SURVEY AND RESEARCH REPORT
The Davidson Cotton Mill
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as
the Davidson Cotton Mill is located 209 Delburg Street, Davidson,
2. Names and addresses of the present owners of
Davidson Cotton Mill LLC
PO Box 2270
Davidson, NC 28036
Duke Power Company
Tax Department PB05B
422 South Church Street
Charlotte, NC 28242-0001
3. Representative photographs of the property: This report
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. Maps depicting the location of the
property: This report contains a map depicting the location of the
5. UTM coordinate: 17 513713E 3928945N
6. Current deed book and tax parcel information for the
The Tax Parcel Number
for the Davidson Cotton Mill Milling Building
The most recent reference to this property
is recorded in Mecklenburg Deed Book 08463 – 650.
The Tax Parcel Number
for the Transformer
House associated with the Davidson Cotton Mill is 00326219.
The most recent reference to this property
is recorded in Mecklenburg Deed Book 02248-305.
7. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report
contains a brief historical sketch of the property.
8. A brief architectural description of the property: This
report contains a brief architectural description of the property.
9. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets
criteria for designation set forth in N. C. G. S. 160A-400.5:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture, and/or
cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property known
as the Davidson Cotton Mill does possess special significance in terms
of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the
The Delburg Cotton Mill, the forerunner to the Davidson Cotton
Mill, represented a new era of industrial development in Davidson that
occurred concurrently with similar development within Mecklenburg
County as a whole.
The Delburg Cotton Mill formed part of the newly-diversified
economic base in turn of the 19th-20th century Mecklenburg County. The new
diversified economy rested on agriculture, manufacturing and
processing, marketing and distribution, and banking; pillars that
accelerated the growth that made Mecklenburg County the booming
financial center of the Carolina Piedmont.
The Delburg Cotton Mill and the the Davidson Cotton Mill, like
other industrial and manufacturing endeavors in Davidson, encouraged
rural to urban migration, increasing the town's population and offered
an alternative to cash crop farming in the area
The Davidson Cotton Mill Milling Building is among the best
preserved cotton mill buildings in Mecklenburg County, and is
significant as a well-preserved example of the mill buildings
associated with the small towns in Mecklenburg County.
Southern Power Company Transformer House appears to be one of the few
surviving examples of an early 20th century power transmission
buildings in Mecklenburg County.
The Davidson Cotton Mill Milling Building demonstrates the
innovations in terms of architecture, power, and transportation that
evolved in cotton mill design in first half of the 20th
b. Integrity of
design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association: The Commission contends that the physical and architectural
description which is included in this report demonstrates that the
Davidson Cotton Mill Milling Building meets this criterion.
10. Ad Valorem tax appraisal: The Commission is aware that
designation would allow the owner to apply for an automatic deferral
of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the property
which becomes a designated "historic landmark."
The Milling Building: The current total
appraised value of the improvements is $3,682,300. The current
appraised value of the lot is $405,100. The current total value is
The Transformer House:
The current total appraised value of the improvements is $11,000. The
current appraised value of the lot is $17,100. The current total value
Date of preparation of this report: February, 2004
Prepared by: Stewart Gray and Dr. Paula M. Stathakis
Contextual Statement: The
Development of the Cotton Manufacturing Industry in Mecklenburg
In the ante-bellum
period, Mecklenburg County possessed a variety of underdeveloped natural
resources that ultimately formed the building blocks for the county’s
economic maturity. Cotton agriculture, infrastructure improvement
through railroads and bridges, inexpensive labor, and proximity to the
waterpower of the Catawba River laid the foundation that supported the
county’s transition into the economic hub of the Carolina Piedmont.
However, the potential of these resources were not fully realized
until the late nineteenth century. Historians of Mecklenburg County agree
that that its location in the Piedmont region was a principal aspect
in its transformation from a small hinterland courthouse town to the
primary industrial center of the region.
