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Survey and Research Report on the

Cornelius Cotton Gin

1. Name and location of property: The property known as the Cornelius Cotton Gin is
located at 21328 Catawba Avenue, Cornelius, NC 28031.

2. Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of the property:

Hall Johnston Heirs LLC

1065 E. Morehead Street
Charlotte, NC 28204

3. Representative photographs of the property: This report contains representative

photographs of the property.

4. A map depicting the location of the property:

5. Current Tax Parcel Reference and Deed to the property: The tax parcel number is
00521212. The most recent deed to this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County

Deed Book 25322, Page 76, December 29, 2009. UTM coordinates are 512660.9 E and
3926451.8 N.

6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains a brief historical sketch
of the property prepared by Susan V. Mayer.

7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report contains a brief

architectural description prepared by Susan V. Mayer.

8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the criteria for
designation set forth in N.C.G.S 160A-400.5.

a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture and/or cultural


b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association:

9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal:

10. Portion of the Property Recommended for Designation:

Historical Essay

The Cornelius Cotton Gin serves as a remnant of the town of Cornelius’ origins as a

cotton weigh station. The original cotton gin was constructed by R.J. Stough, owner of Stough,

Cornelius & Co., who along with J.B. Cornelius founded Cornelius Cotton Mill. The existing

gin house was built circa 1919 by Southern Cotton Oil Company, who had purchased the gin

from Stough in 1910, to replace the previous structure. The Cornelius Cotton Gin is the sole

remaining early twentieth-century cotton gin in Mecklenburg County. The cotton gin provides

insight into the correlation between the growth of rural Mecklenburg communities and the local

cotton industry, especially through manufacturing facilities other than cotton mills.

Early Cotton Production in Northern Mecklenburg County

As with much of the southern United States, cotton was the primary cash crop.

Mecklenburg County was not settled until the 1740s, and settlers relied upon subsistence farming

rather than cash crops. Following the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793,

however, farmers increasingly included cotton in their crop rotations. Cotton production in the

United States exploded; in 1793, exports totaled 487,000 pounds, and a decade later had

increased to over 41 million pounds.1 By 1850, Mecklenburg County was third in the state in

cotton production. Two types of cotton were grown in the United States: upland cotton and Sea

Island cotton. Upland cotton was the most common and was grown in Mecklenburg County.

Sea Island cotton could only be grown along the southeastern Atlantic coast in South Carolina,

Georgia, and Florida.2

Figure 1 A sketch of the original cotton gin patented by Eli Whitney in 1793.
From Daniel A. Tompkins, History of Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte, from 1740 to 1900, Volume 1--Narrative
(Charlotte, NC: Observer Printing House, 1903), 94.

The cotton gin brought industrialized production to cotton farming and the agricultural

south. By 1802, over 2,000 “saws,” the mechanism in the gin by which seed was separated from

the cotton fiber, were in use in Mecklenburg County. Early cotton gins were small enough for

individual plantations to house. Local manufacturing magnate Daniel A. Tompkins describes the

typical gin in his history of Mecklenburg County:

This first cotton gin was a primitive affair, being nothing more extensive than a box about
three feet long, two feet high, and two feet wide. Inside the box was the simple
machinery that separated the seed from the lint about five times as fast as it could be done
by hand. The principal feature of Whitney's original model was a wooden cylinder
carrying annular rows of wire spikes […] which consisted of shaft carrying collars
separating circular saws, which passed through narrow spaces between ribs, through
which the seed could not pass.3

Many plantations had their own gin as well as other raw material processors. An advertisement

in the Charlotte Miners’ and Farmers’ Journal in 1831 offers a three hundred acre plantation

along Sugar Creek with “an excellent Mill Seat, good Saw-Mill and Cotton Gin.”4

By the late 1800s, cotton processing shifted from slower animal-driven machines to

steam-powered ones, which allowed for increased production. Cotton gins also were

concentrated with other raw material processing, such as corn or lumber. An 1880 letter in the

Charlotte Democrat noted, “Five years ago there was not a steam gin in all the neighborhood.

