“Rock Hill’s first textile mill, ca. 1880.”
City Directories and History: The historic Rock Hill Cotton Factory was Rock Hill’s first cotton mill and one of the first in this section of South Carolina.
The erection of The Rock Hill Cotton Factory put the little town on the industrial map, not only demanding the attention of the outside world, but opening the eyes of its own people to the wonderful possibilities of industrial development. Said the Yorkville Enquirer in 1884 of Rock Hill: “This point has been recognized for the past six years as one of the most important cotton markets on the Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta Railroad, and in the price it pays yields to neither terminus. During the time above mentioned, Rock Hill has shipped to New York and other markets about 85,000 bales of cotton. For the year ending September 1, 1888, her receipts from the country by wagons, amount to 14,169 bales against 13,744 the year before. The factory now in operation consumes something over 2,500 bales annually …. ” The building of the first cotton mill, moreover, was an object lesson to the townspeople. It was a venture they wanted to see repeated. As other mills were built, The Rock Hill Cotton Factory became known as “The Old Mill,” and, after numerous reorganizations and changes of name, it still operates as a unit of the Gold-Tex Fabrics Corporation. (Information from: The City Without Cobwebs – Douglas S. Brown, 1953)
The Herald reported on July 15, 1880, That the cotton factory will soon be a fact. “….. the eye will look with delight upon the massive structure, whose walls will echo for generations to come with the merry music of spindles.” The factory is located near the depot. The work of digging out the foundations began last week and has been finished and the work on the building itself has begun. We expect manufacturing operations to being about Nov. 1st.”
The Rock Hill Cotton Factory, built in 1881, is significant for its leading role in the development of the textile industry in Rock Hill and for the major economic impact which this industry had on the town. The factory is also significant as an excellent example of an early textile building and of an architectural form that was repeated many times by later mills. As the cotton industry expanded in the 1870s, many communities in the Piedmont looked to financial investments and technology from New England to develop cotton manufacturing. An
aggressive business community in Rock Hill set out to supply the necessary capital and labor locally. The investors recruited Captain A. D. Holler to build the mill. He used the Camperdown Mill in Greenville as a model for the new Rock Hill mill. Opening in 1881, the mill became the first steam-driven textile mill in South Carolina, and was the first mill in Rock Hill. Later, as electricity became available from the pioneering hydroelectric development of the Catawba River, the mill was converted. A number of additions have been made to the building. Listed in the National Register June 10, 1992. Boundary increase March 6, 2008. [Courtesy of the S.C. Dept. of Archives and History]
The mill was constructed by Rock Hill contractor A.D. Holler. The Charleston News and Courier reported on June 7, 1890 – “This factory was the 4th to be operated by steam power in S.C. Furthermore, it has about 8,000 spindles and annually consumes about 3,000 bales of cotton. The annual output is about 900,000 lbs of yarn. The officers are A.E. Hutchison, Pres., D. Hutchison, Sec. – Treasurer and directors: A.E. Hutchison, W.L. Roddey, J.S. White, J.R. London, A.H. White, John Gill of Baltimore, and F.J. Pelzer of Charleston. The factory operatives are comfortably quartered in neat cottages around the factory. Mr. J.R. Neesler is the Supt. of the factory.”
ROCK HILL COTTON FACTORY ARTICLE: Following the Civil War and reconstruction, business leaders in the South began to discuss ways of improving the devastated economy of the region. Cotton continued to be the principal crop. The raw cotton was shipped to New England where it was processed into finished products. Several leaders, especially newspaper editors in Atlanta and Charlotte, began to discuss the “New South,” an area which would not only grow the crops, but capture the full value by processing those crops, thereby expanding and diversifying the economy of the South.
Textile mills had existed in South Carolina since the early 1800s, such as the mill at Graniteville, the Saluda River factory near Columbia, and a mill at Great Falls. The new mills were envisioned on a much larger scale. One of the first was the Camperdown Mill (1875) in Greenville, which used the water power of the Reedy River. The idea of the new South and the potential for mills in the cotton fields appealed to leaders in Rock Hill. James M. Ivy, the leading cotton broker in Rock Hill, and Adolphus Eugene Hutchison, a local merchant and farmer, began to raise funds for a new mill in Rock Hill. Other investors included Andrew Hutchison White, Hutchison’s nephew and cotton farmer, William Lyle Roddey, leading Rock Hill merchant, William Barron Fewell, physician, John Rutherford London, merchant, and Allen Jones, a banker. These investors also secured funds from other stockholders from outside Rock Hill. The Rock Hill Cotton Factory was incorporated in March 1880 with the issue of 1,000 shares of stock valued at $100 each.