Cotton processing and
manufacturing concerns were rare in the county in the ante-bellum
period. Industrial development was largely hindered by a lack of
capital and subscribers, and was overridden by the region’s focus on
agriculture. Only a few textile mills existed in the area before the
Civil War. The first textile mill built in Mecklenburg in 1848 by
William Henry Neel along the Catawba. The Rock Island Manufacturing
Company was also organized in 1848, but both mills closed before the
In 1856, geologist Ebenezer Emmons
recommended that entrepreneurs and industrialists consider the section
of the main trunk of Catawba River between the Tuckasegee Ford and the
great Horse-Shoe bend for the great potential of water power. At this
location, a high island divides the river. The fall at Mountain Island
was twenty-two feet, “sufficient to secure the most important
advantages to such manufacturing establishments as its favorable
position may demand.” Emmons recommended improvements such as locks
and dams up river from the Horse-Shoe bend to enlarge the
possibilities for river trade and water power for manufacturing sites
located along this stretch of the water.
In spite of this endorsement, industry
was slow to develop in Mecklenburg County and in the Piedmont region
as a whole, because the wealthy were not inclined to invest it in
manufacturing; they preferred to put it in agriculture and export
In the decades after the Civil War, economic recovery was slow and
painful, and it was not until the 1880s that local investors and
entrepreneurs began to capitalize on the county’s natural attributes
This change in the
county’s economic fortune occurred slowly; and even at the height of
its manufacturing output, the county remained largely agricultural and
rural in character. Although Charlotte made significant advances in
the post-Civil War period, it did not develop to the extent as much as
other southern cities. In 1870 there were no major manufacturing
concerns in Charlotte even though two major railroad lines converged
in the city.
In a general report about the state’s economic prospects, Vice-Consul
H.E. Heide wrote, “The majority of the cotton and woolen manufacturing
manufacturies are situated in the central portion of the State, where
numerous rivers and water courses furnish almost unlimited water
power. Nearly all the industries of the state are in a very backward
condition owing to the want of capital to develop its great natural
resources. The greater part of the available capital the State
possessed was lost in the late civil war.”
This economic languor
would soon give way in the wake of an outpouring of entrepreneurial
and manufacturing initiatives that were based in agriculture, the
primary pillar of the county’s economic base. Cotton was the core from
which most of Charlotte’s new economic enterprises of the late
nineteenth century developed. Cotton would be stored, marketed, and
processed in and around Charlotte. Textile engineering and
machinery firms with legions of blue and white-collar workers would
find jobs in Charlotte. Railroads transported cotton products out of
the area; and some of the profits from all of these activities would be
seen in the development of the downtown area, of new streetcar
suburbs, in the increase of the retail and service sectors, and in the
growth of new industrial zones on the margins of the city.
By the late nineteenth
century, Mecklenburg farmers, like most Piedmont farmers, devoted a
substantial part of their crop to cotton -- a marked shift in
agricultural patterns from the ante-bellum period during which most
small farmers practiced subsistence agriculture. By 1896, over
one-half of the cotton produced in North Carolina was grown in 28
counties, and most of it was grown in and around Mecklenburg.
In addition to the proximity of a healthy cotton crop, Charlotte began
to develop the other essential components that would support the new
economic reality that was apparent by the late 1870s. Railroad lines
destroyed during the war were restored; and two new lines were added to
the network that served the county by 1873, making six operational
lines by mid-decade.
By this time Charlotte already had five banks, making it a regional
By the early 1880s, Charlotte mayor Col. William Johnston introduced a
program to pave, or macadamize city streets. Concurrent with this
program, county agencies began a similar plan to improve county
highways. New taxes paid for most of these programs, and convict labor
was used for the construction.
Thanks in part to improvements in
agriculture, banking, and infrastructure, Charlotte began to assemble
its manufacturing base. By 1873, the city had 36 manufacturing
establishments, and the number of these increased to 66 as early as
1877. However, city leaders lamented that in spite of this progress,
Charlotte still had no textile mill. In an attempt to encourage the
addition of textile mills to the city’s industrial landscape the Board
of Aldermen passed an order in 1873 stating any cotton or woolen mill
built in Charlotte would be tax exempt.
