Industrial Buildings in Charlotte's Uptown
historic industrial buildings located in Charlotte's Uptown are largely the
remnants of a period of the unprecedented industrial growth that occurred
throughout the city beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing
until after World War Two. These building are generally limited to
this time period because the nature of the Uptown shifted dramatically after
the war. Following a trend that began early in the twentieth century,
heavy industry and warehouses moved away from the center city. The
emergence of trucking encouraged this move away from the once critical rail
lines that bisect each of the city's four wards. Many existing
uptown factories and warehouses continued to operate late into the twentieth
century, however new construction concentrated on the building of office and
the surviving industrial buildings in the Uptown date from the first half of
the twentieth century. In 1900, Charlotte was home to only fifty-seven
industrial plants. By 1910, that number was up to 108. As of
1930, there were 157 industrial facilities in the city.
In 1934, citing population, industrial, and financial statistics, Charlotte
described itself as the center of a “rapidly developing section, the richest
trading territory in the South.” Despite the fact that much of the city's
industrial development after 1900 occurred in the city's outlying
neighborhoods such as Dilworth and North Charlotte, a significant
number of historic industrial building in the Uptown area have survived.
Carolina’s first cotton mill was built near Lincolnton in 1813, and by 1840,
there were twenty-five mills in the state, thirteen of which were located in
the Piedmont region.
Despite the gains between 1813 and 1840, such economic and commercial
influences were slow to affect the agrarian south and most ante-bellum
industry was confined to New England. As of 1873, there were only
thirty-three mills in North Carolina, most manufacturing yarn to be woven in
Northern mills, but by the 1880s, investors began discovering the South’s
post-war availability of inexpensive labor, land, and raw materials.
These resources created the foundation for the turn-of-the-century
industrialization in the South, North Carolina’s Piedmont, and in
Mecklenburg County. The success of Southern mill ventures was apparent
by 1906, when one observer noted, “The traveler through some parts of North
Carolina is seldom out of sight or hearing of a cotton mill. The tall
chimneys rise beside the railroad in nearly every town.”
Location was the key to Mecklenburg County’s industrial development. Locally
grown cotton and the availability of water as a power source made the
Piedmont region of North Carolina, in which Mecklenburg County is situated,
well suited to the development of mills.
By 1906, one quarter of the textile mills in the United States were located
in North Carolina, mostly in the “central or west-central sections” where
mills were the “thickest.”
Charlotte’s advantage was intensified by its transportation connections
which included the intersection of two important trade and migration routes
as well as five major rail lines as of 1873.
The Charlotte Cotton Mill, 1880
first successful cotton mill in Charlotte was built in 1880 by R.M. and D.W.
Oates. Named the Charlotte Cotton Mill, it housed 6,240 spindles and
employed seventy people, most of them women. The mill itself was constructed
in the style of the most up-to-date New England mills.
Although only part of the Charlotte Cotton Mill exists today, it marks the
start of Charlotte’s textile revolution. By 1902, just twenty-two years
after the establishment of the city’s first successful cotton mill, three
hundred mills had been built within one hundred miles of Charlotte, making
this area home to more than one-half of the looms and spindles in the entire
most prominent and influential textile mill developer in the city and state
was D. A. Tompkins. Tompkins, a South Carolinian, was educated at
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. After two years of
employment with the Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) Iron Works, he began his
thirty-one-year career in Charlotte as a sales representative of
Westinghouse Engine Company, based in Pittsburgh. In 1883, he left
Westinghouse to establish the D.A. Tompkins Company which specialized in
designing and setting up mills.
classic “New South” entrepreneur, Tompkins wrote and spoke widely,
encouraging industrialization, and helping establish textile and chemical
engineering colleges in Raleigh and Clemson.
At the time, the National Association of Manufacturers called him “the
foremost citizen of the South.”
Another writer referred to him as the “best authority upon cotton
manufacturing in the South.”
Tompkins entrepreneurial zest flows in an address made to the Southern
Industrial League in Atlanta. He reasoned that because producing cotton
makes money, manufacturing it into products would make even more money.
Tompkins went on to say, “If we utilize the resources we now have, and put
to work the idle labor now in every undeveloped section of the South, we may
supply from cotton-growing states the cloth for the vast markets in
different parts of the world.”
Over the course of his career, he pioneered the development of cottonseed
oil as a profitable product while his company constructed over one hundred
mills, plus fertilizer works, electric light plants, ginneries, and over two
hundred cotton oil plants.