Now there are thirteen within ten miles.”5 With the introduction of steam gins and mills, large-

scale cotton processing replaced singular farm gins and mills. As Tompkins noted,

A good steam ginnery came to be as much a standard property as a mill for grinding corn
or flour. Whoever could attract the most public custom, gin the cheapest, and give the
best satisfaction, as to appearance of lint produced out of the same quality of cotton,
could make the most money.6

Cotton gins were built in rural towns, usually those with railroad depots for easy transport of the

ginned fiber to mills. By 1901, cotton gins were in operation in northern Mecklenburg County

railroad communities Derita, Croft, and Newell as well as Cornelius.7

Establishment of Cornelius, A Cotton Town

Cornelius is a relatively new town in Mecklenburg County, having only been

incorporated in 1893. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Davidson, which is

located along the Statesville road between Statesville and Charlotte, was the primary

marketplace for northern Mecklenburg County. Area farmers led the state in cotton production,

with 22,709 bales grown over 61,808 acres in 1889.8 By the 1880s, three merchants provided the

majority of goods and services for cotton farmers around the town: R.J. Stough Company, Sloan

Brothers, and Wood-Shelton Company. Each business had its own scales and cotton weigher, a

common practice for cotton merchants.9

However, in 1885, the Board of Aldermen in Charlotte appointed an official cotton

weigher for the city.10 This ignited a dispute between Stough and Sloan Brothers, for as

Cornelius resident J.M. Knox commented in a 1935 interview, “an agitation began in Davidson

for a similar official.”11 R.J. Stough was opposed to the appointment of an official cotton

weigher in Davidson while Sloan was in support. Opinions among the citizens of Davidson was

also split, for “some thought it was a waste of money to pay for weighing while others thought

that it was the only way to insure honest weighing.”12 An election was held in Davidson, with

residents voting in favor of having an official cotton weigher.13

R.J. Stough, having disagreed with the idea of an official cotton weigher, decided to

sidestep the new regulation. He built a small frame building outside the Davidson town limit at

the intersection of the Statesville road and Catawba River Road and installed a set of cotton

weighing scales in the back yard. While Stough retained his goods store in Davidson, he also

added products to the new location outside of town. Stough’s location at the base of a large hill

on the Statesville road heading into Davidson was a geographic advantage: when rainy weather

made the muddy road nearly impossible for heavy wagons to traverse, his cotton weigh station

became a convenient location for local cotton farmers to sell their crop. The popularity of the

new location led to its nickname of Liverpool, after the leading world cotton port in England.14

Figure 2 Farmer taking cotton to market.

From Daniel A. Tompkins, Cotton and Cotton Mills (Charlotte, NC: published by the author, 1901), 41.

Stough hired his brother-in-law Charles Worth Johnston to run his business in

Liverpool.15 Both men saw the potential for creating a center for cotton production, vertically

integrating the process from buying and processing the crop to spinning it into yarn and cloth for

sale. However, Stough did not have the capital to invest in such a large venture. He approached

local businessman J.B. Cornelius for financial backing, who readily accepted.16 As reported by

the Asheville Citizen in June 1887, “Stough, Cornelius & Co., will put up a factory on the Virgin

Springs place, 1 ¼ miles south of the town, on the A.T. & O. Railroad.”17

Cornelius Cotton Mill did not begin operations immediately. In 1889, machinery for the

mill had been received but “[the mill] will not begin operations yet awhile.”18 But by 1891, the

cotton mill was in full operation with shifts running around the clock. As noted by the

Statesville Record and Landmark, “Stough, Cornelius & Co. are now having the brick made to

build another factory as large as the one they are now running the whole 24 hours of the day. It

seems to be a great time of the manufacturing of cotton, of which there seems to be no scarcity,

even at 74 cents per pound.”19

Stough also invested in other ventures concerning cotton production in northern

Mecklenburg County. He was a founding stockholder in the Caldwell Ginning and Milling

