Weaving History: Charlotte & The Textile Industry
Charlotte emerged as a major textile center between 1880 and 1914. Mills
with names like Ada, Alpha, Victor, Louise, and Elizabeth began to dot the
local landscape. That past is largely forgotten now, even though many of
Charlotte's textile buildings have been adapted to other uses, including
housing and retail. All of the photographs in this exhibit are from a
single, remarkable book -- Cotton Mills, Commerical Features,
published 1899. The author was Daniel Augustus Tompkins. Born in Edgefield
County, South Carolina in 1851, Tompkins came to Charlotte from the North in
1883 and became an untiring champion of New South industrialization.
Charlotte's Prominent Mills
Postcard featuring four Charlotte mills in their heyday: the Hoskins, the
Mecklenburg, the Elizabeth, and the Chadwick mills.
Atherton Cotton Mill
In the distance stands the Atherton Cotton Mill which opened just outside
Dilworth in 1893. It was a spinning mill, and Tompkins ran it with an iron
fist. He provided housing in the nearby Atherton Mill Village but insisted
that his workers toe the line. This was one of only three spinning mills
that Tompkins owned. Note that black hands picked white cotton almost up to
the walls of the mill itself. Cotton was the real gold of Mecklenburg
County at the turn of the century.This view of the Atherton Cotton Mill,
which has recently been turned into condominiums, was taken in the late
1890's. Its ivy-covered walls hide the harsh realities of life in a cotton
mill. The workers, including children, labored for 12 to 14 hours a day,
their ears ringing with the slamming and banging of the spinning machines.
D. A. Tompkins (1851-1911)
This photograph of mill workers, probably at the Atherton Mill, speaks
volumes. All the workers were white. That was company policy. Look how young
they were. The boys in the front row, all but one barefooted, look like they
were 11 or 12 at the most. The man in the back row on the left must be the
Cotton was the economic kingpin of Mecklenburg County for over a hundred
years. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made raising short staple
cotton profitable in the Piedmont. This elderly man and woman are standing
outside the log home that they had occupied as slaves. There were once
hundreds of these in rural Mecklenburg. They are no more.
One of the most important places in any town, including Charlotte, was
the cotton platform. Farmers would bring their crop to be weighed, bought,
and prepared for shipment. Trains leading north out of Charlotte were made
up mostly of boxcars filled with the white gold of the South -- King Cotton.
This Queen Anne style building with its corner tower was the Atherton
Lyceum. Tompkins, who opposed compulsory school attendance laws, brought his
sister from Edgefield, S.C. to teach in this school. The students also
labored in the Atherton Mill. Tompkins wanted it that way.
Highland Park Mill
This was Highland Park Mill No 2. It opened in 1893 and produced gingham.
Part of the building still stands on North Brevard St. It is a lonely
reminder of an age when Charlotte was one of the textile centers of the
The Louise Mills and Mill Village
The Louise Mills and its mill village, from a 1911 postcard.
Chadwick Mills' Mill Village
Chadwick Mills' mill village, as shown on a 1914 postcard.
Taking Cotton To Market
John Cross, a Mecklenburg County farmer, takes his cotton to the
Charlotte Cotton market in this 1907 photo.