The Story: The Mills

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The time was when the South was exclusively agricultural in its pursuits, but the past few years have seen factories springing up all over this section. . . . The South is destined at no distant day to not only raise cotton but to manufacture it, thus keeping at home all the profits.

- Baltimore Journal of Commerce and Manufacturer's Record, 1882

Atherton Cotton Mills in Charlotte, NC
Atherton Cotton Mills in Charlotte, NC
Cotton Mill, Commercial Features (1899)

The South, which had been built upon an agricultural economy, turned to manufacturing to rebuild its economy after the Civil War. Cotton mills in particular seemed a good choice for manufacturers, who could process the cotton grown in the South instead of shipping it up North. The Piedmont region of North Carolina and the central region of South Carolina were the sites of some of the first Southern cotton mills. Once the cotton industry gained steam around 1880 with the construction of the first mills, it grew without slowing down. In North Carolina, 6 mills on average were built each year from 1880 to 1900. The existance of the mills prompted a population explosion as towns in the central Carolinas expanded to accommodate the new mill workers. Greensboro, NC was a sleepy town of 500 in 1870, but had grown to 10,000 residents by 1900. Greenville, SC followed a similar pattern, growing from 1,500 people in 1860 to over 10,000 by 1900.


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