The Aldermen got their wish in 1880 when R.M. and D.W. Oates
established the Charlotte Cotton Mills. In contrast to the earlier
cotton mills in Mecklenburg, Charlotte Cotton Mills was a subtantial factory
with 6240 spindles. The Daily Charlotte Observer hailed it as a
“new departure” from the factory style usually seen in Charlotte and
predicted that it would not only contribute to the city’s fortunes,
but that it was a harbinger of things to come.
By the early 1880s, industrial growth in
Charlotte became more assertive, and this expansion was inspired and
directed largely by entrepreneurs who were not Charlotte natives, but
who became synonymous with Charlotte in its new identity as a New
South City. The new movers and shakers in town were educated
entrepreneurs who understood how to capture Charlotte’s potential, and
more importantly, how to finance it.
Notable among this new
breed of civic leaders were Edward Dilworth Latta and Daniel Augustus
Tompkins. Both Latta and Tompkins redirected Charlotte’s disorganized
enthusiasm for change, growth, and progress. They understood the
necessity of breaking the region’s reliance on farming, especially on
an agricultural system that operated largely through crop liens and
tenancy. Instead they emphasized industrialization, urbanization, and
scientific agriculture as the viable alternatives of a prosperous
The mill building was quiet for many years,
serving mostly as a warehouse. Davidson College purchased the property
in the 1970s and used it for storage.
In 1996, an investment group, Davidson Cotton Mill, LLC purchased the
property. The milling building has been renovated for high-end shops,
offices, and restaurants. A condominium complex has been built
adjacent to the project.
The Davidson Cotton Mill consists of several
brick industrial buildings located on Delburg Street north of the
historic center of the Town of Davidson. The mill is located
between Watson Street and the Norfolk Southern Railroad line that runs
north-and-south through the town from Charlotte to Statesville. The
mill began as the Delburg Mill, and was built in 1907 adjacent to the
rail line. The site slopes away from the rail line to the
south and the west. A neighborhood of frame houses associated
with the mill is located along Watson and Delburg Streets to the north
and west of the mill.
The Delburg Mill was originally composed of two principal
buildings. The larger of the buildings was the proper mill, and
to the north was a smaller warehouse building. The milling building is
generally intact and has been incorporated into the larger mill
building associated with the Davidson Cotton Mill. The one-story
masonry mill building is tall despite having a very low-pitched roof,
and its brickwork is laid in American Bond with five rows of
stretchers for each row of headers. The building is six
bays wide and was originally twenty-two bays deep. The gabled
façade is symmetrical and consists of six large segmental-arch
windows. The milling building was divided into two sections with
a shallow “picker house” room at the front of the building, and a
large open floor in the rear that contained the machinery for winding,
reeling, and carding. The picker house and the rest of the
building are separated by a brick firewall that projects in steps above the roof.
On the north elevation extensive corbelling was required to extend the
firewall past the eaves. The original entrances to the mill are
located in the first and fourth bays of the north elevation. The
entrance in the first bay opened into the picker house, and the second
entrance opened into the milling area. Both entrances are
distinguished by round-arch openings with decorative corbelling.
The roof is supported by large timber rafters, set about six feet
apart, with rounded ends that extended past the exterior walls to
support the eaves. Two rows of chamfered wood posts run the
length of the building, supporting the roof framing. This heavy
type of timber framing came to be known as “slow burn” construction.
During a fire massive timber framing tended to char but retain much of
its strength, whereas iron framing would more easily fail in a hot
building fire. Slow burn construction was promoted by the New England
Mutual Fire Insurance Companies and was popularized in North Carolina
by the influential mill builder and designer D.A. Tompkins.
Timber purlins connect the rafters and support beaded plank roof
decking. In the front picker house, purlins project past the
façade to support the front eave. A small room is attached to
the center of the buildings south façade that may have contained
North Elevation Detail
Original Entrances on the North Elevation
Access between the picker house and the rest of
the building is limited to a single doorway originally equipped with
iron doors on a tilted tracks, designed to seal-off either section of
the building in case of a fire. One of these doors remains in
place. It appears that the interior walls were coated with
A small brick wing extends from the milling
building’s south elevation, setback one bay from the façade. The
wing housed a machine shop, and at one time an office. Because of the
sloping topography of the site, a basement room could be constructed
under the office housing the heating plant. A firewall separates the
machine shop from the rest of the wing, and again the firewall forms a
parapet that extends past the eaves on the wing’s east and west
elevations. Unlike earlier mills, the Delburg Mill was designed
as an electric powered mill, and required a relative small boiler for
heating. The furnace chimney (demolished) was located on the
wing’s west elevation. A wooden platform (demolished) extended
from the Machine Shop to the railroad tracks.
