The Atherton Cotton Mills
This report was written July 14, 1997
1. Name and location of the property: The property known
as the Atherton Cotton Mills is located at 2108 South Boulevard in
Charlotte, North Carolina.
2. Name, address and telephone number of the present owners of the
The owners of the various units in the building and the adjacent
parking lot are listed on the attached sheet. The Atherton Condominium
Owners Association can be contacted through:
Atherton Condominium Owners Association
c/o Meca Properties
908 South Tryon Street
Charlotte, N.C., 28202
3. Representative photographs of the property: This report
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property: This report
contains a map which depicts the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most
recent references to this property are recorded in Mecklenburg Deed
Books by individual unit.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report
contains a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Dr.
Richard Mattson and Dr. Dan L. Morrill.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This
report contains a brief architectural description of the property
prepared by Dr. Richard Mattson and Dr. Dan L. Morrill.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria for designation set forth-in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4.
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture,
and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the
property known as the Atherton Cotton Mills does possess special
significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases
its judgment on the following considerations: 1) the Atherton Cotton
Mills was one of only three spinning mills owned and operated by
Daniel Augustus Tompkins (1851-1914), a New South industrialist of
profound importance in the economic development of Charlotte and its
environs, 2) the Atherton Cotton Mills documents the emergence of
Charlotte as a major textile manufacturing center in the later
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and 3) the Atherton Cotton
Mills was the first industrial plant in the industrial district of
Dilworth, Charlotte's initial streetcar suburb.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials,
feeling, and/or association: The Commission contends that the
architectural description by Dr. Richard Mattson and Dr. Dan L.
Morrill which is included in this report demonstrates that the
Atherton Cotton Mills meets this criterion.
9. 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 "historic property." The current appraised value of the
improvement is $3,771,620. The current appraised value of the land is
$1,213,000. The total appraised value of the property is $4,984,620. The
property is zoned UMUD.
Date of Preparation of this Report: July 14, 1997
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
2100 Randolph Road
Charlotte, N.C., 28207
Statement of Significance.
The Atherton Cotton Mills is historically significant for its
reflection of the emerging textile industry in and around Charlotte
during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and for its
association with New South entrepreneur Daniel Augustus Tompkins
(1851-1914). Built in 1892 and completed in 1893 along South Boulevard
in Charlotte, this mill was the first industrial property in the planned
Dilworth factory district, and provided the impetus for the development
of this industrial corridor between South Boulevard and the adjacent
tracks of the Southern Railway. In the ensuing decades this area would
flourish with predominantly textile-related factories, while Charlotte
would become the capital of a virtual textile mini-state in the southern
Piedmont. The Atherton Cotton Mills was the first mill established by
the D.A. Tompkins Company. Tompkins ranks among the preeminent textile
industrialists in the South, and during his remarkable career his firm
constructed all or portions of 100 cotton mills as well as numerous
The Atherton Cotton Mills facility also has architectural
significance. This well-preserved factory, recently converted into
condominiums, clearly represents in its basic form, materials,
construction, and restrained design elements textile mills erected
throughout Charlotte and the region during the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. The mill illustrates the "slow burn," "standard
mill construction" promoted by the New England Mutual fire insurance
companies. In a fire, the stair tower, for example, could be closed off
from the main facility, thus confining the spread of flames. The
hardwood floors and thick structural timbers would char but retain their
strength rather than collapsing as iron did in intense heat. The rows of
windows along the long brick walls of the mill provided air and natural
light for the men, women, and children who typically labored 60 hours
per week producing yarn at the Atherton plant.
Young workers at the Atherton Mills
Location and Site Description
The Atherton Cotton Mills occupies a parcel of land along the South
Boulevard industrial corridor of the Dilworth neighborhood in Charlotte.