Company, which was incorporated in August 1892 to service the Caldwell community just south

of Cornelius. Stough, Cornelius & Co. expanded their cotton operations with the addition of

cottonseed oil and fertilizer manufacturing facilities in 1903. Stough was also an original

stockholder and member of the board of directors of the Bank of Cornelius.20

The Cornelius Cotton Mill spurred new business and residential growth around its

location. A post office opened in the Stough-Cornelius Store in 1899, and the Bank of Cornelius

was founded in 1903. Cotton manufacturing in Cornelius continued to grow with the opening of

a second mill, the Gem Yarn Mill, in that same year. J.B. Cornelius also served as president of

that board, and both R.J. Stough and son Patrick were on the board of directors. With the growth

of the area, residents decided to incorporate as a town. On March 4, 1905, the crossroads

formerly known as Liverpool was incorporated as Cornelius, named after the cotton mill’s

primary investor J.B. Cornelius.21 Cornelius had grown into a regional center of cotton

production and a thriving small town.

Cornelius Cotton Gin

In addition to the Cornelius Cotton Mill, Stough, Cornelius & Co. constructed a cotton

gin adjacent to their store in Cornelius in the early 1890s. According to local historian Leslie

Rindoks, R.J. Stough had envisioned “a process that would cover the entire cycle of cotton

production, from selling the seed to weaving the cloth, with profit at every juncture.”22 The

pairing of mercantile establishments and gins and mills was common. At Matthews, the

Funderburk and Renfrow stores had attached cotton gins. The Hinson store near Mint Hill also

operated a grist mill and cotton gin.23

Farmers from north Mecklenburg County and eastern Lincoln County would come to

Cornelius to sell their cotton at Stough, Cornelius & Co. Local historian Jack Conard reported

that Cornelius residents told of lines of cotton-laden wagons stretching three blocks from the gin

down Catawba Avenue to the railroad tracks.24 Wagons held approximately 1,500 pounds of

seed cotton of which about 500 pounds was cotton fiber. Cotton farmers would pay their ginning

fees by selling about three-quarters of their seed to the gins, with the remainder returned to the

farmer for next year’s crop. Cotton was picked in late summer, and the ginning season would

last throughout the fall into December.25

Figure 3 Interior view of typical gin house set up with gin stands, condenser, and bale press.
From F.H. Lummus Sons Co. Catalogue, 1909, cited in Karen Gerhardt Britton, Bale O’ Cotton: The Mechanical Art of Cotton
Ginning (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1992), 79-80.

The process of ginning cotton was similar in all cotton-growing regions. The cotton

harvesting season began in August and usually ended in December. Mule-drawn wagons

brought loose cotton, which consisted of the bolls with the seed and some stems attached, to the

gin. At the Cornelius Cotton Gin, the wagon would pull under the covered pull-through where a

platform scale would weigh the wagon, mules, and cotton—the weight of the wagon and mules

would be determined after the cotton was removed. A duct pipe hanging from above would be

placed over the wagon. The loose cotton would be suctioned into the pipe, which ran into the

interior of the gin house, and was heated to dry the dew-wetted fiber for better processing. The

drying process was also important, notes Rod Whisnant, because some farmers would try to be

clever and wet their cotton to make it weigh more; gins usually caught on to this ruse quickly.

The suction system would deposit the cotton into a separator, which would then deposit the

cotton into the gin stands, machines that separated the seed from cotton lint with saw-toothed

rollers. The gin stands were located in the west side of the gin interior. Seed would be fed along

a conveyor track into the seed house located east of the cotton gin. The gin stands were

connected to a condenser, a large machine with fine wires inside. The cotton lint would be

blown into the condenser through the wires to form batts. The batts would then be placed in the

bale press to be compacted into five hundred pound bales. After being secured with steel tape

and either jute or burlap bagging, the bale was lifted using a pulley system out of the gin into

waiting wagons for transport to warehouses.26

The ginning equipment was powered by a steam, and later oil, engine. The engine, drive

shaft, and belts were located below the ginning floor. The exterior layout of the Cornelius

Cotton Gin indicates that this system was used. The brick foundation walls at the southeast and

southwest corners of the gin have low square openings that have been filled with concrete; these

openings were once doorways for accessing the engine and other equipment.27

Figure 4 This cotton warehouse owned by cotton broker Clifton Smith was located adjacent to the Cornelius Cotton Gin.
From the personal collection of Rod and Miriam Whisnant.

