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Mills & Mill Villages

Situated apart from uptown was the landscape of the textile mill. In Huntersville its realm was a tract of land at the north end of town, east of the railroad. Pineville's cotton-mill community was confined to the south end of town, behind Main Street. In Cornelius the geographical pattern was not as discrete, as the Cornelius Cotton Mill adjoined commercial buildings, and worker housing for the Gem Yarn Mill spilled over onto Main Street. Even so, the majority of mill cottages was clustered around the town's two textile plants, behind the uptown houses that lined Catawba Avenue and Main Street.

Cotton mills were a powerful presence in these small towns. "'The Mill,'" reflected a lifetime resident of Huntersville, "was known just as that--'The Mill.' It was there all my life, and even before. " 50 Textile companies were the towns' primary employers and builders. They created signature landscapes, replete with large brick factories and tall water towers symbolizing "progress," and scores of recognizable mill houses that were badges of social class. "The Mill" in Huntersville (Anchor Mills) manufactured dress ginghams and chambrays in a long brick structure adjacent to the railroad. The building's functional design is a simple representation of mill architecture constructed throughout the Piedmont in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It consists of brick exterior walls pierced by rows of long arched windows (now bricked in) and capped by a low, bracketed gable roof. In 1915 Anchor Mills employed 176 men, women, and children, who operated 10,700 spindles and 400 looms, and lived in rows of look-alike houses beside the mill. 51

Mill-house architecture in the county's towns conformed to standardized forms and arrangements that were found in most Southern textile villages. Housing reflected common folk as well as industrial vernacular types, many of which were promoted by the influential mill engineer Daniel Augustus Tompkins in his 1899 Cotton Mill: Commercial Features.52 A typical mill house in Huntersville and Cornelius is the one-story, side-gable cottage, with two front rooms, rear kitchen ell, and shed front porch. Anchor Mills also put up a number of shotgun houses, distinguished by their narrow, linear forms and gable-front roofs. Perhaps adapted from the three-room shotgun house design depicted in Tompkins' book, these cottages were marched down straight streets directly south of the mill.

The largest mill village among the towns took shape at Pineville, under the successive ownerships of Dover Mill and, in 1902, the Chadwick-Hoskins Company. By the 1920s the electric-powered Chadwick-Hoskins Mill No. 5 at Pineville was employing over two hundred workers, manufacturing gingham in addition to new lines of assorted "cotton goods."53

The Dover Mill, Pineville

About 1920, on the eve of the plant's expansion of its product line, Chadwick-Hoskins commissioned planner Earle S. Draper to redevelop the mill village. Based in Charlotte, Draper was a major figure in the field of mill village design, as well as a prominent city planner. Between 1917 and 1933 his firm designed nearly one-hundred-fifty villages in the South.54 Draper advertised his services in the region's leading trade publication, Southern Textile Bulletin, stating simply that he was qualified in "laying out new villages, improving old mill villages, and beautifying mill grounds. . . " 55

The Draper Plan blended elements of the typical semirural mill village with features that reflected modern trends in city planning. In customary fashion, he arranged the main section of the village in a functional grid pattern of streets, with housing neatly distributed on half-acre parcels, spacious enough for home gardens, chicken coops,and other outbuildings. A cluster of houses for black workers was set aside in a segregated "colored section." Draper's scheme, however planning concepts adapted period. 56 He envisioned green space for parks and also included "self-conscious" from suburban developments of the tree-lined streets, landscaped a community building, a boulevard anchored by the Baptist church at one end and a rotary at the other, and, on the north side, winding roadways.

Although this design was never fully realized--the ambitious landscaping, for example, did not occur, and the rotary and community building never left the drafting board--the mill village at Pineville exists today in many ways as it appeared following its 1920s expansion. Park Avenue features a grassy median flanked by straight rows of worker housing (if not the shade trees Draper had intended). Portions of the plan's curvilinear street pattern are also visible, but the dwellings for blacks that it encircled have disappeared.

The great majority of mill houses, however, remain. They make up an array of types and styles revealing occupational status in the mill as well as their particular dates of construction. At the north end of the village, near Main Street, stand a pair of handsome, turn-of-the-century Queen Anne cottages that housed overseers of the spinning and weaving rooms. From their verandahs facing Cone Street, the village's major artery, these men could keep a watchful eye on the comings and goings of mill hands. The nearby lanes hold rows of white frame hip-roofed and T-plan workers' cottages--forms that were repeated in Southern industrial landscapes throughout the early twentieth century. Other areas of the village are filled with housing erected during the mill's post-World War I expansion. Here story-and-a-half frame bungalows were erected for foremen, while one-story square cottages with hip roofs, shed dormers, and inset porches housed operatives. In all likelihood these dwellings were part of the advancing mail-order housing market, whose influence in mill villages and suburbia alike soared in the 1910s and 1920s. If so, then Draper ordered the plans and materials from a firm such as "Quick-bill Bungalows" of Charleston, South Carolina, which specialized in "attractive homes" for "industrial villages." The dressed lumber and fixtures were then delivered by rail, "cut-to-fit," and quickly assembled at the site. 57

For those who worked at Mill No. 5 in the 1920s and 30s, the pattern of everyday life was one experienced by mill hands across the Piedmont. A rural-bred self-sufficiency permeated the village. Families cultivated vegetable gardens, planted chinaberry trees for shade, and swept their yards. They raised chickens behind their quarters and kept cows and hogs in stalls and pens located in a pasture not far from the mill. The pasture and livestock shelters were furnished to the workers by the Chadwick-Hoskins Company. 58

The company also supplied its labor force with a variety of other basic services and facilities--for ultimately the village, like the factory, was ownership's domain. The mill provided housing, which it rented out for about one dollar a week, or twenty-five cents per room. The mill sold workers ice, coal, and stove wood, and supplied water at community pumps along the streets. (Until the 1940s, when Cone Mills acquired the plant and extended water and sewer lines through the village, none of the households had running water or indoor plumbing.) The mill also wired operatives' homes for electricity; but until the 1930s furnished power only on Thursday afternoons, the time delegated for washing and ironing. 59

Mill hands had little time for household activities or leisure, as most of their waking hours were consumed by the mill. To be sure, workers created lives beyond the mill and village, but twelve hours of each workday and a half-day on Saturday were spent in the factory. By the 1920s a week's work brought the most skilled male employees twenty-eight dollars cash wage, and unskilled laborers eleven dollars. Women, who were often channeled into jobs in the spinning rooms, usually earned less than the men. Black men were shut out of most textile jobs, and labored mostly in the "yard" hauling cotton bales and loading boxcars for a survival wage. Black women were excluded from mill work altogether. 60