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Is a mill worker house worth preserving as historic? Charlotte historians say yes

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission is saving one of the county’s old mill worker houses, located 303 Delburg Street Davidson in Davidson. The home is considered an artifact of the county’s textile mill industry.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission is saving one of the county’s old mill worker houses, located 303 Delburg Street Davidson in Davidson. The home is considered an artifact of the county’s textile mill industry.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission is best known for saving handsome structures that are in danger of being torn down for new development.

But last week the commission proved it also values not-so-pretty structures when it announced that an unabashedly modest mill house at 303 Delburg Street in Davidson is being preserved as a landmark.

The Delburg Cotton Mill House is worth the effort because it is a reminder of the region’s once thriving textile industry, said Dan Morrill of the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Many such houses have been lost, particularly in Davidson, because the property is valuable even if the homes are not, he said.

“But they are valuable,” Morrill says. “So many things we save are pretty buildings, but (historic preservation) is more complicated than that. They are big artifacts and they ought to reflect the diversity and history of the community. That’s what we’re doing by saving that house.”

The Delburg Cotton Mill House is being rescued through a catch-and-release program in which the commission buys property, attaches preservation covenants to the deed, then resells it with a promise that it will be preserved by new owners. In this case, a local judge is under contract to buy the Delburg Cotton Mill House and will live in it.

It’s the first property in Davidson that the commission has saved in such a manner, said Morrill, noting the town’s cotton mill past has been largely forgotten. The Delburg Cotton Mill opened there in 1907, taking its name from the last syllables of Iredell and Mecklenburg.

A mill village of workers’ homes was built along Delburg and Watson streets, at one point housing about 300 people, historians say. The mill closed in April 1947 and is now occupied by retail stores and offices, Morrill said.

“They were not wealthy and influential. But their contributions collectively to the economy of Davidson were just as important as the accomplishments of the professors at Davidson College or those of the merchants who operated stores in the town,” Morrill said.

“To preserve only the beautiful and architecturally sophisticated buildings would give a skewed image of what Mecklenburg County has been.”

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