(Courtesy Duke Archives)
The buildings that would become the Commonwealth Cotton Mill were built in 1884 as the Durham Bobbin and Shuttle Mill - a supplier of wooden parts for other cotton and wool mills - by John C. Angier, Alvis H. Stokes, Samuel T. Morgan, Eugene Morehead, James Blacknall, and Julian Carr. Richard Wright and Dr. J.L. Warkins purchased the factory in 1888 installed a mansard roof.
Per Jean Anderson:
The business did not thrive, and Wright sold it in 1891 to a Rhode Island firm that came in, "dismantled it" and carried off the machinery.
The buidlings were repurposed as a textile mill. According to the Architectural Inventory, the plant appears to have begun producing textiles prior to 1891, with majority ownership by Carr and Wright. (I'm not sure how the transition from the Rhode Island Co. "dismantling" to this ownership occurred. However, the mill was not very successful at the outset, and Brodie Duke bought out Carr and Wright for less than the face value of their shares in 1892.
By 1895, the mill employed 140 people. Brodie Duke had declared bankruptcy in the Panic of 1893, and Ben Duke took over controlling interest in the company. He spent $30,000 enlarging the complex and added a 4 story tower to the building; quite similar to that at the Pearl Cotton Mill. The business was, per Ben Duke, quite successful. An expanded office building on the west side of the complex was built around 1900.
Commonwealth Cotton Company, looking northeast from the railroad tracks, 1906.
(Courtesy Duke Archives)
While the company was evidently still quite successful in 1910, it ceased operations in 1913 - for reasons unknown.
In 1922, the complex was taken over by the Morven Cotton Mills Company.
Morven Cotton Mill, 1926
The Morven Cotton Mill proved as star-crossed as the previous ventures, closing by the 1930s. The 1937 Sanborn Maps indicate an abandoned structure and a site used as a junkyard.
Map of area, 1937.
John Schelp related the story to me told by John Loudermilk - that he used to have to make deliveries to Holman Place, later Morven's Alley, directly to the north of the complex. Evidently the street and houses were company owned (a common practice for the textile mills) and the place was a den of iniquity - one the police did not come to. This, evidently, was the inspiration for the song "Tobacco Road."
The fascinating thing about this complex of structures is that, well, nothing happened to it. It just continued to slowly decay over decades of non-use. By the 1970s, the tower had collapsed, and the main building was in ruins. The office building was still realtively intact.
Commonwealth / Morvern Mills, 1970s.
Today, there is little trace of the original mill complex.
Looking north from the railroad tracks, near Pettigrew and Alston, 2007.
Unless you look closely.
Remnants of the main building, 2007.
I have to say that I have always loved ruins - probably explains a lot. But the fact that these are hidden in the trees is sort of magical to me.
The area immediately to the north of this is still a junkyard of sorts - hard to tell whether it's a junkyard, or just a big pile of stuff people have thrown here.