Adolphus Hutchison was the largest shareholder and became President of the company. The group secured contractors A. D. Holler and R. H. Morse to build the structure. They traveled to Greenville and took measurements of the Camperdown Mill to use as a guide. Construction began in April 1880 on land purchased from the White family near downtown Rock Hill. The site had the advantage of being on the Charlotte, Columbia & Augusta Railroad and having good accessibility to local roads. The site is now at the corner of West White Street and Chatham Avenue. One disadvantage was that there was no easy source of water power at the site. This problem was solved by designing the mill to run steam power, the first such mill in South Carolina. Wells on the property provided water which fed a 200-horsepower steam engine.
The Rock Hill Cotton Factory began operating in May 1881 with 3,000 spindles. The original employment was 40 laborers, most of whom were women and children. From this modest beginning, a textile industry grew in Rock Hill over the several decades which would employ thousands and serve as the basis of the local economy for generations. A. D. Holler would serve as contractor for many of the mills and other buildings in the rapidly growing city. Largely because of the influence of the textile mills, Rock Hill’s population increased from 809 in 1880 to 5,400 in 1890.
Within a year, the Cotton Factory had expanded to 100 employees and had purchased additional land from the Steele and Ratteree families for the construction of houses for its workers, the beginning of the mill village system in Rock Hill. New investors joined the board of directors over the next few years. By 1895, the Cotton factory consumed about 2,500 bales of cotton each year and produced yarn and was weaving cloth, including shirtings, sheetings, drills, and cotton rope. By this time, employment had increased to 175 workers.
The textile industry was subject to various economic disruptions, including failed cotton crops, banking failures, and national recessions. In 1898, the Cotton Factory faced a crisis and ceased operations. Within a year, the mill had been purchased and reorganized by W. C. Hutchison and A. H. White under the name Crescent Cotton Mills. This was the first of a number of reorganizations and changes of ownership and name for the factory. In 1900 it was purchased by a group which included Rock Hill merchant Samuel Friedheim. In 1904, the factory was sold to Southern Textile Company, a New York textile operator. It was renamed the Chicora Mill. Within a year, this company had declared bankruptcy, and in 1905, the mill was purchased by Hamilton Carhartt. Carhartt was a Detroit textile leader who was one of the world’s largest manufacturers of overalls and work gloves. He became a frequent visitor to Rock Hill as he invested in the mill and expanded its operations. It became known as the Hamilton Carharrt Cotton Mill No. 1. He converted the mill from steam power to electrical power, using electricity from the new Lake Wylie Dam. He added a three-story annex and dyeing room at the downtown mil and built a second mill and village near the Catawba River which became known as Red River. Nearby, Carharrt built a home for himself overlooking the Catawba River for use on his trips to the area, and developed recreational facilities for his workers. He began manufacturing denim, with overalls produced in Rock Hill becoming well known throughout the world. During World War I, the business prospered as he sold goods to the military and the booming war time work force.
Carhartt’s expansion led to debt which proved to be a problem when a recession hit in the early 1920s. Both the Rock Hill mills closed in 1921. In 1925, the Mill No. 1 (the original Rock Hill Cotton Factory with expansions) was turned over the John H. Cutter, a broker and real estate agent in Charlotte who held much of Carhartt’s debt. It was reorganized as Cutter Manufacturing Company, which produced denim, ticking, and other goods. It operated through the Great Depression, and had strong business during World War II, supplying fabrics for the military. After the war, the military contracts ended and Cutter was unable to secure new contracts. The mill was sold again in 1946, this time to M. C. Goldberg of Philadelphia, who operated the mill as Gold-Tex Fabrics. Major modernization was undertaken in the mid-1950s, but the mill closed in 1963 during a recession. In 1965 Sol and Edward Aberman purchased the property and converted it to the production of double-knit fabrics. This market, which had proved promising, soon declined, and the mill again closed in 1967. In 1968, the plant was purchased by the Ostrow Textile Company from Charlotte, which moved its operations to the site. Part of the mill was used for warehousing and a section became a retail business known as Plej’s Textile Mill Outlet. The Ostrow operation closed in 2000. Soon after, the Cotton factory was acquired by the Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation which marketed the site as part of its downtown redevelopment efforts. In 2006, it was purchased by Williams & Fudge, a Rock Hill based student loan collection agency. The mill buildings were completely renovated into modern office and retail space.
In recognition of its importance as Rock Hill’s first textile mill, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and a South Carolina Historical Marker was dedicated in 2007.
