Alamance County, North Carolina
Textile and Related Industry
Alamance County was an early leader in building and operating successful water-powered cotton mills in the
South. From 1834 to 1880, Alamance County men established 14 water-powered mills, with the following eight
located along the Haw River and its tributary creeks. These mills were:
18341838-High Falls Mill by Ben, John and Wm. Trollinger, Hopedale. Jesse Gant was an investor but not an
active partner. The mill changed ownership several times over the years. In 1941 the present owners, Copland
Industries, purchased it. This mill has been in almost constant operation since 1838 making it the oldest
operating textile operation in the same location in North Carolina.
1837-Alamance Cotton Factory by E.M. Holt and William Carrington on Big Alamance Creek several miles
upstream from the Haw River. Holt purchased Carrington’s shares in 1851. Alamance Plaids, famous
throughout the United States in the 1850s, were first produced here. They represented the first factory-dyed
cotton cloth south of the Potomac River. In 1926, John Schoffner and other investors purchased the mill and
village of Alamance. The mill was used for hosiery finishing until 1947. The name of the business was
changed to Standard Hosiery and relocated. A bronze plaque stands at the site today.
1844-Granite Mills - Ben Trollinger. The mill was built on a natural outcropping of granite along the Haw River.
The current town of Haw River developed there along the North Carolina Railroad where the bridge was built to
cross the river. Later, E. M. Holt purchased the mill in partnership with his son, Thomas. The last operator,
Cone Mills, finished corduroy there until closing. The buildings are now used for storage.
An excellent view of the mill and proximity to the railroad bridge can be found at this Haw River site.
1848-Saxapahaw Cotton Factory by John Newlin and sons, Saxapahaw. E. M. Holt purchased the operation for
his sons-in-law. Later, the mill was purchased by Charles V. Sellers and B. Everett Jordan, and changed to the
production of full-fashion hosiery. Today, the mill has had a total renovation as apartments by John Jordan and
1868-Falls Neuse Manufacturing Company, Swepsonville by George Swepson and Gustave Rosenthal. In
1895, the name was changed to Virginia Mill. After 102 years of operation, the mill closed in 1970. The building
burned in 1989 and has been leveled to the ground.
1869- Carolina Mill by J.H. and W.E. Holt, Carolina. Carolina is just up the Haw River from the High Falls Mill.
With 3,000 spindles and 60 looms, E. M. Holt and Sons doubled production. The building is currently owned by
1878-Altamahaw Cotton Mill by John Q. Gant and Berry Davidson, Altamahaw. In the early years it was a yarn
mill. By 1887, the mill produced cotton cloth. Later the main operations moved closer to Burlington adjacent to
the North Carolina Railroad. The Gant family business continues as Glen Raven Inc.
1879- Bellemont Cotton Mill by Lawrence Banks Holt, son of E.M. Holt. The original three story building on Big
Alamance Creek was built by Berry Davidson. E. M. sold his share in the mill to Banks in 1883.
Today, the building walls are intact but covered with vegetation.
1880-Glencoe Mill, by James H. and William E. Holt, Glencoe. The mill was built on the Haw River north of
Carolina as one of the last water-powered mills built in Alamance County. A dye house built north of the mill
enabled the mill to dye, spin and weave colorful plaids. Glencoe Plaids were famous as a part of the Alamance
Plaids. When the Glencoe Mill closed in 1954, the village and mill buildings went into a deep sleep. The
owners did nothing for decades until the heirs deeded the property to Preservation North Carolina in 1997. A
restored mill village, office and company store are now open.
The Textile Heritage Museum, opened in 2004, is located in the building that housed the company office and
company store at Glencoe. www.textileheritage.org
More can be found relating to the historic water-powered mills by going to the upper left corner of this page.
Steam engines were originally developed in England and used successfully to pump water from iron mines and
later to power textile mills. After the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia featured a gigantic Corliss
Steam engine, mill owners gradually gained confidence that these could be used in North Carolina. In 1882,
Peter and Lafayette Holt and investor George Anthony built the Lafayette Mill, along East Webb Ave, Burlington
alongside the North Carolina Railroad. It was the first mill in the county to operate by Corliss steam power.
Water-powered mills were now passé.
Lafayette also produced the first knitted fabric in Alamance County. The name changed to Aurora, Standard
Hosiery , and later Kayser-Roth Hosiery. The building was torn down (2007).
Alamance County’s cotton mill men were renowned throughout North Carolina and were generous in helping
others set up cotton mills, including the Dukes who built five cotton mills centered in Durham, and in
establishing the Pilot Mill in Raleigh. The Raleigh News & Observer was generous in quotes. In an 1892
celebratory issue devoted to the industry, the editor said, “We wish every county in the State was an Alamance.”
In an 1895 article, similarly, “ The good old county of Alamance don’t (sic) seem to be selfish in the
establishment of cotton mills. Perhaps she knows that she is safely in the lead and don’t (sic) mind helping
other counties along, especially if the situation and environment appear inviting. Some of the largest plants in
the State have been built by Alamance people in counties other than Alamance. The Pilot Mill of Raleigh is one
of these. It was erected in 1892 by Capt. James N. Williamson and Mr. Wm. H. Williamson, of Graham, and Mr.
O. H. Foster, of Raleigh.” By the turn of the 20th century, there were 30 textile mills in Alamance county.
Burlington Industries was begun in Burlington in 1923 under the leadership of Spencer Love, who took a
chance on the new fiber rayon. Burlington expanded by acquisition and new growth and became the world’s
largest textile company by 1962. As economic conditions changed, Burlington gradually went into decline and
was bankrupt by 2002. Divisions survive under International Textile Group ownership
From the turn of the century onward, the city of Burlington added hosiery mills to supplement the textile business
and, half a century later, attained the status of Hosiery Center of the South. The first mill was established in
1896. In 1950, there were 54 hosiery manufacturers in Alamance County, and almost everyone worked in a
textile or hosiery-related business from the 1920s to the 1950s.
The present Alamance County textile companies are world-class international companies. Products include:
tapestries, automotive and industrial fabrics, indoor-outdoor fabrics, home décor and business interior textiles,
as well as several name brand hosiery operations.
Copyright 2007-2013 Gary Mock
Alamance County in 1893
showing prominent mill
Map located in the E.M. Holt
home now the
Alamance County Historical
Hwy 62 South
High Falls Mill, built
by Ben Trollinger
Granite Mills, Ben
Trollinger, Haw River, NC
John Newlin and Sons
Falls Neuse Manufacturing
George Swepson and
Glencoe Mill built by
James H. and William E.
Peter and Lafayette Holt
First Alamance mill operated by steam
Alamance Cotton Factory
EM Holt and William Carrington
on Alamance Creek, Alamance, NC
Source: UNC Archives Postcard collection
Copland Industries at
Carolina Mill 1869
J.H. and W.E. Holt
View January 1, 2008
Photo: Gary Mock
A view of the overgrown Bellemont mill
along NC 49 south of Graham on Big
An old poison ivy vine atop a wall -
Bellemont Cotton Mill