Study List application - Mooresville Mill Village website.

April 9, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: History, European History, Europe (1815-1915), Industrial Revolution
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Mooresville Mill Village National Register Study List Application Part 10 B. History

I. The Roots of the Mill and Mill Village: The Devastated Post-Civil War South The history of Mooresville, North Carolina reads like the history of the post-civil war Piedmont South. Like a archetype of the region itself, the town of Mooresville was born of a union of cotton, water, and railroads. Prior to the Civil War, in 1853, the Atlantic, Tennessee, and Ohio railroad was extending its line and wanted to build a train stop for cotton farmers to bring their crops for shipping. A local farmer in the Coddle Creek Township of Iredell County, John F. Moore, parceled off from his farm the land necessary for the rail line, a cotton depot, and shops and homesites surrounding the rail stop. The area remained only a railroad “siding” until after the war, in 1873, when local merchants including Mr. Moore applied and were granted an incorporated township with a one-mile radius around the train depot. After the war, southern businessmen and leaders sought a solution to the extreme squalor left in the wake of the devastation. A handful of textile mills had existed prior to the Civil War, but after the war, southern businessmen saw in its resources—water, cotton, and rebuilt rail lines--a way to take advantage of, and provide for, its starving population. A new textile industry in the south began supplanting its northern predecessors, taking advantage of the Appalachian piedmont's water power and cheap, hungry labor. The practice of providing housing around a industrial employment center was not an idea original to the southern cotton mills. Industrial villages already populated the industrial North.. But post-civil war, Thus the Southern Mill Village was born. In his seminal study, The Rise of Cotton Mills in the South, Broadus Mitchell asserted that by 1900, a full 92 percent of textile workers lived in mill villages owned by the companies that employed them.1 Mooresville would become a prime example of the trend. In 1893, barely 20 years after the town’s incorporation, Mooresville business leaders saw the growing wave of textile mills in the South and seized the opportunity to capitalize on Mooresville’s assets. With a rail line and depot, ample creeks and water flow, and a town with a bent for commerce, JE Sherrill and Isaac Harris were easily able to sell common stock in their textile mill startup. By 1894 the Mooresville Cotton Mill was up and running just a couple of blocks south of the depot. In addition to the mill itself, MCM followed the textbook plan of creating housing for its workers. A small village quickly began to take shape around the mill. This original mill, along with a handful of mill houses, still stands on North Church Street in downtown Mooresville. The mill would quickly grow to become the dominating force in the town, Mooresville’s growth engine, with its presence dominating the skyline, the economy, and the urban development of the town. II. 1893-1900 The original venture into textiles proved to be so successful that in less than seven years, MCM could no longer fit its operations in the North Church Street mill. MCM pieced together a vast tract of farmland from the heirs of John Gracy Templeton. The tract consisted of several hundred acres of farmland at the southern end of the 1


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incorporated limits, bordered by East Wilson Avenue to the north, the rail line to the west, and running out into woodland gullies and creeks to the south and east. There, where South Church Street ended, at Davidson College Road just past East Wilson, MCM constructed a new, state-of-the-art mill running perpendicular to Main Street, known as Mill no.2. The area would develop over the next couple of decades into a sprawling industrial tract surrounded by a vast company village of several hundred homes, complete with churches, ballfields, and commercial venues. The proposed historic district is the 400+ home village which grew around this second incarnation of the Mooresville Cotton Mills, on South Church Street. III. Mooresville Cotton Mills, 1900-1914 Beginning in 1900, Mooresville begins to undergo intense development and population growth in the area around the mill. The earliest Sanborn Map survey of Mooresville, conducted in 1902, seems to have been prompted by the construction of Mill 2 and the expensive machinery it had installed. Here's what the 1902 Sanborn map of Mooresville says about the Mill: Running night & day. Constant watchman when not running. Imhauser clock, 6 stations. Power & heat: steam. Heating Pipes suspended on iron brackets. Fuel: coal & wood. Light: incand. elec. No hose. Iron fire pails distd. throughout. Grinnell Automatic sprinklers throughout mill. Cotton W.Ho. not sprinkled. Sprinkler heads spaced 8” each way. 10000 gal. sprinkler tank in tower. Bottom of tank 20’ above highest line of sprinklers, except those in tower. Reservoir 87000 gals. Water is pumped to reservoir from pond on branch 1200’ NE of mill by Stillwell-Bierce & Smith-Vaile triple plunger pump. Size 3”x 4”. Pump driven by electric motor. Water pumped from reservoir to tank by boiler feed pump. Gravity pressure from tank only on sprinklers. The map shows a grocer near the mill, and some cottages around the mill along Church Street.