Located approximately in the middle of the block, the tract is bounded
by the Norfolk Southern Railway right-of-way to the west, and the
Parks-Cramer Company property to the north. Large, paved parking lots
have been constructed on the east and west side of the buildings as part
of the conversion of the Atherton Cotton Mills into condominiums. The
proposed designation includes the exterior of the Atherton Cotton Mills
building and all the land beneath and in the parking lots adjacent to
Architectural Description of the Atherton Cotton Mills Building
The exterior of the Atherton Cotton Mills building is remarkably
intact, having undergone little alteration since the turn of the
century, except for loss of its tower and the destruction of part of the
powerhouse and machine shop during the conversion of the structure into
condominiums. The Atherton Cotton Mills was housed in a single building
with the longitudinal plan common to nineteenth century textile
factories. Oriented north-south, the building was constructed on a
slope, which provided two floors of work space on the west side and a
single story on the east, facing South Boulevard. The plan is
rectangular although the powerhouse and machine shop and several
stairwells and additions do project from the west side, and a small
office extends from the east elevation. The building measures 498 feet
long and 78 feet wide. The building has a structure of heavy mill
construction, reflected in the pilastered brick exterior walls covered
in stucco. The foundation is also brick. The
roof is a shallow pitched gable, supported by wooden trusses. On the
north and south elevations, the roof line is defined by stepped
parapets, while on the east and west sides, the gable roof ends in
exposed wooden rafters and a wooden fascia. The main floor has numerous
windows. New wooden platforms with pipe balustrades and modified
doorways have been built to permit access to the condominiums. All the
entrances are elevated over a paved drainage ditch which runs the length
of the east elevation and the half windows which provide light to the
lower floor. The powerhouse and machine shop form one extension from the
northwest side of the main mill. On the south side of the powerhouse is
a tall, massive square, brick smokestack with flared base and corbeled
Development of the Atherton Cotton Mills
On July 18, 1892, Daniel Augustus Tompkins, R.M. Miller, Jr., and E.A.
Smith, business associates in the D.A. Tompkins Company, filed
incorporation papers for "The Atherton Mills," Charlotte's sixth cotton
mill (Mecklenburg County, Record of Incorporations 1892). The factory
location was just off South Boulevard at the south edge of Dilworth, a
streetcar suburb of Charlotte. The steam-powered mill, which drew
its water from the old Summit Hill Gold Mine, was one of a host of new
textile factories taking shape around the city at this time. At the end
of July, 1892, the Charlotte Observer enthusiastically declared:
What other city in North Carolina can boast of starting two new
factories in one week? The articles of incorporation of the 'Atherton
Mills'--the sixth factory--had scarcely been filed, before a seventh
factory was [organized] and in the course of a few months there will
be seven cotton factories in full operation in Charlotte. There's no
doubt about it, things are "humming" in the Queen City, and "humming"
to the tune of lively progress (Charlotte Observer, July 21,
Tompkins, Miller and Smith, were New South entrepreneurs who were at
the forefront of industrial development in Charlotte and the Piedmont.
Miller (1856-1925), a graduate of Davidson College, was
secretary-treasurer of the D.A. Tompkins Company, and later headed
Charlotte's tenth mill, the Elizabeth Cotton Mill (Huffman 1983; Morrill
1983). Smith (1862-1933) was a native of Baltimore who first came to
Charlotte as sales representative for Thomas K. Carey and Son, an
industrial supply firm in Baltimore. After 1901, Smith organized the
Chadwick and Hoskins mills in Charlotte, and by 1907, was head of the
Chadwick, Hoskins, Calvine (formerly Alpha), and Louise mills in and
around Charlotte, and the Dover Cotton Mill in nearby Pineville, North
Carolina. When these factories consolidated into the Chadwick-Hoskins
Company in 1908, it was the largest textile firm in North Carolina
(Huffman 1987; Morrill 1983).
Daniel Augustus Tompkins (1851-1914) played a particularly
significant role in the development of the Piedmont textile industry.
