Alpha Cotton Mills Village
Cottages in the Alpha Mill Village.
Charlotte’s industrial development in the second half of the nineteenth
century was intimately bound up with textiles. Beginning with the
opening of the Charlotte Cotton Mills in December 1880, Charlotte was
transformed into a major industrial center in a single generation.
A moving force in this process was Daniel Augustus Tompkins (1852-1914), a
New South industrialist and philanthropist who moved to Charlotte in March
A native of Edgefield County, South Carolina, Tompkins had earned a degree
in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy,
New York in 1873, had been a chief machinist for the Bethlehem Iron Works
in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and had decided to return to his native region
so that he might encourage and assist the development of industry and the
diversification of agriculture. In 1884, Tompkins founded the D. A.
Tompkins Co. with R. M. Miller, Sr. to build and supply machinery for
cotton mills. The D. A. Tompkins Co. was directly responsible for
the construction of over one hundred cotton mills and two hundred cotton
oil plants in the Piedmont over a thirty-year period, including the Alpha
The upper half of
this map shows the Alpha Cotton Mill and the Alpha Cotton Mill Village
across North Brevard Street from the Mill.
D. A. Tompkins built and equipped three cotton mills in Charlotte in 1889
– the Victor, the Ada , and the Alpha . Two of the three buildings
survive, the Ada and the Alpha. Called “hummers” because of the
noise produced by the spinning and weaving machines, the new mills
appeared at the edges of town along railroad lines. Tompkins did not
like sites in the hearts of cities. “The proximity of lawyers . . .
promotes law suits,” he declared, and a “mill in the country can operate
its own store and thereby get back some of money paid for wages.” It
is important to note that Northern capital played no role in financing the
great majority of Charlotte's first cotton mills. They were
home-owned and operated.
Tompkins published books, most notably Cotton Mills, Commerical
Features, which provided practical advice to prospective owners of
textile mills, including advice as to how they should construct houses for
mill workers (see above). A collection of houses of this type were
built on C Street, and North Caldwell Street for the workers at the
Alpha Cotton Mill. They are the only remnant of textile housing that
survives in Center City Charlotte and, therefore, possess a high degree of
This is Tompkins's
design that survives in the Alpha Mill Village.
The Alpha Cotton Mill company was formally incorporated on January 23,
1888. Opening in 1889, the complex consisted of a one-story brick
mill building with basement (housing carding, spinning, reeling and
warping operations), a cotton warehouse, and a waste house, plus the
collection of one-story frame houses for “operatives.” It was
decided that there would be a novel public subscription of the stock as
It was moved that on Saturday, the 7th
day of January, 1888, from four to eight o'clock p.m., the subscribers
to the capital stock of the company be requested to call at the store of
C. Scott, on College Street, and sign the constitution and by-laws, and
pay in fifty cents per share on their stock, of which twenty-five cents
is the initiation fee and twenty-five cents is the first installment of
dues, and the weekly payments will be made at the same place from four
to eight o'clock each Saturday.
So far as is known,
this was the first mill in the region to offer its stock on a weekly
This photograph is
taken looking north. The Alpha Mill is in the upper right hand
corner of the photograph. The mill village is barely visible
through the trees to the right of the mill.