Historic Structures

Bomfords Mill, Washington DC

Date added: October 22, 2010 Categories: Industrial Mill

Colonel George Bomford was the builder and first owner of the mill. Milling of various kinds was an important business in Georgetown in the first half of the 19th century, for after 1831 the Chesapeake and Ohio canal provided a reliable source of water with a 30-35 foot fall for the mills. Although Bomford is generally known as an ordnance specialist, he was also a business man of note in Georgetown.

The Dictionary of American Biography (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931) gives an account of his life. In brief, he was born in New York City in 1782. "His father was an officer of the Continental army in the Revolution. He was appointed a cadet in the army on Oct. 24, 1804, commissioned as second lieutenant of engineers, July 1, 1805, and for the next seven years was engaged upon fortification work in New York Harbor and Chesapeake Bay. He was promoted first lieutenant in 1805, captain in 1808, and major in 1812. Upon the outbreak of the war with Great Britain he was assigned to ordnance duty, for which he proved to have a special talent. Knowledge of the manufacture of ordnance was rare in this country, and his exceptional abilities made him indispensable. The howitzer or shell gun named the Columbiad, from Joel Barlow's epic poem, was Bomford's invention. He was appointed lieutenant-colonel of ordnance in 1815, and in 1832 was made colonel and chief of ordnance of the army. Upon the death of Mrs. Barlow, whose sister he had married, he bought the famous estate of Kalorama.... During his occupancy it was famous as the resort of statesmen and diplomats. The trees and plants collected there from all parts of the world, under Mrs. Bomford's judicious direction, made it one of the most notable botanical gardens in the country. The failure of a large cotton mill which Bomford had established on Rock Creek crippled his fortunes, already impaired by unfortunate investments in Washington real estate, and late in life he was obliged to sell Kalorama to settle his liabilities. He died at Boston [March 25, 1848], where he had gone to witness the casting of some heavy guns. Bomford was the greatest ordnance expert of his time in the United States, an inventor of note, and an able organizer and administrator. A good writer and speaker, his opinions carried great weight both in the executive departments and in Congress.... He was a public-spirited citizen, interested in religious, philanthropic, and artistic activities in the District of Columbia, notably in the movement which led to the building of the Washington Monument."

Chronicles- of Georgetown (p, 120) relates the following: "In the month of September, 1844, the large merchant mill erected by Colonel George Bomford, at the foot of the market house, was destroyed by fire: and in the spring of 1845, Colonel Bomford erected a cotton factory on the ruins of the old mill, which went into operation in 1847. Colonel Bomford considered that a cotton, factory would be of more benefit to the town than a flour mill, in giving employment to a large class of its population. The factory was run under his ownership until 1850, when it was sold to Thomas Wilson, of Baltimore, who ran the factory until the breaking out of the late war, when the supply of cotton was cut off. In 1866 the building was purchased by our enterprising fellow-citizen A. H. Herr, who converted it again into a merchant flour mill."

A more convincing reason for converting to cotton after the fire of 1844 is suggested by Mrs. Corra Bacon-Foster in "The Story of Kalorama," Records of the Columbia Historical Society, v. 13, 1910, p. 113: "[Bomford] had a large flouring mill in Georgetown which was destroyed by fire in 1844. There was much competition hereabouts then in grist milling. The field was clear for cotton mills which were prospering elsewhere, so he constructed an immense water wheel and erected a four story building on the site in which he placed three thousand spindles and one hundred looms. The mill provided employment for more than one hundred men and women. The success of the enterprise did not repay the outlay; although the city of Georgetown had assisted by remitting all taxes he found himself seriously embarassed. It is said he never recovered from his reverses, but died broken hearted."

Colonel Bomford was buried in the Kalorama vault, together with Joel Barlow.

The old Bomford Mill is central to the Wilkins-Rogers Milling Company complex as it contains the offices as well as milling facilities and storage. Attached to it are various modem structures. Bomford's Mill represents a utilitarian functional design of the mid-nineteenth century.

Overall dimensions: Rectangular in shape, running north and south, measuring 129' 6" x 40' 2". Two bays on the north and south ends (although bricked up windows are evident) and twelve on the sides. Four stories, and a basement which is exposed as an additional story at the southern(downhill) end. Below this basement is an area with millrace tunnels.

Basement: The rectangular storage space has two rows of twelve square columns down the center forming three aisles which measure, west to east, 13' 11", 11' 3" and 12' 0". Columns are twin WF with WF steel beams, wood joists, and flooring of wood and concrete. The stairway is in the southwest corner, and connects all floors.

First floor: The rectangular space with two rows of columns has the first five bays used as offices, and the remainder as production space. Columns are twin WF with wood beams and joists, and wood flooring.

Second floor: The rectangular space with two rows of columns, has the first four bays used as offices; the remainder is production space. The heavy timber columns are enclosed in plaster; the floors and joists are wood.

Third floor: A rectangular storage space with two rows of columns; these are of wood, 9 1/2" and 10 1/2" square.

Fourth floor: The rectangular storage space has a single row of columns down the center. These measure 10 1/2" X 8".