Furness, Thomas (1882-1976)
Thomas (“Tommie”) Furness (1882-1976) was a master mason who took a central role in constructing major buildings at the immense Champion Fibre Company Pulp Mill in Canton, North Carolina.
Furness was born in the industrial city of Manchester, England to a father whose craft was listed as “joiner carpenter” in the census of 1901. He was one of seven brothers, two of whom preceded him into the craft of brick masonry. The three initiated their own construction business, but sustaining work proved elusive. Tommie Furness then resolved to emigrate to South Africa. In 1903, however, he came to the United States for an interim stay, and in New York City he heard of work available with the Champion Fibre Company of Hamilton, Ohio. The firm was just then starting construction on a large wood-pulp processing facility in Canton, North Carolina. Located in the heavily forested North Carolina mountains where the Western North Carolina Railroad crossed the Pigeon River, Canton offered ready access to the timber, fresh, swift-moving water, railroad connections, and willing local labor. All of these advantages converged to make the plant an immediate financial success. Champion planned and built one of the largest pulp mills in the region, and by 1930 it was the largest and most modern pulp- and paper-manufacturing facility in the world.
As a Champion employee, Furness traveled throughout the South, using his own judgment to acquire and ship the quantities of brick and mortar necessary to build the factory buildings. When construction began in 1906, Furness, then only 24 years old, became master mason in charge of all brickwork at the mill. Although the pulp factory was completed and ready for operation in 1908, Furness stayed on in charge of construction and maintenance for the rapidly growing and changing facility. By 1910 he had married Leola, a North Carolina mountain girl, and within ten years the couple had become parents to four children: Mary, Margaret, Frederick and Thomas. James and Ruth arrived to complete the family a few years later. Though considerably advanced in the hierarchy of Champion’s management, Furness was still, like most of his colleagues, renting a house from his employer in a part of Canton known as “Fibreville Hill.”
In 1947 at age 63 and much beloved by his colleagues, Tommie Furness was made safety officer of the mill, a position he held until he retired. In addition to his extensive work at the Champion facility, Furness supervised construction of the Champion Fibre Company Main Office and of the Champion YMCA which the company built for the use of its employees. In 1937 he donated his time to construction of the Champion Presbyterian Church.
- England Census Record, 1910.
- Mary Furness (daughter of Thomas Furness), interview with Camille Wells, Apr. 1, 1980, and May 12, 1981, notes in possession of Camille Wells.
- The Log of the Champion Paper and Fibre Company, especially magazine issues dating between 1914 and 1930, North Carolina Room, Haywood County Public Library, Waynesville, North Carolina.
- United States Census, 1910-1930.
- Camille Wells, Canton: The Architecture of Our Home Town (1985).
- Dates:1918Location:Canton, Haywood CountyStreet Address:14 Main St., Canton, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
Camille Wells, Canton: The Architecture of Our Home Town (1985).Note:A principal landmark in Canton, the handsome office building was headquarters for the firm that built the town's principal industry the Champion Paper Company. The Champion Log noted that the brick came from Fletcher, N. C., and the granite from Mount Airy. The Asheville Citizen-Times of September 29, 1912, also credited William H. Lord with designing a bank in Canton and another in nearby Waynesville (the latter was also cited in the same paper in September 1903). These have not been identified.
- Contributors:Tommie Furness, brickmason; George F. Hardy, architectDates:1905-1908 and laterLocation:Canton, Haywood CountyStreet Address:Main St., Canton, NCStatus:AlteredType:IndustrialImages Puslished In:Camille Wells, Canton: The Architecture of Our Home Town (1985).
- Contributors:Tommie Furness, brickmason; George Bradley Hammond, architectDates:1937Location:Canton, Haywood CountyStreet Address:190 Main St., Canton, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Camille Wells, Canton: The Architecture of Our Home Town (1985).Note:Plans for the church were drawn by the pastor, George Bradley Hammond, who was also trained as an architect. The Colonial Revival style building features glazed-header Flemish bond brickwork in the tradition of early American architecture renewed by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
- Dates:1920Location:Canton, Haywood CountyStreet Address:Main St., Canton, NCStatus:No longer standingType:RecreationalImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
Camille Wells, Canton: The Architecture of Our Home Town (1985).