History of the Quilt


Project Description

Evaluations of Accomplishments

Future Plans for the Project

Proposal Letter

Request to Commissioners

Biographies by Homemakers Clubs

Biographies by Friends of the Library

Historical Sketch of Erwin, N.C. by Erwin Extension Homemakers Club for Harnett County Historical Quilt Project, 1989


Leaders in the Erwin Cotton Mills Company of Durham, N.C., Mill #1, wishing to expand their operations, sent an agent in 1892 to Harnett County looking for a suitable site for a new mill and town. Hearsay has it that the Duke brothers, W.A. Erwin, and others from the Durham company had discovered the perfect spot earlier while on a hunting and fishing trip in Harnett County. The abundance of cotton grown in this area and the proximity of the Cape Fear River, no doubt, determined the selection of the site. Whatever the story, land was bought along the Cape Fear River, and on April 20, 1892, the town of Erwin was chartered.

The incorporators of the Erwin Cotton Mills Company of Durham, that later became Erwin Mills, Inc. were: B.N. Duke, President; George W. Watts, Vice-President; W.A. Erwin, Secretary and Treasurer; other members, Washington Duke and W.W. Fuller.

Although the town had been named Erwin in honor of the mill manager, W.A. Erwin, the name was changed to Duke when the post office was moved from Turlington's Crossroads. Mr. Erwin had wanted to honor Benjamin Duke who had, along with him, built the mill and town. However, with the establishment of the Duke Endowment and the building of Duke University, the town of Duke again became the town of Erwin on January 1, 1926.

By 1902, the necessary acreage had been acquired and they set out to clear the land and prepare for the building of the new mill and town. As the mill neared completion and dwellings were built, the Company began recruiting workers. People from surrounding counties moved to Erwin in search of a better life. Most of them came from farms, and at the mill, the whole family could work and thus increase their cash income and hopefully improve their standard of living. At this time in history, small farmers were struggling to make a living and hoping to hold on to their land. The area was still reeling from the defeat of the South in the War Between The States. Progress was slow and life was hard. To these people the mill was a golden opportunity.

The first house was built in 1901 on the corner where Carolina Central Bank is now located. Five families lived in that house while others were being built, and for a time the wives served meals out-of-doors to everyone working to build the mill and town. until 1951 -after the mill had been sold -all the houses were owned and maintained by the mill, with workers paying a small monthly rental fee. (about $2.00 per room.)

By 1905, the Erwin plant Mill #2 was in full operation with 1,024 looms and 35,000 spindles for every need of its employees. The Erwin Mills Company also owned every commercial building in the town, renting them to various merchants as the town grew. The Bank of Harnett and the E.R. Thomas Drug Store opened in 1904 and two years later the Hassell Johnson Dry Goods and Grocery Store was built. About this time the first school was opened and held over the dry goods store. Children had to climb up the iron fire escape on the outside of the building to reach their classrooms.

The first hospital was built by W.A. Erwin so that town residents could have medical attention. Early doctors were Dr. McFadgen and Dr. Murphy. Dr. W.P. Holt, who began practice in 1904, is credited with establishing Good Hope Hospital in 1910, the first hospital in the county.

Religious services were first held outside near the mill, and later communally in a large warehouse; but by 1903, the mill had begun to give each religious denomination a lot on which to build its own church. All had built by 1907. The first denominations were Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist.

All commercial buildings were owned by the Company and rented to the merchants. No one lived in Erwin except employees of the mill and their families. If a person got fired he had to move out of town. If he decided to pursue some other type of employment, he had to vacate immediately.

The town of Erwin had a park, complete with swimming pool, bathhouse, and lighted tennis court. Band concerts were held each Sunday, and outdoor movies were shown on Saturday nights. And everything was completely controlled by the mill.

Around 1950, the Company was sold to a firm in South Carolina and this precipitated the sale of property. Since this new company was only interested in the manufacturing of cloth, it began selling the houses to the employees.

The commercial buildings were also offered for sale. Erwin was now just another town, and the mill just a place to work. Life was very different from what it had been.

In 1967 the citizens voted to incorporate the town. With this incorporation, came the election of a mayor and town commissioners thus instituting the type of government it has today.

Submitted by: Faye Jordan, President

Erwin Extension Homemakers Club (1989)

and Leah Woodall, Board Member of Friends of the Harnett Library (1993)

(Parts from each source compiled by Evelyn Byrd, ) Quilt Coordinator April 1993