Rocky Mount Mills
Rocky Mount Mills
|Location||NC 43 and NC 48, Rocky Mount, North Carolina|
|Architectural style||Greek Revival|
|NRHP Reference #|||
|Added to NRHP||February 01, 1980|
"The first use of slaves in a North Carolina cotton mill occurred in 1817 when another planter, Colonel Joel Battle, joined with Henry A. Donaldson, a former Rhode Island manufacturer, to establish the Rocky Mount Cotton Mills on the falls of the Tar River. It contained over two thousand spindles and had a working force composed entirely of Negroes- the majority were slaves but there were also a few free Negroes. For thirty-four years Negroes were employed continuously by this company. In 1825 Henry A. Donaldson with George McNeil as his partner constructed a new mill in Fayetteville, NC approximately the size of the one in Rocky Mount. Only slaves were used as its working force."
“...Especially before the Civil War, according to historian Holland Thompson, “a majority of the people in the Middle and Western counties [of North Carolina] dressed chiefly in the clothes of domestic or local manufacture.” A superintendent of the Rocky Mount Mills recalled that in the 1850s he sold most of the coarse yarns produced at the mill “in five pound bundles for the country trade- this was woven by the country women on hand looms.” He sold the surplus yarns for “coarse filling for the Philadelphia market.” During the antebellum period and well into the twentieth century, North Carolina was known for its “little spinning mills” that produced lower grades of yarn for home manufacture and later for the weaving mills of New England and the Middle Atlantic States.”
During the last months of the conflict, the Confederacy drew its entire supply of textile goods from North Carolina mills. Northern troops recognized the significance of the textile industry’s contribution to the war effort. In raids led by General William T. Sherman, Union troops laid waste to most of Eastern North Carolina’s manufacturing base by burning the Rocky Mount Mill on the Tar River, the Great Falls Mill in Rockingham, NC, and five of the six mills in the Fayetteville vicinity. In the western counties, Union General George Stoneman stationed his cavalry in the Fries Woolen and Cotton Mill while his troops destroyed nearly 1,700 bales of cotton the company had stored in High Point, NC. Stoneman’s raiders also set fire to Patterson’s Mill in Caldwell County, a woolen mill in Guilford County, and a cotton mill in Salisbury, NC that had served as a Confederate prison during the war. Those mills that escaped direct physical destruction during the final months of the war nevertheless entered the postwar period in a weakened condition with little operating capital, obsolete or worn-out machinery, and a sharply reduced demand from local markets.
From 1825 to 1883, the Battle family maintained ownership of the mill. As the southern cotton industry expanded after the Civil War, the cotton mill experienced rapid growth. The company also supported a residential village for employees, which was eventually incorporated into the city of Rocky Mount in the 1920s. The mill was a major supplier of cotton yarn to the United States Army during World War II. The mills and surrounding mill village are included in the Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District.
The general decline in the southern textile industry beginning in the 1970s eventually impacted Rocky Mount Mills, and the mill closed its doors in 1996.
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Preyer, Norris W. "The Historian, the Slave and the Ante Bellum Textile Industry." Journal of Negro History, Vol. 44, No. 2, April, 1961, pages 67-82.
- Brent D. Glass. The Textile Industry in North Carolina: A History. N.C. Division of Archives and History: Raleigh, NC. 1992. Pages 21-22.
- Brent D. Glass. The Textile Industry in North Carolina: A History. Division of Archives and History: Raleigh, NC. 1992. Pages 22-23.
- Inventory of the Rocky Mount Mills Records, 1804-2004, in the Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.