The son of an Edgefield, South Carolina planter, Tompkins studied
engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. He
arrived in Charlotte in 1883, as a representative of the Westinghouse
Corporation, selling steam engines and machinery to the mills. In 1884,
Tompkins launched his own business enterprise in Charlotte and began a
remarkable career as one of the leading New South businessmen. In that
year he organized the D.A. Tompkins Company, a machine shop and among
the most influential contracting and consulting firms for the rising
textile industry in the South. Glass (1992, 44) writes that this company
was "at the forefront" of machinery manufacturing for the southern
textile mills, offering mills "a local alternative to their dependence
upon northern suppliers."
D. A. Tompkins
During his lifetime, Tompkins built all or part of over 100 cotton
mills, various fertilizer works, electric light plants, and ginneries.
In 1889, he constructed Charlotte's second, third, and fourth cotton
Alpha, Ada, and Victor), and was a principal in organizing the
Charlotte Supply Company, a major supplier of textile machinery and
equipment. He transformed the cotton oil of the region from a waste
product to a major industry by building approximately 200 processing
plants and participating in the organization of the Southern Cotton Oil
Company. In 1892, Tompkins purchased the nearly defunct Charlotte
Daily Observer, and established the Charlotte Daily Observer,
now Charlotte Observer, as a major regional newspaper. He wrote
books, notably Cotton Mill: Commercial Features (1899), that
codified standard mill and housing designs and set forth investment
plans to assist towns in attracting textile mills. Tompkins was also
instrumental in establishing textile college programs which would become
part of North Carolina State University and Clemson. In sum, asserted
the Atlanta Constitution, Tompkins "did more for the industrial
south than any other man" (Winston 1920; Clay 1950; Young 1963; Morrill
1983; Huffman 1983; Hanchett 1985, 70; Glass 1992, 4. 32-34, 37-38). The
establishment of the Atherton Cotton Mills, states Hanchett (1985), was
"an important step in [Tompkins's] career, for it represented the first
cotton mill owned and operated, as well as erected, by the D.A. Tompkins
Company." The construction of the mill complex began shortly after its
incorporation. On August 6, 1892, the Charlotte Daily Observer
reported that the Atherton site was being cleared, and on Monday, August
8, the groundbreaking ceremony occurred. In November, the newspaper
reported on the newly completed factory:
Few locations have a prettier site than the Atherton Mills. The
building is in the southern part of the city, just beyond the old fair
ground, a few minutes walk off the car lines, and a short distance
from the Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta Railroad, which has built a
side track to the mill... The management of the business will devolve
upon Mr. R.M. Miller, Jr., vice-president and treasurer. Mr. A.M.
Price will be superintendent. The company has commenced the
construction of the houses for operatives to live in, one cottage
being already completed... There will be built twelve four-room
houses, six three-room cottages and four two-room cottages (Charlotte
Daily Observer, November 27, 1892).
The Atherton Cotton Mills complex developed steadily in the 1890s.
Operations began in January, 1893, with 5,000 spindles manufacturing
yarn goods. The floor space was equipped for expanding production, and
by 1896, the mill housed machinery for 10,000 spindles. In that year,
Atherton Mill employed about 300 operatives and included a mill village.
This village comprised a school and 50 one-story, frame mill houses,
situated along straight streets (mostly Euclid, Tremont, and Cleveland
avenues) on the east side of South Boulevard. The village school, called
the Atherton Lyceum, was a two-story, frame, multi-purpose facility that
taught evening class in the basics of reading and writing and also
housed a general store, town hall, and Sunday School classroom (Charlotte
Daily Observer, November 17, 1896; April 3, 1897; Thompson 1926,
145; Hanchett 1986).
The mill complex was both typical of the textile-mill operations
appearing throughout the Piedmont, as well as a model which Tompkins
could describe in his books on mill construction and design (Glass 1978,
139-142, 147-148; Hall et al. 1987, 115-116; Crawford 1992). Some of the
two, three, and four-room mill houses in the Atherton village were
illustrated in Tompkins' s book Cotton Mill: Commercial Features.