Information for this article was provided via the publication “A History of the Rock Hill Cotton Factory” written by Michael C. Scoggins of the York County Culture & Heritage Museums and submitted by Paul M. Gettys to R&R on 4.20.14.
Also see the MORE INFORMATION / HISTORY link, found below the picture column, for details on Mr. Ivy, a major contributor to Rock Hill’s success stories, as well as a map showing the extensive Carhartt property which later became central in attracting Celanese to Rock Hill. Also click here “Sanborn Map #6” to see further changes to the mill’s layout.
The Rock Hill Journal reported on June 12, 1901 – “That the Chicora Cotton Mill are having their tenant houses repainted.”
The Herald reported on Aug 11, 1901 – “That the new machinery has been installed in the Chicora Cotton Mill and operations will resume the first Monday in September. It includes six thousand modern spindles increasing the total to 11,400 spindles. Also included is a blower system to carry the cotton from the mixing room to the picker room and an automatic sprinkler system. When it opens, Rock Hill will have five factories in operation for the first time in five years.”
The Herald reported on Oct. 2, 1901 – “Johnnie McDonald, a boy of 11 years old, met a very serious accident at the mill last Saturday. While at work, his left arm was caught in the breaker between the roller and lap pin in the loom and was badly mashed from the wrist to the shoulder. The little sufferer was waited on by Dr. Hunter, who dressed his wounds. While the hurt is very serious and painful, amputation may not be necessary.”
The Herald reported on Sept. 3, 1902 – “There have been major changes at the Chicora Cotton Mill. Most of the leadership has resigned, including W.D. Neal, Supt., L.S. Neal, spinner, W.L. Neal – warper, Will Neal – Asst. warper, W.R. Long – engineer, and Mr. Reid the bookkeeper. New officers are: C.B. Haynes, Supt., Mr. Knight – overseer of carding and spinner, and George Scott of Concord, N.C., engineer.”
The SC Architects: 1885-1935 Wells & Dalton, 1992 attributed this building (a school for the Carhartt Cotton Mills) to architect Nat Gaillard Walker in 1909.
The Rock Hill Herald reported on Oct. 14, 1910 – “The Carhartt Mill will close on Saturday for a period of 30-60 days in order to make changes. All the machinery on the second floor will be moved to the first floor and some new machinery added.”
From the Rock Hill Record of March 27, 1913 – “Love & Owens were awarded another contract yesterday by Hamilton Carhartt to add another story to the addition now being built to the Carhartt mill property, which is to provide more room for the manufacture of overalls. The first contract to Love & Owens called for one additional story only. When the job is completed it will make quite a showing.”
The Herald reported on March 17, 1925 – “That the Carhartt Mills plans to build sixteen new dwellings on various streets of the mill village at a cost of $3,900. and seven garages at a total cost of $1,400.”
The Herald reported on Aug. 31, 1925 – “That the Catawba River Golf Club was organized about eight years ago and received a lease from Hamilton Carhartt for property is uses near the Catawba Bridge. The lease will expire in a year or two.”
The Herald reported on June 18, 1925 – “Within recent weeks, practically all the cotton mills in Rock Hill has suspended or reduced work, but the mill workers are optimistic on the outlook. Aragon and Arcade are both shirting manufacturers and are on full schedules. Wymojo Mill is on a three day a week schedule. Industrial Mill is on a four day week schedule, Carhartt on a three day schedule after suspending operations. The gingham manufacturing is running full-time this week but the schedule is indefinite. Harris Mill (Victoria #2) runs with Victoria’s schedule and Helen Mill runs with Wymojo.”
The Herald reported on Oct. 2, 1925 – “Hamilton Carhartt Cotton Mill #2 on the river has been sold to a corporation of local investors. C.L. Cobb represents the buyers. The plan is to erect thirty new homes and have day and night shifts. It will employ between 200- 300 people. York Wilson is President. The mill had suspended operation over a year ago. The Carhartt Company is also selling its mill in Elberton, Ga., but trying to maintain the number #1 mill in Rock Hill, which produces denim.”
The Herald reported on May 20, 1931 – “The Catawba River Golf Club had a tournament yesterday. R.H. Jones of Rock Hill took first place, J.L. Spratt of Fort Mill, took second place and Ed Allen of Rock Hill took third place. The group had a picnic supper in the grove adjoining the club house. W.B. Avery, the Manager and Treasurer reported the finances were in good condition. The matter of buying a permanent site for the club was discussed.”
For additional information and pages on the mill click on RH Cotton Factory #2
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