By 1906 the mill village is clearly starting to take shape, and it is already being referred to as the “mill village”2. Between 1900 and 1906, Mooresville’s population grew from 1500 to 2600. A 1906 survey map belonging to the Town of Mooresville (see attachment) shows the distinctive repetitive housing pattern beginning to form around the mill. Mills Avenue is already completely developed as it stands today in 2009. Spruce Street, Wilson Avenue, Church Street, and Davidson College Road, which would become College Street, are beginning to fill out. The love affair and preoccupation with baseball was also already evident—a baseball diamond on mill property is already clearly marked on the map.



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MCM’s entrepreneurial management was quite ambitious and forward-thinking, and the town of Mooresville was a partner in their venture. Quality and esthetics were clearly considered in the construction of the mill and mill houses. It is important to remember that the mill tract lay almost adjacent to the homeplace of Isaac Harris, one of the primary mill investors and managers. The mill built highquality housing with streets, water, and sewer infrastructure; the town of Mooresville provided the street lighting for the neighborhood. Minutes of the town’s board meetings show that in 1907, it installed lighting on College Street, Church Street, and Wilson Avenue in what it calls “the mill village.3” Again in 1908, it seems that the mill provided the impetus for a new Sanborn survey as evidenced by a new mill, called Mill no.3, located perpendicular to Mill no.2. This map indicates that the mill village has continued to grow, although the only street actually depicted is College Street. It is clear, however, that College St. has lengthened its row of mill houses. The 1910 Federal Census shows that the area is densifying, with over 140 households in the area referred to as the “Cotton Mill Hill,” with many streets simply called “rows”, some without name. Streets named by the census include Wilson Avenue, Nesbit Street, and Mills “Alley”. Around this time, just north of Wilson Avenue, the heirs of Laban Deaton begin selling off his small 43 acre farm abutting the mill property along Wilson Avenue to people employed by the mill. Catawba Avenue is carved out of this tract, which marks the northern most edge of the proposed district, separated from the town cemetery by a steep gulley and creek to the north. There is a clear switch in house style from the cottage to the bungalow as the village expands southward beyond Brawley Avenue and across the railroad tracks. Likewise we believe that the areas immediately surrounding the mill--nearly all of College, East Wilson, Mills, Brawley, Nesbit, Harris, and Freeman--were built out by around 1910. What is clear is that the mill was commissioning houses during a time of regional growth and of architectural transition from the victorian cottage to the American bungalow, interpreted in the local style. Part IV. 1915-1932 By the mid 1920’s, the village was already completely built out, supplied with water, sewer, and electricity from the mill itself. Mill machines were humming and the mill was had reached a peak in production. At this time, MCM began to transition its product line from ginghams to production of towels, creating the Turkish Moor brand of towels which would sustain it for several decades. In 1924, the Associated Mutual Insurance Co. (Boston, MA) surveyed the mill and its village. The resulting survey map shows over 400 buildings in the village, most of them belonging to the mill. A 2005 birdseye photo (see attached) of the proposed district shows the village composition largely unchanged from this 1924 survey. 3


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The 1924 Drummond Pictorial Atlas described the mill and mill village in glowing terms: The Mooresville Cotton Mills Co. has a total capital stock of $3,300,000.00 and is equipped with 60,000 spindles and 1,820 looms. They operate 30,000 spindles and 1,000 looms day and night, and employ 1,600 operatives. The products manufactured are ginghams, outings, suitings, palm beach goods and the cloth used in the manufacture of automobiles. The Company operates a modern power plant which handles coal with automatic stoker and labor saving devices. They have their own water system and supply 500 operatives' cottages with water and light and maintain a complete sewerage system. They operate a complete piece goods dyeing and bleaching plant and are the city's largest manufacturers. 4 Drummond may have exaggerated slightly the size of the village, but its important place in Mooresville was well noted. The 1920 Census showed Mooresville’s population at just over 4,000. The densely populated streets of Mooresville Mill Village was home to the majority of Mooresville’s population, whose lives centered around the mill and mill-provided activities.. Part V. 1932-1954 The mill suffered, but survived the havoc of the Great Depression. In 1932, its selling agent went bankrupt and MCM went into receivership. Thanks to the efforts of local investors, a new management team was brought on in 1935, headed by John F. Matheson. Matheson would lead the mill for another 29 years, overseeing its return to prosperity. In 1937, the mill employed 2000 workers.5 In the late 1930’s the mill was not immune to the general unionization movement. A tense strike resulting in the death of one, and arrest of a handful, of hard core unionizers. Under Matheson’s management, the mill continued and expanded its role as community benefactor, maintaining a public relations page in the local paper dedicated to keeping its good image in the community. It supported a local marching band, yearly parades, a community house and daycare for working mothers, and later on a 9-hold golf course for its workers. The mill financed a semipro baseball team, the Mooresville Moors, whose ballfield still remains a part of the mill village. During most of this period of prosperity, the village continued to be entirely owned by the mill. Because of the nature of the houses being rental property, the land around the houses remained, in the mindset of its inhabitants, a common area. The mill provided a small tract of land to the southeast of the village where villagers could keep livestock. Mrs. Caroline Bowles recalls that as a child, she was sent to milk a cow which her family held on this common land. Mr. Guy Bowles, who has lived in the mill village since birth, recalls that as far back as he could remember, people did not maintain gardens, but rather bought produce from local grocers.

