HIGHLAND PARK MANUFACTURING COMPANY MILL NO. 3
This report was written on December 3, 1986
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Observer Article on the Highland Mill No.3
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Old Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 3 is located at 2901 N.
Davidson Street, Charlotte, North Carolina.
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the present owner of the
property: The owner of the property is:
Highland Park Group, Inc.
200 Queens Rd. Suite 200
Charlotte, NC 28204
Telephone: (704) 377-4700
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.
Click on the map to browse
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent
deed to this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 5223, page
325. The Tax Parcel Number of the property is: 083-078-01.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains
a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Dr. William H.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains a brief architectural description of the property prepared by
Thomas W. Hanchett.
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 Old Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 3 does
possess special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The
Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations: 1) the Old
Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 3, erected in 1903-04, was
designed by Stuart Warren Cramer, an architect of regional note who
specialized in textile mill and textile mill village architecture; 2) the
Old Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 3 was prominently
featured in Cramer's book, Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers,
Vol. 3, and, therefore, influenced the design and arrangement of other
textile mills; 3) the Old Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 3
was one of the first textile mills in North Carolina designed for electric
operation; and 4) the Old Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 3
served as an active mill and the centerpiece of the
mill community from 1904 until 1969.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling,
and/or association: The Commission contends that the architectural
description included in this report demonstrates that the property known
as the Old Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 3 meets this
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
$222,330. The current appraised value of the 9.28 acres of land is $222,020.
The total appraised value of the property is $444,350. The property is zoned
Date of Preparation of this Report: December 3, 1986
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
1225 S. Caldwell St. Box D
Charlotte, NC 28203
Telephone: (704) 376-9115
Dr. William H. Huffman
The Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 3, located in the 2900
block of N. Davidson Street, was built in 1903-4 and was by far one of the
largest in the area. Along with two other mills constructed that year (the
Hoskins and neighboring
Mecklenburg), it was one of the last cotton mills to be built in or near
Charlotte, and one of the last to close, in 1969. (Johnston
Manufacturing Co., located between the Highland Park #3 and Mecklenburg
[later Mercury] mills, was the last built, 1913, and the last to close, in
When Charlotte made the transition from being primarily a cotton trading
center to a
cotton manufacturing one in the period from the late 1880s to the early
1900s, a New South industrialization movement spearheaded by Daniel Augustus
Tompkins (1852-1914), the Highland Park Manufacturing Co. was intimately a
part of this progression. The city's first mill was the
Charlotte Cotton Mills (now the location of Speizman Industries on West
Fifth Street), which started up in 1881 under the direction of R. M. Oates,
a cotton broker. A year later, D. A. Tompkins, a South Carolina native who
was educated and trained in manufacturing in the North, came to the city as
a representative of the Westinghouse Company.
He quickly became aware of the potential for building cotton mills in the
area, and so in 1884 he set up his own design, contracting and machine shop
business, the D. A. Tompkins Co. Over a thirty-two year period, Tompkins
built over one hundred cotton mills, fertilizer works, electric light plants
and ginneries. He also changed the region's cotton oil, formerly a waste
product, into a major industry through the building of about two hundred
processing plants and organizing one of his own, the Southern Cotton Oil
Company.2 Tompkins efforts started to appear in rapid succession
in Charlotte when his company built the
Alpha, Ada and Victor mills in 1888-9, the city's second, third and
fourth mills. On June 15, 1891, at the first stockholders meeting of the
"Gingham Mill," which was to be the city's fifth mill, a board of directors
was elected. At the meeting on January 11, 1892, a committee of D. A.
Tompkins and two others suggested the name Highland Park Manufacturing Co.,
which was adopted, and the company's Mill No. 1 was brought into operation
on N. Brevard Street at Twelfth later that year. R. H. Jordan, who owned the
drugstore at the southeast corner of Trade and Tryon, was elected the
company's first president. He was followed by Vinton Liddell in 1893 and W.
E. Halt in 1895.
Accepting the offer of J. S. Spencer, president of the Commercial
National Bank and secretary of Highland Park Manufacturing, Charles Worth
Johnston (1861-1941) also joined the company in 1892, and was elected
treasurer and secretary of the board of directors in 1895. Johnston was a
native of Cabarrus County, attended Davidson College, and had been
superintendent of the Cornelius Mills (controlled by Stough Cornelius), his
first place of employment.