Early 20th-century photograph of the Alpha
Mill village west of the mill, now demolished
Remnants of the village to the east of the mill
surviving mill in the Uptown reflect state and regional trends, which were
based on the recommendations of Tompkins and another New South
industrialist, Stewart Cramer. These men and the mill designers they
employed were often following the standards set forth by New England
machinery manufacturers and insurance mutuals. The insurance companies had
developed criteria for “slow burning construction.” This meant that
mills were brick, with walls not less that one and one-half brick (13”) wide
on the top level that increased in width by one-half a brick for each of the
An elevated water tank to supply sprinklers was to be at least fifteen feet
above the highest part of the roof and have a capacity of no less than
This structure was usually located in the mill’s tower. Brick
firewalls were prescribed to separate the main mill from the other main
components: the picker room, the belt tower that housed the belts
connecting the engine to the line shafts on each floor, and the stair or
Tompkins recommended 16” x 12” floor joists and three layers of flooring,
including a layer of asbestos.
Ada Cotton Mill, 1889
Architectural elaboration was usually reserved for the mill’s tower and at
the cornice or around the windows. The uses of brick corbelling and arched
window openings were popular decorative touches. Occasionally, designs
utilized quoins or stucco. The tower most often incorporated
Italianate details and cresting or a finial at the roof peak.
D.A. Tompkins felt that the design was “not very attractive from an
architectural standpoint,” but was justified by increased safety and reduced
1889, the D.A. Tompkins Company established two of the surviving mills in
the center city : the Alpha, and the Ada. A portion of the Ada
(MK 2219) is located adjacent to I-277, on Seaboard Street. It is
abandoned and in deteriorating condition, but retains many of its Italianate
details such as its tower with a low-pitched pyramidal roof. The Alpha
is located on 12
Street. It has a brick structure with a decorative tower and segmental
economic activity stimulated by the textile mills generated capital that
enabled commercial and industrial diversification in towns across the state.
In addition, the strong national economy of the early 1900s fostered growth
across the country. In 1945, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce
reported there were as many as 243 non-textile industrial plants in the
county producing products valued at $50,000,000 per year.
In particular, service industries, such as the trucking and banking
industries, benefited from the strength of Charlotte’s economy. Thus,
when Charlotte’s textile industry began to decline in the 1930s, the city
already had a well-laid foundation for post-World War II economic prosperity
that was not based on textiles.
Supplies, products, and storage for the textile mills themselves were also
common. The 1925 City Directory indicates two card clothing manufacturers,
eight chemical producers, one fire extinguisher company, eight machinery
manufacturers, four mill suppliers, and three cotton warehouses. Other
concerns, such as the John B. Ross Bag Warehouse (c. 1905) at the corner of
Johnson Street and Seaboard Street stored wrapping materials.
The building, which was once part of larger complex, is a one-story, brick
structure with three segmental arch loading bay openings. A lower,
one-story wing is attached to the east side of the building. The
property originally included an angled platform adjoining the railroad
tracks that are still immediately in front of the building. The Ross
Warehouse is an important and relatively rare example of the smaller sort of
warehouse facility from the early twentieth century.
myriad of railroad spurs entering the area, a cluster of industrial
operations located in the blocks created by Smith, and Johnson
streets. In the early twentieth century, a lumberyard was in the area.
Also near-by was the John B. Ross Bag Warehouse, mentioned above, as well as
the demolished N.C. Cotton Oil Company. Located at 10
and Smith streets, near the site of the NC Cotton Oil Company, is the
Interstate Mill, a flour and roller mill. The complex dates from ca.
1900 and consists of several buildings, including a five-story brick
building and prominent, concrete grain elevators visible from I-277.
Next to Interstate Mills, and directly adjacent to the Southern Railroad
tracks is People’s Ice and Coal plant, which dates from ca. 1905. Just
across the street from the Interstate Mills, and nearly under I-277 is D.A.
