Anyone who has seen the stone wall surrounding the courthouse, the rock gate at the corner of Brevard College’s campus, the entrance to the Silversteen playground, or the many stone structures in the vicinity of the Rosenwald community has enjoyed the work of Fred Mills.
Frederick Douglas Mills was born in Brevard in 1892 to Thomas James Mills and Frances McIntyre Mills. The second of six children, not much is known about his early life. A hidden gem of information shows that he played on the African-American baseball team known as the Brevard Sluggers sometime during his teen to early adult years He married Amy Robinson in 1915, and his World War I draft card in 1917 shows that he claimed a 5-year-old son, Louis Jack Mills, as a dependent. It is unclear whether Louis was Fred’s natural son or his adopted stepson that Amy brought into the marriage. Amy passed away in 1920, and Fred remarried to Ethel Kennedy seven years later. Census records show that he worked in Silversteen’s Tannery as late as 1930, but by 1940 his occupation was listed as stonemason. Mills learned stonemasonry from Hendersonville’s Wright Brothers.
|St. Philip’s Episcopal Church built in 1926 after the smaller wooden church on the site burned down.|
The Wrights created many stone projects in Transylvania County and documentation shows that Fred Mills was their partner in much of this construction. Some projects that were attributed to Mills in partnership with the Wright Brothers are: St. Philip’s Episcopal Church (1926), The Orr House (1936), The Brombacher House (1939) and The Clement House (1941). Based on the years when these projects were completed, it’s likely that Mills started out with stonemasonry as a second job in addition to the Tannery. Though the year is not documented, it is known that Fred lost an arm while working at the Tannery. This didn’t stop him from continuing stonemasonry.
|The stone-veneered garage of the Mills House|
|The retaining wall and built-in grill
on the property of the Mills House
Mills trained other men in his neighborhood including Avery Benjamin and Quillie Glaze to do rockwork, and the many river stone structures in the Rosenwald community are a direct result of his knowledge and expertise. Mills home is pictured above and the stone work for the veneer of the house and garage, retaining wall, and built-in grill are all his own handiwork utilizing leftover materials from his work projects. Other structures in that area attributed to Mills include rock walls, steps, flowerbeds, and a water fountain at the Rosenwald School that is no longer there.
Fred’s wife Ethelyn “Ethel” Kennedy Mills was also influential in the Rosenwald community. She was born in 1902 in Franklin, NC to James and Florine Kennedy and was the fourth of six children. Once she graduated high school, she became a teacher in Buncombe County. It’s not documented how she and Fred met, but she married him in 1927. Census records list her occupation as a schoolteacher in Brevard in both 1930 and 1940. This likely refers to the fact that she was the principal of the Rosenwald School once it was completed and for many years thereafter until schools were desegregated and the students of Rosenwald began attending county public schools. She is remembered today as an educational leader and inspiration.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Gardner. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.