Days Gone By - stories from the past

Bell Factory in Madison County is a very historic place which dates back to 1819.

Bell Factory is located in Madison County, Alabama and is the site of the earliest important textile mill of any consequence in the South. The first cotton mill was established there in 1819.  It was Alabama’s second textile mill and Madison County’s first non-agriculture industry.

First to manufacture for commercial use

Though cotton had been converted into yarn for domestic uses, it was not until 1832, when the Patton-Donegan & Company incorporated the mill for the manufacture of cotton cloth.  This was the first time the raw product was converted on a large scale for commercial purposes.

Bell factory (Madison County Library)Bell Factory, Madison County, Alabama (Madison County Library)

Located near Three Forks

The plant was located about 10 miles northeast of Huntsville near the Three Forks of the Flint River, at the bridges. The spinning mill was erected by Col. Andrew Beirne and Mr. Donegan. Charles Hays Patton, brother of Gov. Robert Millter Patton was practically the president and owner of the Bell Factory. His father-in-law Col. Andrew Beirne helped establish the mill and his brother was a co-founder.

Steam was not used

The power used in the operation of the three thousand spindles and one hundred looms of the mill was furnished by damming the water of Flint, and forcing it over a wheel or turbine. Steam was not used in initially in its operation, signals could not be given by whistle, so a large bell was used. That is how the plant got the name the “Bell Factory.”

Slave labor used

This was the first cotton manufactory of any consequence in the South. Slave labor was used almost exclusively in its initial operation. In later years, economic forces drove the industry from its field of usefulness, and it ceased operating in 1885. The buildings were torn down in the 1890s and the bell is at Riverton High School

Some additional owners of the Bell Factory include

  • Preston Yeatman was part owner of the Bell Factory. He died in Huntsville in 1841.
  • Richard Forsey, born 1795. He was the third owner of the Bell Factory from 1829-1831.


  1. 1. Historical marker database
  2. Madison County, Library
  3. Wikipedia

Read more stories about early Alabama in ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS: Statehood – presents the times and conditions they faced in lost & forgotten stories which include:

  • Who Controlled And Organized The New State of Alabama?
  • Tuscaloosa Had Three Other Names
  • Chandelier Falls & Capitol Burns
  • Alabama Throws Parties For General LaFayette
  • Francis Scott Key Was Sent to Alabama To Solve Problems

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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