Tompkins’ Ada textile mill. This area is only one of many groupings of
industry. Other concentrations can be found on South Cedar, West
Morehead Street, South Boulevard, South Tryon, and South Mint/South Graham
streets in the southwest quadrant of the city. The Piedmont and Northern and
two branches of the Southern Railroad framed these areas.
the mills and factories along South Cedar Street have been demolished,
although survivors include a variety of 1920s warehouses and small
industrial buildings. None of the buildings were textile
manufacturers, but the Armature Winding Company and the Southern
Spindle and Flyer Company produced textile equipment. Armature was
founded in 1907 and moved to a new facility in 1915 before moving to this
site in 1925. The company manufactured electric motors, transformers
for Duke Power, transformer cooling fans, carbon brushes for GE, and a
variety of other electrical products. The company merged with Power
Products Manufacturing Company in 1975, and that company still operates in
this facility. Adjacent to the Piedmont and Northern Railroad, and the
planned community of McNinchville, local architect Fred L. Bonfoey, designed
the Armature Winding Company’s buildings.
The complex’s primary building is a one-story brick and steel structure with
a low-pitch gable roof. The large windows are multi-pane with metal frames.
The building also has exposed beams. The second building, originally a
warehouse for silk and cotton products, was also constructed in 1924.This
building is brick and has a raised monitor roof with clerestory windows. The
original large, multi-light windows have been replaced with much smaller
units on one side, and a storefront has been added on one side.
Southern Spindle and Flyer produced spindles and rollers for textile mills.
The company’s circa 1928 building is five-bays wide on its front facade, but
extends almost the full depth of the lot (roughly 200 feet). All of the
decorative treatment is reserved for the facade, which has a decoratively
capped parapet with small steps at the center. Beneath the parapet is a
cornice supported by brackets. The central entry has sidelights and transom
beneath a shed canopy supported by decorative brackets. Multi-light windows
flank the entry. The front portion of the building housed an office.
The remainder of the building was the machine shop.
The two buildings at the Queen City Foundry are the only South Cedar
Street buildings not constructed from brick. The foundry began
operations at this location in 1928 and remained here until at least 1985.
Although the current complex dates from after 1946, likely around 1950, the
buildings represent the continued importance of industry to Charlotte’s
economy. The larger building, the foundry, has a double monitor roof,
metal frame windows, and is clad in metal. The interior features the
exposed metal structure. The smaller building is a simple, gable-roof
building sheathed in metal. By the late 1990s, the buildings had been
rehabilitated to house offices for various professionals, including
architects and interior designers. This property retains a good level
of integrity and is significant as an example of a small foundry. The
larger, Charlotte Pipe Foundry on Clarkson Street may retain older
buildings, but these are nearly encased by late twentieth century
construction, making Queen City Foundry the more intact example of this
food became a major business in the Queen City during the 1920s and 1930s.
By 1935, there were eight soft drink bottlers: Big Boy, Coca-cola, Dr.
Pepper, Pepsi, Cheerwine, Gary, Nehi, and Orange Crush. This number rose to
thirteen by 1945. Two of these plants, Coca-cola and Nehi were surveyed
during this project. Other “junk” food was produced in Charlotte in 1935 by
three ice cream factories and one potato chip manufacturer (none of these
plants are believed to still stand). On a more wholesome note, there were
three flour or roller mills in Charlotte in that same year.
One of these, Interstate Mills, dating from 1917 still survives.
only was Charlotte home to mills and textile-related industries, the city
had begun to develop as a distribution center by the 1920s. By that
time, over 700 traveling salesmen were making Charlotte their home base.
Products were transferred in and out of the city via the railroads and the
burgeoning trucking industry.
In 1927 the Chamber of Commerce publication, “Charlotte, N.C.: Diversified
Industrial and Commercial Center,” promoted this new feature in the city’s
economy, noting, “The location of Charlotte and its railway and highway
connections conspire to make it a distribution center of considerable
importance.” This publication went on to report that
350 national businesses had made Charlotte “an integral part of their
1945, the Chamber was able to report that 350 national businesses made
Charlotte “an integral part of their distribution systems.”
The reasons behind this success included the city’s geographic location, its
access to diverse industries throughout the Piedmont including agriculture
and furniture, and the city’s status as a center of the Carolinas’ textile
growing industrial economy that relied heavily on the movement of products
in and out of the city, warehousing became an industry unto itself in the
early twentieth century. Charlotte, warehouses run the gamut in
terms of construction from the one-story brick building of W.C. Newell
Company warehouse (MK 2208), which is built around 1926 using the
“slow-burn” model to the very large, Great A&P Tea Company warehouse (MK
2256) with its concrete frame and brick infill dating to 1928. An earlier
example is the c.1915 McNeil Paper Company Warehouse (MK 1859) located
downtown at 305 E. 8
Street. Oriented to railroad tracks that are now disused, this warehouse
stored paper so that orders could be promptly filled and loaded onto
boxcars. The building is a one-story, five-bay, brick structure with a
stepped parapet and segmental arch windows and doors. The windows have
been filled with glass block. The most elaborate warehouse remaining in the
city is located along the same rail corridor as the McNeil building. The
Phillip Carey Building (MK 45) was built around 1907. The Carey company, the
first tenant, made roofing materials that were stored here. The building has
an unusual degree of architectural interest for a warehouse. The building is
two-stories with extensive brick corbelling, round-head and segmental arched
windows and a stepped parapet.
