Happy Friday everyone!
Last Friday Charlotte Agenda flashed us forward and gave us our first look at what Atherton Mill will become. I think its great what the overhaul will bring to South End! As a native Charlottean, it truly excites me to see the city transform and not be limited to what it has been. Implementation isn’t always perfect, but not many things in life are. City planning is hard. City growth is even harder. Lessons will be learned along the way. But all in all, progress is a good thing, as long as it’s inclusive of everyone.
Now, let’s take a quick trip backwards, past last Friday’s Charlotte Agenda article and see what Atherton Mill looked like in its early days. It’s pretty amazing how much of it has been preserved and the impact that its original owner had on the city of Charlotte.
Atherton Cotton Mill: The once and future industrial core of Dilworth. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Charlotte was transformed from a trading town for local cotton farmers into a major textile center and a symbol of the New South. Constructed in 1892 by prolific [but controversial] Charlotte entrepreneur Daniel Augustus Tompkins, the Atherton Mill was the sixth steam-powered cotton mill in Charlotte. It was also the first industrial property in the streetcar suburb of Dilworth (yep, suburb) and spurred its growth along the developing corridor between South Boulevard and the tracks of the Southern Railway. Operations began in 1893, and by 1896 the mill housed enough machinery for 10,000 spindles and employed more than 300 workers. Needless to say, at this time this was a serious operation.
The complex was surrounded by a mill village that included fifty single-story frame mill houses and a school, which doubled as a town hall, a general store, and a Sunday school.
These two images above were taken in 1909 for a National Child Labor Committee investigation to uncover illegal underage youth working in Charlotte’s mills. The original caption to the top photo reads: “Tallest girl is Kate McManus. Smallest (next) Zorobell Hatley; (next) Louis Blanchard (next) Edith McManus. They said they had been in mill work only a few weeks or months. Evidently they had been quizzed before and were ‘wise.’”
The industrial corridor around Dilworth and the railroad continued to thrive into the 1920s, and the Atherton complex continued to operate until the 1930s. After sitting vacant until 1937, it was purchased and operated until the 1960s by the J. Schoenith Company, a manufacturer of candies, baked goods, and peanut products. During the 1990s, the mill became part of the economic revitalization of the historic South End district, and it was restored and converted into high-priced condos. It is now a stop on Charlotte’s heritage streetcar line at the heart of a complex that contains upscale restaurants, design industries, and retail stores that seek to showcase the area’s historical significance in the industrial growth of the city. Since 1994, the Atherton Mill complex has also been the home of the nonprofit Charlotte Trolley organization and museum, which restores exhibits, and operates vintage Charlotte streetcars.
Until next week!
Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
Information and illustrations taken from Charlotte Then and Now, 2013, Brandon Lunsford. Additional commentary added.