After expanding the original mill in 1895 and 1896, Highland Park
branched out by buying Standard Mills in Rock Hill, SC at a public sale in
1898, which became Mill No. 2. At a board meeting in January, 1903, it was
decided to expand the capital stock from the original $125,000 to $700,000
par value to finance the construction of a newer and much larger mill. The
site chosen for Highland Park No. 3 was the location of the municipal water
works at the far edge of the Wadsworth farm, located about one mile north of
Mill No. 1 (the "Gingham Mills") and about two miles from the Square.
Construction on the half-million dollar plant began on March 2, 1903, for
which a brickmaking plant was set up at the site. The mill was designed by
Stuart W. Cramer, whose engineering firm designed and equipped many mills in
the region (see Figures 1-3). Two other contractors on the job were R. A.
Brown of Concord, who did the brickwork, and A. K. Lostin of Gastonia, the
installer of the woodwork. In addition to the new mill, which had 30,000
spindles, 1,000 looms and over 800 employees, making it fifty percent larger
than the second-largest Louise Mill, Highland Park also constructed a
$100,000 power generating plant on Sugar Creek to run both the Gingham Mill
(Mill No. 1) and the new Mill No. 3 (see Figure 1). The 2000-horsepower
plant made the two factories the first electrically driven mills in North
When it was completed in November, 1904, the Highland Park Mill No. 3,
which also specialized in making ginghams, took its place as the city's
largest, and the company as a whole was also the biggest until the
Chadwick-Hoskins Co. was formed in 1908 (a merger of the Hoskins, Chadwick,
Calvine (Alpha), Louise and Pineville mills.). But it was not just a cotton
mill that was built in the then-rural area, it involved the establishment of
an entire community, which became known as North Charlotte. Originally
eighty mill houses, white frame dwellings in several blocks of neat rows
across from the mill, were built, and more were added later. A quarter of a
mile up the extension of Brevard Street another mill was being put up in
1904, the Mecklenburg (later Mercury), and eventually a third (Johnston
Manufacturing Co., 1913) was built between the first two, both of which also
had their own areas of mill houses. The North Charlotte community thrived
for many years, complete with hotel, a mercantile business with stores and
lodge rooms above, and drug and grocery stores.
In 1906, C. W. Johnston became president of Highland Park Manufacturing,
and not long afterward began an aggressive program of expansion by
acquisition and consolidation to build what was known as the Johnston chain.
Beginning with the acquisition of Anchor Mills, eventually there were
thirteen Carolinas mills under Johnston ownership, including the newly-built
Johnston Manufacturing Company of 1913. As a visible monument to the success
of the textile enterprise, in 1924 the
Johnston Building was built on S. Tryon Street to house the corporate
headquarters and other offices.10
When C. W. Johnston stepped down as president of Highland Park in 1938,
he was succeeded by his son, R. Horace Johnston, who led the firm until his
own death in the early Fifties. The last president of the company, David R.
Johnston, who was C. W.'s grandson, headed Highland Park until its
dissolution in June, 1969, when all textile manufacturing ceased at the
plant. When the other Johnston mills in North Charlotte closed in 1975,
there was a distinct passing from one time into another for the mill
The fading paint on the water tower still says "Highland Park Mfg. Co."
on it, and the nearly as original North Charlotte mill building and its tidy
rows of mill houses still stand solidly as a clear reminder of the base
industry which was almost solely responsible for Charlotte's growth and
prosperity in the late nineteenth century and three-fourths of the
twentieth: textile manufacturing, mostly cotton. With the city rapidly
becoming a diversified commercial and manufacturing center, its
all-important cotton-mill heritage is in danger of being forgotten, and thus
lost in the rush to modernity.
1 William H. Huffman, "A Historical Sketch of the Charlotte
Cotton Mills," Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, August,
2 William H. Huffman, "A Historical Sketch of the Charlotte
Supply Company," Charlotte Supply Company, August, 1983.
3 Dan Morrill, "A Survey of Cotton Mills in Charlotte,"
Charlotte Meckenburg Historic Properties Commission, October, 1979.
4 Letter from Highland Park Manufacturing Company, undated (c.
1964) in vertical file at Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library.
