Gaston County, North Carolina

Gaston County, located just to the west of the commercial city of Charlotte in Mecklenburg County, became a center of textile entrepreneurship in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In its day, Gaston County may have had the largest concentration of combed­yarn sales mills of any area in the U.S. in addition to vertical mills, dye houses and machinery manufacturers. Gaston County had it all. As Mildred Gwin Andrews took an imaginary rail trip through the southeast in she passed through Charlotte and west on The Southern Railroad’s famous Crescent. She noted many changes in the Southern Textile Industry of 1984. If she were to pass through again in 2010, she would note yet another transition. She commented on various mills in McAdenville, Belmont and other towns on her way to Gastonia, the center of activity. A new building near the Catawba River Bridge in McAdenville belonged to Pharr Yarn Mills, an international business owned by the late W.J. Pharr (1981) and his wife Catherine. The Pharrs built a beautiful little town and when Christmas came, the lights and decorations drew people from near and far.

Belmont was solidly in the hands of the Stowes and Linebergers and had been ever since the original mills were built around the watering stop of Garibaldi. A good discussion about Belmont and short biographies of the Stowes and Linebergers can be found at: http://www.shoppecharlotte.com/sc/historical_View.cfm?historical_ID=39

There is interest in preserving a mill home in Belmont.
http://www.belmontnc­hs.org/projects_millhouse.html

Also of interest. The cotton gin festival in Dallas.
http://www.co.gaston.nc.us/parksandrec/cottonginningdays/index.htm

Many changes occurred in the 1970s. In 1972, Climax Spinning Co. (est. 1915)), Majestic Manufacturing Co. (1907), Stowe Thread Co. (1928) – totaling 52,000 spindles and the Belmont Knitting Co. and Belmont Mills, Inc. merged to form Belmont Heritage Corporation. Bill Pharr, a son­in­law of Robert L. Stowe, Jr., in 1959 purchased full control of Imperial Yarn Mills. In 1973, he acquired Sterling Spinning Co. and Crescent Spinning. These three, along with Stowe Mills and Pharr Yarns were operated by the W.J. Pharr family (Andrews)

At the turn of the 20th century, A.C. Lineberger, R.L. and S.P. Stowe joined Chronicle Mill in executive capacities. By 1920, they had organized eleven more mills – all for combed sales yarn production. It was the beginning of a dynasty. In 1924, many mills in Gastonia were failing (see Spencer Love and Burlington Industries), as were mills elsewhere in the U.S. as the economy shifted from wartime to peacetime production. The Linebergers and the Stowes saw this opportunity and expanded. Also in 1924, the spinners formed Belmont Processing Co. in order to bypass the converter or middleman, and scour, bleach, mercerize and dye their greige yarn. As is often the case, they solved one problem and caused another as they found they were now competing with their best customer, Aberfoyle Manufacturing Co. Later, Belmont Processing was sold to Aberfoyle. Many further examples can be cited from Andrews’ book. The names are legendary in North Carolina 20th C. textiles: J. Harold Lineberger, Joe Lineberger, Walter S. Lineberger, and David Hall. (Andrews)

Gastonia. Because citizens of the county seat in Dallas objected to the noise of a railroad, the line was routed through the unheard of town of Gastonia. Dallas remained quiet and Gastonia became the Combed­-Yarn Capital of the World. George Gray and Joseph Separk formed mills. The Armstrong family formed 15 mills. The Rankin, Love, Rhyne, Ragan, Grove, Dixon, Smyre, Robinson and Myers families organized mills. By 1920, Gaston County had 103 combed­-cotton sales yarn mills.

Aerial view of Gastonia, NC
Courtesy of Bill Wornall Textile Postcard Collection

New England mills began to fail and the Southern mills followed suit as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 brought on the Great Depression. Mills merged or failed. Exploitation of workers and the ensuing attempt to organize workers at the Loray Mill is one of the tragic stories of times. http://www.loraymills.com/project.asp In 1931, The Gray, Separk and Armstrong families merged their interests. The Rankin Group and A.G. Myers & Associates joined. Soon twenty­one plants were included. This was the beginning of Threads, Inc., which represented about twenty­two percent of the combed­cotton sales yarn in the South. Still, it was not enough and bankruptcy followed. Threads, Inc. became Textiles, Inc. In 1978, Textiles, Inc. became Ti­Caro, Inc. to reflect the growth outside of sales yarn and also into adjacent states. In April 1987, Dixie Yarns, Inc., Chatanooga, TN acquired Ti­Caro for stock worth $70 million. (Ray Clune, Daily News Record, March 2, 1987)

Parkdale Mills, founded in 1916 by J. Lee Robinson and J.H. Separk, operated successfully until the merger to form Textiles, Inc. Should Parkdale participate or not? The stockholders fought. Lee Robinson committed suicide. The Robinson family secured control and fought the merger. Fred L. Smyre, Sr., a brother­in­law of Lee Robinson became manager. W. Duke Kimbrell began working in the mill as an errand boy at age 14, after one of the managers saw him working as a volunteer to install electricity. He graduated from the College of Textiles at NC State (1949) and later rose to the highest office in the company (President and CEO). Kimbrell became involved in the industry and was named Man of the Year in 1991 and the second most influential person in textiles in a 1999 survey by Textile World magazine.

Bessemer City

A quick look at 1914 Draper manufacturing figures revealed the Atlas Manufacturing Co in Bessemer City , running 96 Draper looms although no mention back in 1904.

The Huss Mfg Co ­ 1909 running 50 looms on fabric damask.

The Mascot Cotton Mills, organized with a capital of $50,000 to succeed the Bessemer City Cotton Mills ( 1909 )

(1910) The Mascot Cotton Mills are being operated by Palmer Brown of NY City.

The Osage and Southern Mills are depicted on postcards 3

 

Sources:

  1. Andrews, Mildred Gwin, The Men and the Mills ­ A History of the Southern Textile Industry. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1987.
  2. Textile World magazine, 1999.
  3. Peter Metzke, Personal communication 2009.
  4. John Love, Personal communication, April 2010