Great A&P Tea Company
W.C. Newell Company warehouse
Great A&P Tea Company warehouse displays the concrete frame with brick
curtain wall construction method that became popular by the late 1920s.
Constructed of reinforced concrete with brick curtain walls, the interior of
the building features reinforced concrete girders, floor slabs.
Similar construction techniques were employed in the Virginia Paper Company
Building, which features large mushroom columns, so named for their wide,
disc-like capital that flared smoothly from the round column supporting
concrete slab floors. The slabs, girders and columns of these buildings were
designed to work together to allow for wide open storage spaces without
numerous posts. When combined with metal frame windows and metal stairs, the
construction method also made a virtually fire-proof building. The
popularity of this technology is indicated in the 1951 Sanborn map which
shows that fourteen buildings in Charlotte (including warehouses, schools,
automobile showrooms, and even apartment buildings) were built in this
of the industrial buildings along West Morehead Street is the 1927 Union
Storage and Warehouse Company. The brick building has a cast concrete
base and molded band between the second and third floors. The parapet is
capped in cast concrete. Below the cornice are recessed panels set in the
brickwork. The windows have metal frames. The facade of the building is six
bays wide with the two corner bays projecting slightly to create a corner
tower effect. The top of each “tower” has a stepped parapet and decorative
cast concrete panel with garlands. The entry in one of the towers has a
classical cast concrete surround with heavy cornice supported by small
Charlotte grew, and as it became easier for people to travel there, the city
became a hub for the distribution and storage of motion pictures. The
city’s transportation links attracted movie distributors who needed a
regional shipping, storage, and screening base. The various studios
grouped their facilities together on South Church Street to compete for
business with local theater owners who periodically visited the city to
preview movies and make booking decisions. Fox opened its facility in
1921, followed by Goldwyn and Paramount in 1923 and Columbia and United
Artists in 1926. Chamber of Commerce officials reported in 1929 that
all national film companies maintained facilities in Charlotte, transacting
an annual aggregate volume of business valued at roughly $2,250,000.
None of the film exchange buildings appear to be extant.
surviving historically significant warehouses in the Uptown were all built
oriented towards the railroad lines. By the time that warehouses
relying solely on truck transportation were being built, industry and
warehouse had begun to move away from the center city.
Charlotte's late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century industrial buildings utilized standard forms that were derived from the earlier Italianate-influenced mill designs.
Early examples such as the Ada Cotton Mill have clear Italianate references. Some later buildings, such as the Armature
Winding complex (dating to 1925) have the simple forms of the earlier
buildings, but lack any stylistic detail. Another group of buildings
including the Standard Oil of New Jersey (c.1916) have clear classical references. Finally, a few buildings from the
Depression era and immediately thereafter demonstrate a new, simpler mode of
industrial architecture that was the precursor to the Modernist designs of
the postwar era. One example of this sort of building is the Union
Storage and Warehouse Company (c.1938), which is a simple, two-story, brick building ornamented
only with cast stone-capped brick pilasters, cast stone coping, and metal
frame windows. Building technology was also diversifying rapidly between the
1910s and the 1940s. Construction methods moved away from the load-bearing
masonry with timber trusses and posts, like that found at the Ada Cotton
Mill, to more modern methods such as steel and reinforced concrete. The
latter was especially important in warehouse buildings, but can also be
observed in the mid-1920s additions at the Standard Oil complex. Yet,
traditional construction methods persisted well into the 1930s.
The architectural significance of the city's warehouses lies in their
fire resistive features, such as building materials of brick or concrete,
and in their designs that maximized interior space.