The cotton warehouse to the north of the milling
building has been greatly modified. A 1915 Sanborn Map Company map shows a simple rectangular building with a small
“opener room” attached to the building’s east elevation. A
single parapet wall on the west side of the present building may be
the only vestige of the original building. A smaller cotton waste
building (demolished) was located to the south of the milling building.
Cotton Warehouse (Altered)
To the north of the warehouse sits the only other
original building from the era of the Delburg Mill, a two-story power
transformer building. The 1915 Sanborn Map lists the building as
the “Southern Power Company Transformer House.” This
tower-like Romanesque Revival Style building features two tall
segmental arched openings on the south elevation, with three smaller
round-arched window opening perched above and highlighted with
corbelled brick work. The east elevation faces the railroad
tracks and is pierced with three low segmental arched openings, a
doorway centered between two windows, at ground level, and five round
vents near the eave. The building is sheltered by a
hipped roof, topped with a metal ventilator.
The Delburg Mill was expanded greatly between 1907
and 1924, when it was sold and renamed the Davison Cotton Mill.
The first addition appears to have been an extension of the milling
floor with the construction of eight additional bays extending from the
mill’s west elevation. The construction and materials of this
first addition appear to be nearly identical to those used for the
original building. Again, large timber rafters extend past the
brick walls, which are regularly pierced by segmental-arch window
openings. But whereas the original mill building was constructed
over a crawlspace, the sloping topography of the site allowed for a
full basement level under the first addition. The only
variance from the original design of the mill building was the
addition of a large monitor roof to both the addition and the original
building. The four-foot tall twelve-light windows of the monitor
were mechanically operated and probably did much to illuminate the
interior of the mill and ventilate the space. The lack of
furring strips along the top of the rafters in the addition, and their
presence on the rafters in the original section, would indicate that
the monitor roof was installed when the addition was added.
North Elevation Detail of Different Window
A second larger expansion, probably completed
before 1924, added another eighteen bays to the west elevation of the
milling building. A full basement level was constructed under
this addition, nearly doubling the size of the mill. The basic
construction method of thick solid masonry walls laid in American Bond
continued, and again the same large-timber roof system was employed.
However, gone were the segmental-arched window openings, replaced by
openings that ended at the roof deck on the side elevation, and
flat-topped openings that relied on metal lintels in the west
elevation and the basement level. It is likely that the windows from
the original building and the first addition were replaced during the
second expansion. The windowsills on the older sections of the
building appear to have been raised to the level of the newer windows.
Steel framed twenty-four light windows with operable vent-sections may
have replaced the original wooden double or triple hung windows.
In contrast to the low-gabled east elevation, the new six-bay-wide
west elevation is a full two stories with a step-parapet wall.
More toilets and an elevator shaft protrude as a tower from the south
elevation of the new section. By 1925 a conveyer belt connecting
the picker house to the cotton warehouse had been added. Change
had also occurred around the machine shop. The earlier chimney
had been demolished on the west elevation, and a new chimney (since
demolished) had been constructed on the east elevation. A large
flue, perhaps for a forge, was also added. The office by this
time had been moved to its own building, since destroyed, north of the
mill building. A second warehouse (demolished after 1996) was
erected to the south of the milling building. The new warehouse
was of frame construction, covered with metal siding, and topped with
a hipped roof.
Detail of South Elevation
Sanborn maps indicate that by 1925 a loading dock
was located on the west elevation. This would have indicated a
change in the nature of transportation associated with the mill.
While the original Delburg Mill may have depended solely on the
railroad for the transportation of manufactured goods, it is likely
that by 1925 some of the product of the mill was being carried by
While the milling building underwent
modifications throughout the 20th century, by 1925 the
building had generally been developed into its present form.
