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 MillsPostcard featuring four Charlotte mills in their heyday: the Hoskins, the Mecklenburg, the Elizabeth, and the Chadwick mills.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 overseer.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...