5 Ibid.; Charlotte Observer, July 5, 1941, p. 1.
6 Letter, note 4.
7 Record of Corporations, Book 1, p. 337.
8 Charlotte Observer, Feb. 27, 1903, p. 4; Ibid., June
18, 1903, p. 6; Stuart W. Cramer, Useful Information For Cotton
Manufacturers (Charlotte: Queen City Printing Co., 1906) 2nd ed.; Vol.
III, pp. 1227-1298.
9 Charlotte Observer, June 18, 1903, p. 6; Ibid., Aug.
4, 1904, p. 4.
10 Letter, note 4; Charlotte Observer, July 5, 1941, p.
11 Letter, note 4; Articles of Dissolution, Record of
Corporations, Book 14C, p. 481; Charlotte News, March 13, 1975, p. 1.
Thomas W. Hanchett
The Highland Park #3 Mill in the Charlotte's North Charlotte industrial
district was the largest textile factory in the county when it opened about
1904, one of the state's first mills designed for electric operation.1
It soon become one of the South's best-known mills, for its architect was
Charlottean Stuart Warren Cramer. Cramer, credited with designing and/or
equipping "nearly one-third of the new cotton mills in the South" between
1895 and 1915, used this factory as a showcase of his techniques. Over
seventy pages of his influential book Useful Information for Cotton
Manufacturers Volume 3 ( 1906) are devoted to drawings and photographs
of the mill and its machinery layouts.3 Twenty-four of those
pages focus on the architecture of the main building itself, including
facade elevations, structural drawings, specifications for contractors, and
even detailed drawings of cast-iron column capitals and wooden windows and
Highland Park #3 remained a working mill until 1969.4
Additions were made. Windows were bricked in. Clerestories were removed from
the roofs. Cramer's original machinery, including his pioneering efforts at
air conditioning, gave way to newer technology. New ancillary buildings were
constructed and old ones were demolished. After the mill closed, all of its
machinery was sold to industrialists in South America, and today only one
small section of overhead shafting (possibly part of Cramer's original
layout) survives. Since shutting down, the complex has been used for
Despite all the changes, the Highland Park #3 Mill is a place of
exceptional architectural significance to the city of Charlotte and to the
South. Highland Park #3 is the only surviving Charlotte building closely
associated with Stuart Cramer, the preeminent Southern textile mill
architect of his day. Textiles constituted the primary industry in the South
for many decades Cramer's work not only had wide impact on the region but
also helped the City of Charlotte emerge as a regional center. Cramer's
residence in the Dilworth neighborhood and his foundry and offices downtown
have long since disappeared.
This factory is believed to be the best-documented example of the
designer's work. Taken together, Highland Park #3's buildings and drawings
provide an extraordinarily detailed picture of state-of-the-art mill
architecture at the turn of the century. Because Cramer published pages of
detailed drawings, it is likely that aspects of Highland Park #3's
architecture were copied throughout the South and beyond.
The Mill Complex
The site slopes sentry down from north to south. The property is bounded
on the north, east and south by Thirty-Second Street, North Davidson
(originally North Caldwell) Street, and angling Mallory Street. The
single-track mainline of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad (1911) runs
immediately adjacent to the west side of the mill, paralleled a few hundred
feet away by the mainline of the Southern Railway (pre-1900). Both tracks
have become part of the new Norfolk Southern Corporation system in recent
East across North Davidson Street is the former Highland Park #3 mill
village. North of the mill, across Thirty-Second Street, is the red brick
Johnston YMCA built in 1951 as a community center for all the North
Charlotte mills. Several hundred yards south of the mill, across the Norfolk
and Southern track, is the brick Transformer House which once supplied power
to the mill. Today all of these structures have separate owners, and none
are included in this architectural report. The accompanying map, drawn in
1954 for the Johnston Company by the Associated Factory Mutual Fire
Insurance Companies of Boston, shows how the factory complex itself looked
in its heyday.
In 1986 the factory consists of five buildings, plus a tall steel water
tower. The main structure is the massive "L"-shaped mill, one to two stories
tall and built of brick [numbers 1,2,3,4,16,19 on the map]. Within the "L"
are two smaller brick buildings: the 1910s and 1920s Dye House (attached to
the main mill with a brick passageway after 1954[ number 6 ]), and the
original 1904 Boiler House (number 8). Another small brick building, erected
in 1904 as a Waste House, is located immediately south of the main mill
(number 9). A wooden Gate House (number 5) sits east of the mill, facing
North Davidson Street. The water tower, a cylindrical tank atop four tall
metal legs, marks the southeastern corner of the property, and still bears
the legend "Highland Park Mfg." in faded black letters.