Change, however, did continue at the Davidson Cotton Mill with a radical
alteration of the cotton warehouse between 1925 and 1937.
The warehouse was expanded to the north, and was divided to create a
“dye house” that shared the space. The office building shown on
1925 Sanborn Maps had been demolished and replaced by a new frame
construction office building to the west of the original site.
The only change to the milling building itself was the addition of a
now-demolished one-story shed addition to the south elevation adjacent
to the elevator and toilets. Sometime after 1937 a low
shed-roofed brick addition was added to the south elevation of the
machine shop wing.
By the 1950’s the complex was no longer operating
as a cotton mill. Around 1954 Bridgeport Fabric began using the
milling building to produce
webbing and the fabric backing used in zippers. At this time the
lower section of the milling building was used for shipping, receiving,
and as a warehouse. All materials and products entered and left
the building through the loading dock on Watson Street via trucks.
Production of these materials ended around 1962. Bridgeport Fabrics continued other
operations across Delburg Street at a new facility that incorporated
parts of the old cotton warehouse/dye house.
The only extant early 20th century features of the cotton
warehouse/dye house are parapeted fire walls that rise out of the
sprawling mix of later additions.
The milling building was used as a warehouse
until 1996 when the building was purchased and the process of
rehabilitation began. The machine shop wing, the picker house,
and part of the main floor were converted to a restaurant.
During this process the deteriorated floor of the picker house
was replaced with concrete. The remainder of the milling
building was converted to offices on the main and basement levels.
Office partitions have been built in such a way that the timber frame
of the building is exposed and highlighted. The floors in the
rest of the mill building were also in a deteriorated state and have
been skimmed with a light-weight concrete. At the time the
building was purchased in 1996, all of the windows had been covered in
plywood. The metal-framed windows installed sometime before 1925
were removed and replaced with insulated divided-light windows that
replicated the configuration of the lights in the ca. 1925 windows.
No original exterior doors survived. Before the renovation
several industrial door openings had been cut into the brickwork.
One of these openings was glazed and used as an entrance to the
restaurant area. Other openings were restored back to the original
fenestration. A mid-20th century loading dock on the
south elevation adjacent to the machine shop has been replaced with
stairs; and a wheelchair ramp, and an exterior stair tower has been
attached to the building’s south elevation between the elevator tower
and the southwest corner of the building.
The milling building associated with the Davidson
Cotton Mill is significant as one of the best preserved early-20th
century cotton mill buildings in the small towns of Mecklenburg
County. The only other cotton mill in Davidson is the Linden
Cotton Mill, which has been significantly altered. Other mills,
such as the Chadwick-Hoskins Mill No. 5 in Pineville, have been so
altered that they can no longer be easily interpreted as an early 20th
century cotton mills, while other mills such as the Cornelius Cotton
Mill have been altogether lost. The Anchor Mill in Huntersville
is perhaps equally significant in terms of the development of the
county’s small towns; however at this time the Anchor mill is in a
As the Delburg Mill, the mill was among the
earliest in the county to be designed as an electric powered mill.
Highland Park #3, built in Charlotte a few years earlier, was touted
to be the first in the area to be designed to be powered by
electricity and not coal fired steam. While retaining much of
the historic material associated with its early incarnation as the
Delburg Mill, the milling building demonstrates the development and
expansion of cotton milling in the first half of the 20th
century. The Davidson Cotton Mill also demonstrates the
evolution of industrial transportation in this county. Built
specifically in 1907 to be service by the rail lines, the factory had
by 1925 been modified to accommodate the new mode of industrial
See, for example, Thomas W. Hanchett, Charlotte’s Textile
Heritage, available on line at
www.cmhpf.org/educationhanchetttextile.htm; Hanchett, Sorting
Out the New South City, (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1998; Dan L. Morrill, Cotton Mills in New South
Charlotte, available on line at
www.cmhpf.org/educationtextilehistory.htm; Morrill, A History
of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, available on line at
Hanchett, Charlotte’s Textile Hertiage.
