High Shoals, NC
Views of the High Shoals Cotton Mills
Bill Wornall Textile Postcard Collection
The High Shoals Company, High Shoals, NC
High Shoals has been an important community in Gaston County for over 200 years. The excellent waterpower provided by the South Fork River and the change in elevation across the short distance made it an easy site to develop waterpower. John Fulenwider, a Swiss immigrant and Revolutionary War veteran established an iron works there about 1804. The mill practically came to a standstill before the Civil War and was revitalized during the war.
In the late 1890s as textile mills were flourishing in the Carolinas, D. A. Tompkins of Charlotte saw the opportunity and organized a cotton mill. In 1892, he purchased 1,200 acres on both sides of the river. The mill was chartered in 1893, but the various economic panics of the time delayed construction until May 1899. Ragan lists this mill as the 21st textile mill located in Gaston County. The incorporators were Tompkins, Fred Oliver, and R.M. Miller, Jr., all residents of Charlotte. While the waterpower available was estimated to have a capacity of operating 50,000 spindles, the threestory brick mill was built and opened with only 5,000 spindles and 150 looms. Earnings would hopefully provide further capital for expansion.
The mill was, indeed, a success. In 1906, the capacity was increased and there were nearly 10,000 spindles and 470 looms in operation. Sheeting and sales yarn were produced and sold through commission merchants in the North. By 1910, 16,224 spindles and 534 looms produced sales yarn and sheeting. Tompkins died in 1914. His associates operated the mill until other arrangements could be made. In 1920, a group of Gastonia manufacturers and investors including C.B. Armstrong, A.G. Myers, A.Q. Kale, C.C. Armstrong, and A.K. Winger took over. They operated as High Shoals Cotton Mills Co. until 1923, when the mill was sold to ManvilleJenckes of Pawtucket, RI. They were already operating the huge Loray Mills in Gastonia. A fourstory addition of reinforced concrete was added. Sheeting, sateens and napkins were now produced. ManvilleJenckes operated the mill until 1935 when the mill was sold to Jackson Mill, Wellford, SC. This management continued through WW II, but in late 1944, it was sold to another operator, Carolinian Mills. In 1955, they were bought by Eli Walker Dry Goods Co. of Saint Louis. MO., which in 1957, merged into Burlington Industries, Greensboro, NC. The plants now produced tobacco cloth, corduroys, print cloth and sheeting. Few improvements were made to these old buildings and Burlington closed the plant in 1971. McNeill Industries operated the plant for a few years. In May 1996, a fire destroyed much of the factory.
Source: Ragan, Robert Allison, The Textile Heritage of Gaston County North Carolina 18482000. Charlotte: R.A. Ragan & Co., 2001.