in Fries if they
might have old photos to share. The answer was usually yes.
And there was so much to see: horse and buggy excursions,
towering hay ricks and raucous sheep drives, long dresses and
fancy hats, baptisms in the New River, barefoot boys fishing, ice
jams and snowy scenes, old-time musicians, and a lot more. It
was hard to choose the few photos for the first batch of postcards.
My aim all along was to produce postcards to give away, not
sell, and I'm busy handing out the postcards to local businesses.
In fact, I've so warmed to the mission that the Town of Fries
has appointed me the new events manager-coordinator. It's a
volunteer gig that will keep me growing during retirement.-NKC

TOP: Card depicts a shift change at Washington
Mills long ago. The former Washington Inn, at left,
still stands.
ABOVE: Farmers drive sheep through town,
highlighting an important agricultural export of
yesteryear.
LEFT: Musicians in Fries were part of the early
cultural scene, which resonates today along the
Crooked Road musical heritage trail.

Col. Francis Henry Fries didn't build his
town for its dramatic backdrop, but because he wanted to dam the New River
and harness its power to run a cotton
mill. In just three years-1900 to 1903-
an army of workers blasted away cliffs and
used the rock to build a 39-foot-tall dam,
constructed a huge mill complex and a
railway spur into its heart, and harvested

58

BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM

the forest to build some 300 compact
houses for the workers.
Fries was a real company town; the
Washington Mills Company supplied the
housing, for modest rents and also the
coal and firewood for heating, and the water and sanitation services. The company
store sold everything from cribs to coffins, plus groceries and clothes, and took

company scrip in payment. The company was the law, and with liquor banned
from the town any mill worker guilty of
drunkenness was expelled, along with his
family. Children as young as 8 worked
in the mill-hidden when inspectors appeared-and some people went deaf from
the mechanized din.
The mill thrived and Fries grew into a


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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021

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