The ginned cotton was stored in a cotton warehouse adjacent to the gin until transport to a

cotton mill. Before ginning, a cotton broker would cut samples from farmers’ waiting wagons

and negotiate purchase prices. One of the primary cotton brokers in Cornelius who purchased

cotton from the gin was Clifton Smith of Stough-Smith Cotton Brokers. Smith sold the cotton

mostly to Cannon Mill in Kannapolis and Kindley Mill in Mt. Pleasant, both in Cabarrus County,

though some ginned cotton was purchased by Gem Yarn Mill in Cornelius. Any cotton he

purchased from the Cornelius Cotton Gin was stored in a cotton warehouse just west of the gin.28

In August 1908, Stough, Cornelius & Co. installed new gin equipment in their gin house,

with assurances that “they will have [the equipment] installed by the time new cotto (sic) is ready

to gin.”29 Up-to-date and well-maintained gin equipment was important in producing superior

fiber to sell to cotton brokers. According to Rex Childress, a former cotton mill owner, some

gins did not produce good fiber because the saw teeth pulled too much on the fibers. A fiber

length of 7/8” was preferable for spinning into yarn; 1/2" fibers could not be spun and were

typically sold for less as filler material.30

Two years later, in August 1910, Stough, Cornelius & Co. sold its cotton gin and

approximately 2 acres of land adjoining its store in Cornelius to the Southern Cotton Oil

Company of Charlotte for $5,000.31 Noted Charlotte industrialist Daniel A. Tompkins had

partnered with local cottonseed mill owner Fred Oliver in 1887 to found Southern Cotton Oil,

which manufactured what had been useless cottonseed left from the ginning process into

cottonseed oil, feed, and fertilizer. The partners quickly built eight mills then sold their shares in

the company. By the early 1900s, Southern Cotton Oil had cottonseed mills throughout the

southern United States. The company also operated a cottonseed mill and gin in nearby

Davidson as well as one in Pineville.32 The Charlotte Evening Chronicle reported that the

Cornelius Cotton Gin produced 30 to 40 bales of cotton a day during Southern Cotton Oil’s first

season of ownership in 1910.

Figure 5 The seed house, ca. 1916, was located east of the cotton gin.
From the personal collection of Rod and Miriam Whisnant.

In 1916, Southern Cotton Oil added a new seed house to the gin site. A few years later,

probably in 1919, a new gin house was built, with three Pratt gin stands of eighty saw each

installed. The Daniel Pratt Gin Company of Prattville, Alabama, founded in 1833, was a major

gin equipment manufacturer. In 1899 the company had merged with five other gin

manufacturers to form the Continental Gin Company, though Pratt continued to manufacture gin

equipment under their proprietary name. Improved wagon and platform scales were also added

to the Cornelius Cotton Gin.33

In 1920, Southern Cotton Oil sold the cotton gin. The sale of the Cornelius Cotton Gin

came at a time of upheaval in the American cotton market. The boll weevil began a disastrous

infestation of the southern cotton crop, with the wiping out of Sea Island cotton in 1917 costing

farmers along the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coasts millions of dollars.34 With

cottonseed oil mills and gins across the country, Southern Cotton Oil Company may have been

looking to divest itself of some properties, especially considering the company had a cottonseed

oil plant and gin in Davidson.

The Farmers Company

Southern Cotton Oil Company sold the property to The Farmers Company, a corporation

formed in that year by five shareholders—P.A. Stough and S.T. Stough, both sons of R.J.