Ebenezer Emmons, Geological Report for the Midland Counties of
North Carolina. North Carolina Geological Survey, (New York:
George P. Putnam and Co., Raleigh: Henry D. Turner, 1856), pp. 7-9.
North Carolina Collection, available on line at
Hanchett, Charlotte’s Textile Heritage.
Carolyn F. Hoffman, The Development of Town and Country:
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, 1850-1880,
(Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland, 1988), p. 201.
R.E. Heide, Report of Vice-Consul Heide,on the Resources, Trade
and Commerce of North Carolina, (Wilmington, N.C., 1875), pp.
9-10. North Carolina Collection.
North Carolina Board of Agriculture, North Carolina and Its
Resources, (Winston: M.I. and J.C. Stewart, Public Printers and
Binders, 1896), p. 158. North Carolina Collection.
Morrill, A History of Charlotte and Mecklenburg, Chapter 7.
Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City, p. 24.
Daniel Augustus Tompkins, Cotton Mill. Commercial Features. A
Text-book for the Use of Textile Schools and Investors. With Tables
Showing Cost of Machinery and Equipments for Mills Making Cotton
Yarns and Plain Cotton Cloths, (Charlotte, N.C. Published by the
Author, 18990, p. 144
Hoffman, The Development of Town and Country, pp. 202-203.
According to Dan Morrill, A Survey of Cotton Mills in Charlotte
and Mecklenburg County, July 1997.
www.cmhpf.org/essays/cottonmills.html, cotton mills were
built in the county in the Steel Creek township in the 1850s, and in
the Providence township in 1874; the first textile mill in Charlotte
was not built until 1880-81.
Morrill, Survey of Cotton Mills, p, 2.
 Tompkins advocated selling shares in
an installment plan, a scheme that he had worked out in his days as
a machinist at the Bethlehem Iron Works in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
He published this plan in several manufacturers’ periodicals, such
as the Manufacturers’ Record, and was able to demonstrate that
several southern cotton mills were established through this system.
Edgar Thompson, Agricultural Mecklenburg and Industrial
Charlotte. Social And Economic. (Charlotte: Queen City
Press, 1926), p. 137.
Daniel Augustus Tompkins, A History of Mecklenburg County and the
City of Charlotte. From 1740-1903, vol. II, (Charlotte: Observer
Printing House, 1903), p. 195.
Mary Beaty, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835-1937.
Contracting part of the words Iredell and Mecklenburg created the
Davidson College Magazine, March 1890, vol. V no. 7, p. 41.
Ibid., October 1891, vol. VII, no. 1, p. 28.
Ibid., November 1891, vol. VII, no. 2, p. 61.
Ibid., October 1893, vol. IX no. 1, p. 33.
Tompkins, A History of Mecklenburg , p. 196.
Mecklenburg County Courthouse, Record of Corporations Book 2 Page
Davidson College Magazine, December 1907, p. 202.
Charlotte Daily Observer, January 13, 1908.
Ibid., November 1907, pp. 113-114.
Bill Brannon, Mecklenburg Gazette, “The Way It Was,” nd.
Thompson, Agricultural Mecklenburg, p. 144.
Record of Corporations Book 6 Page 187.
Special Collections, Davidson College Library, Folder: Linden
Manufacturing Company, Davidson N.C.
Ibid., Letter, July 31, 1923 from president J.P.Munroe to
Ibid., Notice of Special Meeting of Stockholders of the Delburg-Linden
Company, August 23, 1923.
Thompson, Agricultural Mecklenburg, p. 144.
Special Collections, Davidson College Library, Folder: Davidson
Cotton Mills, 1933-1943. Letter from C.W. Byrd to Dr. Henry Louis
Smith, October 21, 1941.
Interview, Stewart Gray with former mill employees John Fisher and
Ruben McIntosh, February, 2004.
Amy Ledbetter, Mecklenburg Gazette, “Mill to Get a Facelift,”
February 19, 1997.
Doug Smith, Charlotte Observer, “Historic Davidson Cotton
Mill to be Offices, Shops, Condos,” March 2, 1996, p. 2D.
Interview with John Fisher who worked at the mill in the
Interview with Rubin McIntosh who worked at the mill in the late