Glencoe Mill Village Historic District
The Glencoe Mill Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Glencoe Mill Village Historic District is located on the east bank of the Haw River about three miles north of Burlington in Alamance County. It is a typical but remarkably well-preserved example of nineteenth century industrial villages that once flourished in North Carolina's Piedmont region. The Glencoe Mill Village Historic District covers a little more than 100 acres and consists of three parts: 1) a manufacturing and commercial complex; 2) a power and water system; and 3) a residential and social unit.
The original village part of Glencoe is still largely intact. The wooden schoolhouse is gone, replaced by a brick structure. The church fell in 1976. Of the 48 original wood frame dwellings, 41 remain. (Several houses are known to have burned down.) One, the mill superintendent's house, opposite the office and store, is distinctive for the ornate woodwork and railings on the porch which extends on its north and west sides.
The Glencoe Mill Village Historic District includes three basic house configurations, all with brick nogging, hand-sawed timbers, tin roofs, brick pier foundations and simple, functional design. Houses vary in size from three to six rooms, with 16' by 16' the average room size.
The predominant house type was originally a four room, two-story structure typical of North Carolina rural housing of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The front porches are two bays wide and supported by four unornamented posts. A central hallway opens onto rooms to the east and west. Chimneys are set on the east. Upstairs there are usually two rooms, with the railing from the narrow staircase extending into the west room. Detached kitchens of brick and batten construction are set behind the houses; a typical kitchen was about 20' by 12'.
A later modification of the mill housing is the kitchen, attached at the back of the east wing of most houses, forming an L. These rooms had, by 1910, largely replaced the detached kitchens. The connected kitchens have chimneys and customarily have side porches facing the river and the mill (west).
The original Glencoe Mill, consisting of a cotton mill and associated worker tenement community, was built on a 105-acre site along the Haw River in Alamance County between 1880 and 1882. It remains one of the best preserved mill villages in North Carolina, providing a comprehensive picture of the social and commercial organization of a late-nineteenth century water-powered Southern cotton mill village.
Established by James H. and William E. Holt, sons of North Carolina cotton mill pioneer Edwin M. Holt, Glencoe Mill was part of a chain of mills operated by the Holts primarily in Alamance County, It produced napped cotton cloth, flannels and woven plaids and at its height supported up to 500 people, approximately half of whom resided in mill housing on the site. Glencoe was one of the 17 cotton mills which, by 1890, made Alamance County the leading cotton manufacturing center in the state in terms of cotton looms and spindles. This was a time when Southern states, particularly North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, were turning to the cotton mill as a means of economic and social salvation.
At a time when there were only four cotton factories in North Carolina, Edwin Holt took advantage of readily available raw cotton and established the first cotton mill in Alamance County on Great Alamance Creek in 1837. Describing Holt's motivation, one biographer wrote: "To him it seemed a geographic and economic inconsistency and perversity that this staple should be carried thousands of miles from the place of its growth to be made into cloth, much of which was to be brought back and used to clothe the very people who had produced it..."
Holt later learned dying from an itinerant Frenchman and became the first power loom manufacturer of plaid or colored cotton fabrics in the South. His "Alamance Plaids" and "Alamance Ginghams" achieved wide distribution and popularity. He and his five sons and 15 grandsons soon built a chain of cotton mills in Alamance County and elsewhere, prompting one turn-of-the-century writer to exclaim, "What the Flemish have been to England, what the Venetians have been to southern Europe, that are the Holts to Alamance and to North Carolina."
The Haw River, with a drainage area of 1,675 square miles and an average fall of six feet per mile, was ideally suited for water-powered technology, a characteristic which made it one of the principal manufacturing streams in North Carolina in the late nineteenth century.
After building Carolina Mill along the Haw River in 1869, E.M. Holt and Sons began purchasing land at another site upriver in 1878. Located where a grist and saw mill stood, Glencoe Mill (named after the site in Scotland of a seventeenth century massacre involving the MacDonald clan) was established primarily by two of the elder Holt's sons, James and William, between 1880 and 1882.
Reliance on water power had much to do with the development not only of the Glencoe mill, but of the mill village as well. Since the power available from the Haw River was insufficient to support a group of mills at any one site, mills were built isolated from one another. Besides, property taxes were significantly less in outlying rural districts. This isolation, coupled with a poor transportation system, forced the mill owners to build housing, albeit cheaply and quickly constructed, to support their workers. Provision of other 'necessities' in the form of a retail store, church, school, and athletic teams were also included in establishing the Glencoe Mill Village.
Glencoe began operation with 186 looms and 3,120 spindles. Sanborn Insurance maps of the mill building indicate that the first floor housed the weaving machinery, the second floor was devoted to spooling and spinning cotton, and the third was used for carding the cotton and as a cloth room. Finishing operations were also carried out on the third floor until 1903, at which time the finishing and napper room was completed north of the mill building.