The mill's siting in a rural setting outside the city limits of
Charlotte was also a common practice, which avoided local property taxes
and helped control the activities of workers outside the mill (Tompkins
1899; Hanchett 1985; Glass 1992, 41-42).
In May, 1896, the Charlotte Daily Observer described the
Atherton Cotton Mills as "situated in a beautiful oak grove in the
southern suburb [Dilworth] of the city," with mill housing "kept in good
repair, neat and nicely painted." The newspaper declared that "the
product of the mill has an enviable reputation; it is well-known in all
markets and one hears of it in the East, as much, possibly more so, than
any other yarn mill in the South" (Charlotte Daily Observer, May
20,1896). Yet this glowing account obscures the sometimes harsh
realities of working in the southern textile industry in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Work was often tedious and
dangerous, and men, women, and children labored at low wages, 10 to 12
hours each weekday, and six hours on Saturday. And, while mill families
achieved a measure of independence, life in the company-owned mill
village was also largely regulated by mill owners and their supervisors.
Guided by a combination of paternalism and pragmatism, owners sought to
develop a stable and loyal work force by creating villages which were a
tightly controlled and all-encompassing social system (Hall et al. 1987,
114-182). Newspaper accounts of injuries and fatalities at the Atherton
Cotton Mills documented the perils of working in the textile factories.
Through the years, reports appeared of picking room fires, mangled
fingers, and even the death of an overseer, who was entangled in the
steam-driven belts in the carding room (Charlotte Daily Observer,
June 28, 1893; October 14, 1902).
The location of the Atherton Cotton Mills clearly reflected
Charlotte's emerging status as the hub of the Piedmont textile industry,
as well as Dilworth's role as an industrial as well as residential
suburb. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
Charlotte was transformed from being principally a trading town for
local cotton farmers to a major textile center and symbol of the New
After the Civil War and the rebuilding and expansion of railroads in
the South, leaders of the region began a drive for a New South based on
manufacturing and urban growth rather than agriculture (Lefler and
Newsome 1954, 474-489). The South's new economic base was to rest
largely on cotton textile production. The Piedmont region was
particularly well suited for the textile industry, possessing a good
supply of local capital, access to raw materials, good rail connections,
and a great supply of labor drawn from nearby tenant farms and the
Appalachian mountains (Mitchell 1921; Crawford 1992, 141). Charlotte's
central location in the region led to its rapid industrial growth.
Between 1889 and 1908, 13 textile mills and a host of support industries
appeared in the city or at its outskirts. As early as 1906, Charlotte
boosters celebrated the fact that "within the radius of 100 miles of
Charlotte, there are more than 300 cotton mills, containing over
one-half the looms and spindles in the South" (Hanchett 1985, 70). By
1910, Charlotte had surpassed the port of Wilmington as the largest city
in the state. By the 1920s, the Piedmont South had become the world's
preeminent textile manufacturing region, and Charlotte, boasted a local
newspaper article, had become "unquestionably the center of the South's
textile manufacturing industry" (Charlotte Observer, October 28,
1928; Mitchell 1921). The city had become a major New South metropolis,
with a population that had skyrocketed from approximately 7,000 in 1880,
to over 82,000 by 1929, the largest urban population in the Carolinas
(Sixteenth Census 1940).
