The mill suffered, but survived the havoc of the Great Depression. In 1932, its selling agent went bankrupt and MCM went into receivership. Thanks to the efforts of local investors, a new management team was brought on in 1935, headed by John F. Matheson. Matheson would lead the mill for another 29 years, overseeing its return to prosperity. In 1937, the mill employed 2000 workers.5 In the late 1930’s the mill was not immune to the general unionization movement. A tense strike resulting in the death of one, and arrest of a handful, of hard core unionizers.
Under Matheson’s management, the mill continued and expanded its role as community benefactor, maintaining a public relations page in the local paper dedicated to keeping its good image in the community. It supported a local marching band, yearly parades, a community house and daycare for working mothers, and later on a 9-hold golf course for its workers. The mill financed a semi-pro baseball team, the Mooresville Moors, whose ballfield still remains a part of the mill village.
During most of this period of prosperity, the village continued to be entirely owned by the mill. Because of the nature of the houses being rental property, the land around the houses remained, in the mindset of its inhabitants, a common area. The mill provided a small tract of land to the southeast of the village where villagers could keep livestock. Mrs. Caroline Bowles recalls that as a child, she was sent to milk a cow which her family held on this common land. Mr. Guy Bowles, who has lived in the mill village since birth, recalls that as far back as he could remember, people did not maintain gardens, but rather bought produce from local grocers.
Because they were highly affordable yet maintained to a standard not held by other local landlords, mill houses were coveted by locals, and the mill maintained a waiting list for those wishing to rent one. 6
During hard times, some families sublet rooms in their homes. Mrs. Ada Freeman, who moved to the area in the 30’s, recalled that as a newlywed, she and her husband rented a room off the main foyer of one elderly couple’s cottage.
During this period, J.W. Abernethy, a regional investor in textiles, continued to acquire Mooresville Mills. Mr. Abernethy held the position of Vice President in the late 40’s, but his influence continued to grow as did his proportion of the company’s stock. Reflecting the modern mindset of the investor, Mr. Abernethy began to steer management away from community involvement, and concentrated on making the mill pay greater returns on its stock. The mill made significant investments in state-of-the-art machinery, continued to cut costs, and focused on its core business—textile production. In 1946, as it had expanded to work with synthetic fibers, management decided to change the name of the mill from Mooresville Cotton Mills to simply be Mooresville Mills. In the late 40’s, Mr. Abernethy acquired a majority share of the Mooresville Mills. The mill began divesting from the community by shedding its real estate assets and making large gifts of land to the Town of Mooresville, including a 9-hole golf course, a semi-pro baseball field, and a tract of land which would become the town’s World War II memorial, recreational facilities and swimming pool.
In 1949, the mill began preparations to sell off its land holdings. The refocusing of the mill management on its core business also meant that it would get out of the landlord business. It commissioned a survey and had the village platted with each house being on its own lot. The lot markings were based on what had been, up until then, gentlemen’s understandings passed down from renter to renter or by general neighborly information about where line boundaries were. This 1949 plat map is registered at the Iredell County Register of Deeds
In 1950 the mill began selling the houses with the stipulation for purchase was that the buyer had to be an employee of the mill. The houses were sold for prices between $2925-$3500, with mortgage, and tax escrow payments being taken directly out of the worker’s paycheck.