In 1899 the mill and mill village were sold for $112,000 to "Glencoe Mills," a corporation run by Robert Holt. Using locally grown cotton until about 1900, Glencoe produced plaid, checked and striped cotton cloth. In the early 1900s the mill equipment was extensively upgraded, allowing for napping and the production of cotton outings for items like nightgowns and blankets. In 1900 there were 4,000 spindles; in 1907 there were 5,000. The number of looms stayed about the same throughout Glencoe's 72 years of operation, rising slightly to 206 in 1927 and remaining at that level. The production of cotton and shirting flannels was added in 1913.
From the 1890s through at least the 1930s Glencoe employed between 110 and 150 workers. Few, if any, were black, except Robert Holt's personal cook. Although strikes hit several mills in the nearby town of Haw River, Glencoe apparently escaped any labor unrest. The mill was a signator of a 1900 mill owners' resolution involving 41 North Carolina cotton mills which pledged the signees not to use, and to oppose, union labor.
In 1889 the average Glencoe mill hand worked six 11-hour days, or 66 hours per week. Men earned from one to two dollars per day; women earned from 50 cents to a dollar; children earned 40 cents per day. In 1905 the average worker worked six 10.5-hour days, or 63 hours per week. Men earned from 75 cents to $2.75 per day; women earned between 60 cents and $1.00 per day; children still earned 40 cents per day. By 1924 Glencoe employees were working 55-hour weeks 19 with men earning between $2.10 and $6.60 per day and women between $2.10 and $2.38.
Robert Holt died in July, 1923 and his brother-in-law, Walter G. Green, took over Glencoe Mills. Green ran the mill with his son, Holt Green, who, unlike his father, had some training in mill operations.
The late 1930s saw considerable change at Glencoe. It was at that time that the shafting and textile machinery were converted to electric drive, that the water power was adapted to generate the electricity which powered the electric motors driving the line shafts, and that Glencoe first purchased its electricity from an outside utility, Duke Power. (Glencoe did utilize power from the Holts' Latonia Power Plant 1.5 miles upriver, thus making it one of the first Alamance County cotton mills to draw electric power from a generating plant outside the mill as early as 1910.)
Holt Green served in the Navy in World War II and was lost in action in Europe. He was replaced at Glencoe by his brother, Walter G. Green, Jr., a lawyer, who remains one of Glencoe's owners.
Throughout its history Glencoe Mills remained a modest, isolated operation. This worked especially well during the era of water power and continued to allow for the mill's success as long as it was able to compete with other mills' prices.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s Glencoe increased the number of its spindles to 5,760; rebuilt the dam along the Haw River; added the one-story and basement addition to the mill building at a cost of approximately $350,000. But while it was making these large capital expenditures Glencoe failed to modernize its equipment, either to keep up with increasingly efficient looms being used by competitors or to switch to printed plaids when the woven plaid market unraveled. During that same period large textile corporations were purchasing many small cotton mills, thereby providing inexpensive and well-organized competition for independent mills like Glencoe, which was finally forced to close in 1954.
The housing at Glencoe remained in use, though at a reduced rate of occupancy, from the time of the mill's closing to the present. All of those still living at Glencoe worked for Glencoe Mills when it was operating.
The mill buildings remained full of equipment but unused until 1961, when Glencoe Carpet Mills began leasing the mill buildings. At that time the old mill equipment was sold for scrap metal.
All of the main mill building is in use today . The ground floor of the 1950s addition houses a retail mill outlet store. Glencoe Carpet Mills has its offices on the second floor of the mill in what was the slasher room and has various wholesale and small manufacturing operations located throughout the rest of the building. All of the other mill complex buildings are used for storage.
[The Textile Heritage Museum (2406 Glencoe Street) is located in the former Company Store and Office Building. It was purchased in 2004 and is an ongoing restoration project.]
Herring, Harriet. "The Industrial Worker." From Culture in the South, edited by William T. Couth. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1934.
Holt, Martin H. "Edwin M. Holt." Volume VII of the Biographical History of North Carolina. Edited by Samuel A. Ashe and Stephen B. Weeks. Greensboro: Charles L. Van Noppen, 1908.
Hughes, Julian. Development of the Textile Industry in Alamance County. Burlington: Burlington Letter Shop, 1965.
Sanborn Insurance Maps of Burlington, N.C., July, 1913; May, 1918; April, 1925; January, 1929. New York: Sanborn Insurance Company.
Stockard, Sallie W. The History of Alamance. Capital Printing Company, 1900.
Whitaker, Walter. Centennial History of Alamance County. Burlington: Burlington Chamber of Commerce, 1949.
† Barry Jacobs, consultant, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Glencoe Mill Village Historic District, Alamance County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.