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Drummond The State Mag 1937

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Because they were highly affordable yet maintained to a standard not held by other local landlords, mill houses were coveted by locals, and the mill maintained a waiting list for those wishing to rent one. 6 During hard times, some families sublet rooms in their homes. Mrs. Ada Freeman, who moved to the area in the 30’s, recalled that as a newlywed, she and her husband rented a room off the main foyer of one elderly couple’s cottage. During this period, J.W. Abernethy, a regional investor in textiles, continued to acquire Mooresville Mills. Mr. Abernethy held the position of Vice President in the late 40’s, but his influence continued to grow as did his proportion of the company’s stock. Reflecting the modern mindset of the investor, Mr. Abernethy began to steer management away from community involvement, and concentrated on making the mill pay greater returns on its stock. The mill made significant investments in stateof-the-art machinery, continued to cut costs, and focused on its core business— textile production. In 1946, as it had expanded to work with synthetic fibers, management decided to change the name of the mill from Mooresville Cotton Mills to simply be Mooresville Mills. In the late 40’s, Mr. Abernethy acquired a majority share of the Mooresville Mills. The mill began divesting from the community by shedding its real estate assets and making large gifts of land to the Town of Mooresville, including a 9-hole golf course, a semi-pro baseball field, and a tract of land which would become the town’s World War II memorial, recreational facilities and swimming pool. In 1949, the mill began preparations to sell off its land holdings. The refocusing of the mill management on its core business also meant that it would get out of the landlord business. It commissioned a survey and had the village platted with each house being on its own lot. The lot markings were based on what had been, up until then, gentlemen’s understandings passed down from renter to renter or by general neighborly information about where line boundaries were. This 1949 plat map is registered at the Iredell County Register of Deeds In 1950 the mill began selling the houses with the stipulation for purchase was that the buyer had to be an employee of the mill. The houses were sold for prices between $2925-$3500, with mortgage, and tax escrow payments being taken directly out of the worker’s paycheck. Seemingly overnight, an entire neighborhood went from 100% landlord owned, to 100% homeowner-occupied. In 1954, Mr. Abernethy took over as President of the mill, and begin preparing for its sale to Burlington Mills. Burlington had been in acquisition mode for some time, buying several mills in the area, closing some, while maintaining others. When Burlington absorbed the mill in 1955, Mooresville Mills provided a flourishing cash cow for the textile giant, who paid the premium in a 2-to-1 stock swap. Part VI. 1954-2000 With this transition came a flurry of renovations and improvements to the houses which had been well-maintained, but basic, under mill ownership. Back porches 6

Christenbury Oral Interview 2007

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were enclosed to create more living space; homeowners hired locals to install a cabinet systems in kitchens which once consisted only of a tub sink and a potbelly stove.7 Indoor bathtubs became standard8. New wood floors and linoleum were laid over the single-layer tongue-and-groove floor. Crawlspaces were enclosed, protecting plumbing systems from the annual freezes. Some homeowners sprung for new asbestos shingles, vaunted for its maintenance-free beauty. As for the mill itself, once in the hands of Burlington Industries, the trajectory of Mooresville Mills followed that of the textile industry in the South. The home-grown mill continued to be the largest employer in the county until it was shuttered by Burlington in 1999, but profits and management were steered from a distance. The health of the housing stock over this 50 year period followed a common arc. In the early years, the pride of homeownership reigned, with homeowners investing and maintaining well-groomed homes. In the last half of the period, as these first homeowners grew older and passed away, large numbers of mill houses fell into the hands of individual landlords, and fell into disrepair. During this period, a block of mill houses was lost. These houses were moved to various locations outside the mill village. A number of commercial buildings on the mill lot were torn down to make way for parking.The area where the community center once stood was sold and parceled off into a motel. trailer park, and gas station. But the residential area remained otherwise undisturbed. Part VII. 2000-Present Since its shuttering in 1999, the mill has stood vacant. Cherokee Investment Properties, a Raleigh-based real estate venture capital fund, purchased the mill in 2001 and undertook brownfield cleanup of the site. In 2005, Cherokee announced plans to redevelop the mill site as a mixed use area, rehabilitating most of the mill structures to National Register standards. The project encountered multiple obstacles and has been axed. The property is now on the market. The mill village remains largely intact in 2009. A handful of commercial buildings stand as a reminder that the mill village had its own commercial area, although it always remained connected to downtown Mooresville’s commercial center. Two original churches still stand, although one has grown and been modified so that the original structure is no longer discernable. The other has been converted into apartments. The most significant change has occurred on Main Street, where a boarding house and two stick-built storefronts were demolished in the early 2000’s to make way for a large complex of vinyl-clad apartments. Nearly 70% of the village is owned by individual, mostly absentee landlords. In the last 3-5 years, during the refinancing boom, renovation activity accelerated as new landlords took the reigns. Until 2008, no guidelines were in place regarding how renovations should be carried out. In spring 2008, the Town of Mooresville approved a Mooresville Mill Village Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NCO) District.

