The Watkins Woolen Mill is among the best preserved examples of a Midwest woolen mill in nineteenth-century United States. Its machinery for preparing, spinning, and weaving wool reflects the existence of well-established textile industry in the country. It was designed and built by Waltus L. Watkins (1806-1884), a machinist and master weaver from Frankfort, Kentucky, who began operating his mill in 1861 in Clay County.
This machine, designed by Alton S. Newell, efficiently reduced automobile bodies into scrap metal for recycling. A body was fed into the shredder at a controlled rate, and rotating hammers, driven by a 500-hp motor, shredded it into small pieces that were easily shipped. The process took about 10 minutes a car and used less energy than other shredding and crushing machines.
This ironworks exemplified the adaptability required for industrial survival in a dynamic technical environment. It was a major western producer of mechanical equipment used in mining (especially large hydraulic machines), ship propulsion, irrigation, power generation, optical telescope mounts, and nuclear research.