Until 1986, the complex also included several other buildings. Most
interesting was a large multi-bay cotton warehouse (numbers 11-15), facing
Mallory Street and built of wood with brick firewalls. It was part of
Cramer's original design, and included a pneumatic piping system to blow
cotton directly into the mill. There were also a pair of newer free-standing
concrete water tanks near the boiler house (a huge cylindrical 350,000
gallon main reservoir (number 22) and a smaller square back-up tank, two
Valve Houses which controlled flow from the tanks, a pair of small
free-standing wooden Pump Houses, and a large wood-frame shed (number 10)
attached to the machine shop. A small frame Waiting Room steed next to the
North Davidson Street gets. According to the owner, these structures had
become deteriorated, and all were bulldozed.
The Main Building
The main mill, taken as a whole, is a large "L"-shaped brick structure.
The brick was made on the site. A gentle
gable roof with virtually no eaves runs the length of each leg of the
"L." The wood and glass clerestories, shown running along the ridgelines in
Cramer's drawings, are gone except in one small area. Most of the tall,
segmental-arched windows which originally lit the main floors have been
bricked in, though a number of basement window openings remain. The interior
structure is primarily of wood, with regularly-spaced round columns topped
by cast-iron capitals, upon which rest massive wooden beams and
Exterior towers in a variety of sizes are placed at irregular intervals
around the perimeter of the building. Wooden mill construction could be
surprisingly fire-resistant, but only as long as there was no way for flames
to spread from floor to floor. All stairways, elevator shafts, and even
bathrooms with their vertical plumbing shafts were confined to towers
outside the building itself. The smallest towers shown on Cramer's plans
were windowless and held elevator shafts. Next in size were the stair
towers, each of which had a water tank at the top. Largest were the "closet
towers" which held men's and women's washrooms (fixtures still extant). The
outsides of the stair towers and closet towers boosted the mill's fanciest
brickwork: segmental-arched windows, corbelled brick cornices with rend "bullseye"
windows above, and castle-like crenellated parapets. Today the cornices and
bullseye windows may still be seen, but the segmental arches have been
filled in and the parapets have been rebuilt, except on one tower. The
exception, fortunately, is the tall main tower lasted on the west side of
the building. It served as the front entrance to the mill (the original
stair with tongue-and-groove woodwork and painted advertisements for textile
machinery components is well-preserved inside). This tower's elaborately
corbelled cornices and windows and doorways were intended to impress
visitors to Charlotte, which is why it faces the Southern Railway mainline
rather than Davidson Street.
The huge building may be thought of as a number of smaller structures
joined together to form the "L." Though conceived and executed at the same
time, these units are divided by thick brick firewalls, which in fact make
them into distinctly separate spaces. As we move through the factory from
south to north (approximately following the manufacturing path from raw
cotton to woven cloth) we shall use the space names designated on Stuart
Cramer's published plans.
The Card and Spinning Room (number 1) takes up two-thirds of the south
leg of the "L,'' a space 214' x 128' in size. It is two stories tall with no
besetment. An addition to house massive air-conditioning equipment (still
extant) was made to the west side sometime between 1929 and 1954. Inside the
main space, four rows of close-spaced wooden columns ( 8'x25' costars)
provide interior support. The second story housed the spinning machines. The
first story held clubbing and recording machinery, driven by an arrangement
of electric motors, metal shafts and leather belts. Today four long shafts
run one-third the length of the space, suspended from the ceiling beams over
the area where the "Revolving Top Flat Cards," originally stood. An electric
motor still drives each shaft. The shafting corresponds with that shown in
Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers, and it may hold a high
degree of significance as a last remnant of Cramer's machinery design.
The rest of the south leg of the "L" is devoted to the Lapper Room and
Dye House (number 2 and 3). As designed by Cramer these were two separate
units divided by a brick firewall, with different window arrangements and
even different floor levels. The Lapper Room held warping machines on its
upper floor and lapping machines on its lower floor. The Dye House had no
lower level. Instead, its upper floor was dropped six feet to accommodate
dying machinery. Sometime between 1911 and 1929 a larger Dye House was
erected outside the main building and after 1929 major changes were made to
the old area. The second story of the firewall between the Lapper Room and
the original Dye House was torn out, and a new floor was put in, making the
area one large space. A small addition was made to the west side about 1945.
