Mooresville Mill Village
National Register Study List Application
Part 10 B. History
I. The Roots of the Mill and Mill Village: The Devastated Post-Civil War South
The history of Mooresville, North Carolina reads like the history of the post-civil war Piedmont South. Like a archetype of the region itself, the town of Mooresville was born of a union of cotton, water, and railroads. Prior to the Civil War, in 1853, the Atlantic, Tennessee, and Ohio railroad was extending its line and wanted to build a train stop for cotton farmers to bring their crops for shipping. A local farmer in the Coddle Creek Township of Iredell County, John F. Moore, parceled off from his farm the land necessary for the rail line, a cotton depot, and shops and homesites surrounding the rail stop. The area remained only a railroad “siding” until after the war, in 1873, when local merchants including Mr. Moore applied and were granted an incorporated township with a one-mile radius around the train depot.
After the war, southern businessmen and leaders sought a solution to the extreme squalor left in the wake of the devastation. A handful of textile mills had existed prior to the Civil War, but after the war, southern businessmen saw in its resources—water, cotton, and rebuilt rail lines--a way to take advantage of, and provide for, its starving population. A new textile industry in the south began supplanting its northern predecessors, taking advantage of the Appalachian piedmont's water power and cheap, hungry labor.
The practice of providing housing around a industrial employment center was not an idea original to the southern cotton mills. Industrial villages already populated the industrial North.. But post-civil war, Thus the Southern Mill Village was born. In his seminal study, The Rise of Cotton Mills in the South, Broadus Mitchell asserted that by 1900, a full 92 percent of textile workers lived in mill villages owned by the companies that employed them.1 Mooresville would become a prime example of the trend.
In 1893, barely 20 years after the town’s incorporation, Mooresville business leaders saw the growing wave of textile mills in the South and seized the opportunity to capitalize on Mooresville’s assets. With a rail line and depot, ample creeks and water flow, and a town with a bent for commerce, JE Sherrill and Isaac Harris were easily able to sell common stock in their textile mill startup. By 1894 the Mooresville Cotton Mill was up and running just a couple of blocks south of the depot. In addition to the mill itself, MCM followed the textbook plan of creating housing for its workers. A small village quickly began to take shape around the mill. This original mill, along with a handful of mill houses, still stands on North Church Street in downtown Mooresville. The mill would quickly grow to become the dominating force in the town, Mooresville’s growth engine, with its presence dominating the skyline, the economy, and the urban development of the town.