William Allen Erwin

West Durham, NC
William Allen Erwin (1856- 1932)

William A. Erwin was born on his father’s plantation, Bellevue, Lenoir County, NC on July 15, 1856.  After finishing high school, he enrolled at what was known as the A&M College of Kentucky for two years.  In 1874, he became a salesman in the general store of Holt, Gant & Holt at Burlington, NC until 1877.  That store was a part of the empire of his uncle, E. M. Holt.  He left to become a bookkeeper with the North Carolina Railroad Company in Burlington.  A year later he became a merchant himself and continued until 1882.

In 1882, he rejoined the Holt businesses and served as Treasurer and General Manager of the E.M. Holt Plaid Mills, Alamance County.  After 1893, he moved to West Durham and established a cotton mill to support the tobacco sales interests of the Dukes.  This business grew to become one of the largest in the state.  Erwin Cotton Mills Company, Numbers 1 and 4 at West Durham with 75,000 spindles, 903 narrow looms and 1,030 broad looms; Mill No. 2 at Duke (now know as Erwin, NC), with 35,000 spindles and 1,024 looms; Mill No. 3 at Cooleemee, with 48,000 spindles and 1,296 looms.  Also under his management were the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Company in East Durham with 24,000 spindles and 820 looms; the Pearl Cotton Mills, North Durham, with 11,000 spindles and 248 broad looms; Oxford Cotton Mills at Oxford, NC, with 6,2000 spindles; and the Locke Cotton Mills at Concord, NC, with 35,000 spindles and 976 looms.  If one reads the story of the Holt family in Alamance County and Falls Manufacturing in Wake County, you will find an amazing interplay of the Holt, Erwin and Duke families.  The patriarch E.M. Holt was responsible for much of the fantastic growth of textiles in central North Carolina.


  1. Jacobs, William Plumer.1935. The Pioneer. Clinton, S.C.: Jacobs & Co. Press.
  2. http://www.thechapelofthecross.org/hist/erwin.htm Biography of William Allen Erwin. Accessed April 23, 2008
  3. http://www.owdna.org/mill.htm A history of West Durham, NC with wonderful photos and stories.   Accessed April 23,2008.