In 1855, the Fredericksburg Water Power Company adapted the Rappahannock Company's navigation canal to be an industrial power canal. The canal turning basin became a mill pond and several raceways soon branched off to power the Germania Flour Mill and the Washington Woolen Mills. In 1887, a local ﬁrm established an electric generating plant on Fredericksburg's lower canal, which introduced electricity to the Rappahannock valley.
Electricity rapidly became the main power source for the area's industrial enterprises. In 1901, the City of Fredericksburg established a municipal power plant on a raceway fed by this upper canal. In 1910, the Fredericksburg Water Power Company constructed the Embrey Dam to increase the potential horsepower ﬂowing through this canal. The enhanced raceway fed into a new hydro-electric power plant, which remained in operation into the 1960s.
The Washington Woolen Mills opened before the Civil War and operated into the twentieth century. A newspaper article from May 8, 1922 reported:
"The business today has a trade territory embracing the entire United States and requiring a staff of 26 travelling men.... An office force of 20 is steadily employed.... About 400 mill employees are carried on the payroll.... The firm does an annual business of around
A fire in 1875 caused significant damage and also cooked off a previously undiscovered Civil War shell. The mill owners quickly rebuilt an expanded plant and resumed operations.
This Civil War photo shows the Woolen Mills in use as a hospital, sheltering wounded Union soldiers from the 1864 battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.
This 1878 map shows the extensive Woolen Mills complex. The inset includes both the upper and lower canals and also shows a portion of this upper canal's ﬂow being diverted to mills in downtown Fredericksburg. This third canal never materialized because it was superseded by electrical power, beginning in the 1880s.