The New South investors in Charlotte funded not only factories but
also a ring of streetcar suburbs, which both reflected and contributed
to the local prosperity. Dilworth, situated southeast of downtown
Charlotte, was the first of these neighborhoods, beginning in 1891, the
same week that trolley or electric streetcar service went into
operation. Developed by the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company
(locally known as the Four Cs), whose president was Edward Dilworth
Latta, the original Dilworth plan included not only residential streets
and a recreational park, but also a factory district. A predecessor of
the modern suburban industrial park, this district was located at the
western edge of Dilworth, between South Boulevard and the Southern
Railway (Morrill 1985, 302-303; Hanchett 1986; Oswald 1987). The first
factory established in Dilworth, the Atherton Cotton Mills and its
village provided the impetus for both industrial and residential
development in the new suburb. Until Tompkins announced the construction
of this textile factory complex, the sale of lots in the suburb had been
slow, and the Four Cs was in financial peril. Writes Morrill (1985,
303), "[Tompkins's] mill marked the beginning of the factory district
that saved Dilworth from financial failure." Within a few years this
district also included such factories as the Charlotte Trouser Company,
the Southern Card Clothing Company, the Charlotte Pipe and Foundry
Company, a sash cord plant owned by O. A. Robbins, the Charlotte Shuttle
Block Factory, and the
Park Elevator Company, producers of pumps, heaters, and elevators
(Morrill 1980; Morrill 1985, 302-304; Hanchett 1986) . In October, 1895,
the Charlotte Daily Observer described Dilworth as "the
Manchester of Charlotte," and several months later the newspaper
observed, "It does one good to go out to Dilworth and see the signs of
prosperity and progress. The factories draw the people. Dilworth is
beginning to be not only a social but an industrial center" (Charlotte
Daily Observer October 23, 1895, January 31, 1896).
The corridor between South Boulevard and the railroad tracks
continued to expand throughout the early twentieth century. By the
1920s, the district had also attracted not only the Parks-Cramer
complex, but the Lance Packing Company, makers and distributors of
snack-food crackers which occupied the 1300 block of South Boulevard,
the Tompkins foundry and machine shop (located just north of
Nebel Knitting Mill, the Hudson Silk Mill, a pipe and foundry plant,
and assorted laundries, wholesalers, building suppliers, stores, and
The first suburban fire station in Charlotte was located near the
north end of the corridor, near Morehead Street, while just west of
South Boulevard stood the Exposition Hall for the Made-in-the-Carolinas
expositions, which were held during the 1920s to promote the industrial
progress of the Carolinas (Miller's Charlotte City Directory 1929;
Bradbury 1992, 53-63). The Atherton Cotton Mills and the Dilworth
industrial corridor thrived into the post-World War I years. In 1922, as
part of the continuing process of consolidation of individual mills into
chains of ownership or large corporations, the Atherton Cotton Mills was
purchased by a group of Gaston County textile plant operators headed by
John C. Rankin and S.M. Robinson, and reorganized as Atherton Mills,
Inc. The Atherton corporate headquarters were also moved to Lowell,
North Carolina, in Gaston County (Mecklenburg County, Record of
Corporations 1922). The Dilworth industrial corridor began to lose
factories by late 1920s and during the Great Depression, as firms shut
down or started relocating to larger industrial tracts. In 1933,
Atherton Mills, Inc. lost ownership of the South Boulevard plant in
foreclosures on deeds of trust that occurred throughout the city. Vacant
until 1937, the factory was then owned and operated until the early
1960s by J. Schoenith Company, Inc., manufacturer of "high grade" candy,
baked goods, and peanut products. During the Schoenith tenure, a
warehouse was constructed north of the mill, on the site of a cotton
warehouse, and an office building was erected immediately east of the
mill, facing South Boulevard. In recent years the main factory and
warehouse have been used by wholesaling and textile-related
manufacturing companies, and the former office building has been
converted to a restaurant. More recently, the Atherton Mill has been
converted into office and residential condominiums.
1 The authors wish to acknowledge the 1987 draft of the
"Survey and Research Report on the Atherton Cotton Mill," written by Dr.
William H. Huffman and Nora Mae Black, and prepared in 1988 by Dr. Dan L
Morrill. In particular, the present "Historical Sketch" is based largely
on Huffman's well-researched essay, and, upon consultation with the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, is meant to be
considered a final edition of that work. A copy of the draft report is
available at the Historic Landmarks Commission, Charlotte, North
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