It is interesting, however, that despite the interior changes, this area is
the only part of the building which retains its original clerestories. Two
wood and glass units rise above the roof-line to provide abundant natural
light to the interior.
The largest part of the main mill is the Weave Room (number 41), which
makes up the entire north leg of the "L." It is 446' x 128' and is one-story
tall with a partially exposed full basement. Its main floor is at the same
height as the second story of the Card and Spinning Room, due to the natural
slope of the site. The original wooden columns in the high-ceiling main
space have been replaced with metal ones. An interesting detail that remains
is the "tobacco spit gutter" that runs at baseboard level around the outside
walls. A wood and glass interior wall, now partially destroyed, divides the
west end off from the cavernous main space. In the basement, structural
changes have also been made, but some of the wooden columns survive.
The last era of great prosperity for Charlotte textile mills was the mid
1940s, when World War II military production pumped money into the industry.
Johnston Mills added a New Weave Room to Highland Park #3 (numbers 16
and 19). Located on the north side of the original Weave Room, the new
one-story building featured brick exterior walls and a steel structure. At
about the same time, the stairtower on the north facade of the original
Weave Room was demolished and a new tower was constructed at the southeast
The Boiler House and the Waste House
The Boiler House (number 8) shown in detail in Stuart Cramer's drawings
still stands near the Card and Spinning Room. Its trapezoidal shape
conformed to a now-vanished railroad siding. Though its crenellated parapet
has been rebuilt, and its arched door and windows have been bricked in, one
can still see the corbelled cornice.
Nearby is the Waste House (number 1), a flat-roofed rectangular building
angled to fit the same rail siding. Cotton waste would be collected here
from the plant for shipment to companies which converted it to
bearing-packing for railroad cars, among other uses. Cramer did not publish
drawings of the structure, but its segmental arched windows match those
elsewhere in the plant. Unlike the main building, much of Cramer's original
window work remains intact here.
The Dye How and the Gate House
The Dye House, a separate one-story brick building added between 1911 and
1929, is the mill's largest ancillary structure, 54' x 174.' It retains its
monitor roof. The building may be built atop a natural spring, for there is
a large pump set into one side of the main floor. Between 1929 and 1954 an
large awkward-looking addition was made at the southeast corner. Inside this
addition is a raised concrete floor intended to hold dye vats. After 1954 a
one-story brick passageway was added to connect the Dye House to the main
Near the Dye House is the one-story frame Gate House. Cramer's plans
showed a smaller guardhouse near this spot facing North Davidson Street. The
more spacious Gate House was probably erected soon after 1911 when the new
roadbed of the Norfolk and Southern crowded next to the west entrance tower.
The Gate House has a high
hip roof with triangular side vents. The wooden walls have been covered
with artificial siding, and an addition has been made to the front. Its
interior has been remodeled as well.
1 Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor and Printing
for the State of North Carolina, 1904, pp.93-97. Experiments with electric
textile production been in the late 1880s or early 1890s, but have not been
well documented. The first new mill in the United States constructed
expressly for electric operation was the 1899 Olympia Mill in Columbia,
South Carolina. The February 27,1903 Charlotte Observer proclaimed
that Highland Park No. 3 would "be the first electric driven. mill in North
Carolina." For more on electrification see Sydney B. Paine, "Electric Power
as Applied to Textile Machinery," in Marjorie Young, ad. Textile Leaders
of the South (Columbia, SC: James R. Young, 1963), pp.884-686.
2 Young,ad. Textile Leaders of the South, pp.50-51,
744. Themes R. Navin, The Whitin Machine Works Since 1831: A Textile
Machinery Company in an Industrial Village (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1950), pp.217-235.
3 Stuart W. Cramer, Useful Information for Cotton
Manufacturers ,volume 3 (Charlotte?: Stuart Cramer, 1906), pp. 1227-
1297. It is likely that photos of machinery layouts elsewhere in the books
were taken at Highland Park # 3.
4 Charlotte Observer, September 7,1986. The
"Mecklenburg Neighbors" section is devoted to North Charlotte.
5 Charlotte Observer, June 18,1903.
Click here to view Stuart Cramer's
Highland Park #3 Mill Plans