With more modern
building techniques came changes in style. By the 1920 modernity was
an factor in industrial design. But whereas office buildings may have
reflected Art Deco or Art Modern, it was more likely that industrial
buildings would be constructed in a spartan minimalist style that helped
demonstrate the newest building material and techniques. The
best example of this trend among the Uptown's industrial buildings is the
Great A&P Tea Company building.
buildings in the Uptown are significant for their representation of the
broad patterns of the city's commercial growth, but they are also important
reminders of the particular history of the center city. These
surviving buildings demonstrate that historically the center city was a
dynamic place with mills, factories, and warehouses in close proximity to
the city's office buildings and residential neighborhoods. This
proximity itself vividly illustrates patterns of growth and development of
the city before the prevalence of the automobile and the modern highways.
These buildings can also serve as a reminder of the city's past industrial
success. A success that ushered in much of present industry, such as
banking, that now dominates the Uptown landscape.
Virginia Paper Company with late 20th-century high
rises in the background
Much of the previous contextual essay was adapted from "Industry, Transportation, and Education: The New South
Development of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County," an essay Prepared by
Sarah A. Woodard and Sherry Joines Wyatt, for David E. Gall, AIA, Architect
in September 2001. The essay was a product of a thematic survey
sponsored jointly by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
and the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. The purpose
of the 2001 survey was to identify properties throughout Mecklenburg County
that were potentially eligible to be listed on the National Register of
Click Here To View the Report From the 2001 Survey
Here To View the Properties That Were Found Eligible for the National
Charlotte Chamber of Commerce,
“Charlotte, N.C.: Distribution Center in War and Peace, c.1945.”
Chamber, “Charlotte, N.C., c.1945.”
Directory, 1925 and Sanborn Insurance Map, Charlotte (New York: Sanborn
Insurance Company, 1911).
“Survey and Research Report on the Armature Winding Company, 1998,”
unpublished student report for Dr. Dan L. Morrill, UNC-Charlotte.
“Growth of Charlotte.”
Chamber of Commerce, “Charlotte, NC., 1927.”
Chamber of Commerce, “Charlotte, NC, c.1945.”
Chamber of Commerce, “Charlotte, NC, 1927.”
“Growth of Charlotte.”
Commerce, “Charlotte, NC, 1927.”
Alexander, and Associates, Inc., “Crane Company Building National
Register Nomination, 2001,” North Carolina State Historic Preservation
of the Big Trucking Centers in the Nation,” 28 February 1950, I and
photocopy of article in vertical file, “Trucking,” at Spangler-Robinson
Local History Room, Charlotte-Meklenburg Public Library.
City Directory, 1945 and
Charlotte Sanborn Map, 1946.
Sorting Out, 194.
City Directory, 1935 and 1945 .
City Directory, 1934.
Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, “Charlotte, NC, 1927" and Charlotte
Chamber of Commerce, “Charlotte, NC: Distribution Center in War and
Appendix C for complete list of schools surveyed during this project.
and Charles Raven Brockmann, Hornet’s Nest: The Story of Charlotte
and Mecklenburg County (Charlotte: McNally, 1961), 220, 222.
and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), The
History of Education in North Carolina (Raleigh: North Carolina
Department of Public Instruction, 1994), 9.
Tompkins quoted in Winston, 157.
Connor and Clarence Hamilton Poe, Life and Speeches of Charles
Brantley Aycock (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page and Company,
controversy is discussed in detail in James Leloudis, “’A More Certain
Means of Grace’: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina,
1880-1920” (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
1989), Chapter 4, “Voices of Dissent,” 179-235.
Brockmann, 220, 222.
12; and Kelly Lally, The Historic Architecture of Wake County, North
Carolina (Raleigh: Wake County Government, 1994), 214.
Chamber of Commerce, “Charlotte, NC: Diversified Industrial and
Commercial Center” (Charlotte: privately published, 1927).
Holland Thompson, From the
Cotton Field to the Cotton Mill: A Study of the Industrial
Transformation in North Carolina (New York: The Macmillan Company,
“Charlotte’s Textile Heritage.”
A. Tompkins, address quoted in George Tayloe Winston, A Builder of
the New South, Being the Story of the Life and Works of Daniel Augustus
Tompkins (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1920), 127.
Hanchett, “The Growth of
Dan L. Morrill,
“A Survey of Cotton Mills in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.” Report
prepared for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission,
1997. The report is available at
www.cmhpf.org. Also, “Mill Town:
Charlotte’s Cotton Mill Past Lives in Remaining Buildings,” Charlotte
Observer, 25 May 1986, 1, 9-10.