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Ada Freeman Interview; Caroline Phillips Bowles interview Guy Bowles Interview

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Part VIII. Final Comments With the growth of Mooresville and the Charlotte region in the 1990’s and 2000’s, the scale of the mill village in proportion to the rest of Mooresville has diminished; however, like the mill’s water towers which loom over Mooresville, the Mill Village and the mill itself loom large, distinctive, sometimes mythic, in the local psyche. For many years, the Mill, its village, and its workers, were the industrial and residential center of a town that grew essentially from the gift of railroad tracks and a creek. It is difficult to overstate the historical relevance of the mill and mill village’s crucial role in the history of the area. It is impossible to speak of how a town such as Mooresville came to be without speaking of the greater regional context of textiles in the post-war South. Textile mills were the pivotal element in the rebuilding of the Piedmont. The mills granted an overwhelming gain in quality of life to all who came here seeking work, and slowly lifted the entire Piedmont out of the squalor wreaked by the war. Mooresville Mill Village stands today as a historic symbol of a past in which immigrants flooded in to these textile towns from the devastated countryside in search of work, quality housing, and a better life. Beyond its local legacy, the sheer size of Mooresville Mill Village makes it one of the largest known Piedmont Mill Villages that remain intact as a whole unit. Although period related changes have temporarily obscured some of the details of construction, the landscape of Mooresville Mill Village—and the mills it surrounds—encapsulates for current and future generations the story of an entire region, its hopes pinned on textile mills, and its rise from destitution into a prosperity built by the hands of its textile workers. It is hoped that the NCO, combined with tax credits available thanks to a National Register listing, will provide a motor for renovations that will reveal and restore the original simplicity and character of the houses and the village, with the short-term goal of boosting community pride, attracting new homeowners with a vested stake in the well-being of the neighborhood, and with the long-term goal of assuring the continuation of the village as a testament to Mooresville’s role in our textile heritage in our Piedmont South.

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Bibliography Maps Town of Mooresville Survey Map (found in Planning Department) dated Chas E. Waddell, Consulting Engineer, Biltmore, NC map dated 19061906 The Sanborn Map Company: Town of Mooresville, NC maps dated: 1902; 1908; 1914; 1925; 1950 Mooresville Cotton Mills Survey 1924 map no. 4 Tenements Mooresville Mills plat maps registered at Iredell County of Deeds Plat book 4-29 Oral Interviews Ada Freeman, 2006 Caroline Bowles, 2009 Guy Bowles, 2009 Dr. William Brown, 2005, 2006, 2008 Cora King Freeze Family, 2007 Books Blythe, LeGette. Meet Julius Abernethy. Heritage Printers, Inc, Charlotte, NC, 1970. Brown, Dr. William . Around These Tracks. Drummond, Albert Y. Drummond Pictorial Atlas of North Carolina. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Scoggins Printing Company, Inc. 1924 Haselden, W. J. Mooresville, The Early Years. Mooresville, NC: Mooresville Chamber of Commerce, 1963. Tompkins, Daniel Augustus. Cotton Mill, Commercial Features. A Text-Book for the Use of Textile Schools and Investors. Charlotte, N.C. Published by the Author, 1899 Mitchell, Broadus The Rise of Cotton Mills in the South. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1921. Trawick and Davis, Eds. Centennial Commemorative Book Mooresville 1873-1973. Davidson Printing Company, Davidson, NC ,1973 Periodicals The Mooresville Tribune 1930 -1955 Mooresville Mills. Textile Age, March 1948 Other US Federal Census, years: 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920 Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers exhibit, Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, NC

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