Stough; Frank C. Sherrill, nephew of J.B. Cornelius; W.R. Potts; and J.A. Sherrill—to “own and

operate cotton gins, oil mills, corn and wheat mills, to buy and sell cotton, cotton seed, seed

products and fertilizers, and also to operate and maintain storage warehouses.”35 Immediately,

the company had to expand their operations when the boll weevil made its way to Mecklenburg

County in September 1921. The Farmers Company began cleaning seed in addition to ginning

cotton to increase revenue.36 The company also acquired property in Huntersville in 1926, and

constructed a smaller gin in that town.37

Figure 6 Employee William Gaither Cashion in front of the Cornelius Cotton Gin, ca. 1930s.
From the personal collection of Jack Conard.

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 brought much hardship to the cotton farmers

of Mecklenburg County. Cotton prices had plummeted over the previous decade from a high of

38 cents per pound in 1919 to eleven cents per pound in 1926. While prices continued to decline

before bottoming out at five cents per pound in 1931, the timing was unfortunate. Many farmers

had difficulty in paying their ginning fees. In this case, the ginner would sell the cotton and pay

the farmer after the ginning fees had been settled.38 Farmers were not along in suffering during

the Great Depression. The number of cotton gins across the South decreased during the 1930s,

and North Carolina saw the greatest decline with twelve percent of its cotton gins closing

between 1934 and 1938; in nearby Croft, the Davis gin closed and was dismantled.39

Figure 7 This 1938 aerial image shows the Cornelius Cotton Gin and adjacent seed house (red), Clifton Smith’s cotton
warehouse (blue), the Gem Yarn Mill (yellow), and the Cornelius Cotton Mill (green).

Cotton production in Mecklenburg County, which had been dominated by small farmers,

gradually decreased. Small cotton farmers found themselves steadily pushed out of the industry.

Several factors contributed to this change. First, as noted by cotton historian Karen Gerhardt

Britton, “the Bankhead Bill of 1936 reduced cotton acreage in an effort to stabilize production

and raise prices.”40 Labor shortages during the war also contributed to the industrialization of

cotton farming. After World War II, mechanized pickers and other apparatuses found

widespread use by farmers. This equipment best performed on large fields rather than the

smaller plots more commonly found throughout the South. Texas and California, which had vast

spaces for extensive agricultural undertakings, became major cotton producing states. Finally,

the production of synthetic fibers such as nylon and rayon were cheaper and required less labor,

further eroding the cotton market.

Figure 8 Clifton Smith in the cotton fields at Potts Plantation in Cornelius in 1951.
Photo courtesy of Miriam Smith Whisnant.

Diversification of business interests was imperative to cotton gins in a period when

widespread cotton farming waned in North Carolina. While cotton acreage in the state increased

immediately after World War II, by the mid-1950s a permanent decline had begun. In 1953

farmers planted 786,000 acres of cotton; twenty years later, only 186,000 acres of cotton were

planted in North Carolina.41 In response to the economic environment, the Farmers Company

realigned its business interests to meet the changing demands of agriculture. The corporation’s

1951 Certificate of Amendment to the corporate charter stated, “Whereas its appears that the

objects for which the corporation was formed should be broadened in order that the corporation

may engage in such businesses as to meet current needs of farmers,” and the filing added the

following statement to its charter:

To buy and sell feed and seed, farm supplies, farm machinery and equipment, building,
electrical and plumbing materials and fixtures. To cure, can, bottle, freeze, and otherwise
process any and all farm products including crop, dairy, poultry, forest, and garden

The Farmers Company operated the Cornelius Cotton Gin into the 1960s. Jack Conard

noted that local resident Mike Knox reported selling cotton to the gin when Lake Norman was

filling up in 1962-1963.43 But cotton ginning around the state was in decline. Between 1956 and

1958, the number of active gins in the state decreased from 373 to 312. In contrast, cotton gins

in North Carolina in 1930 numbered over 1,200.44 By 1968 the Cornelius Cotton Gin was no

longer operating, with only a feed mill noted as a small manufacturer in the town. 45

Mike Armstrong, who began work at the Farmers Company in 1968, remembers that the

cotton gin ceased operation around 1965.46 Other cotton gins in Mecklenburg County gradually

ceased operation as well. In the Ramah community near Huntersville, the Bradford gin closed

in 1953 after a second fire destroyed the building. The former Miller cotton gin in Pineville,

constructed in 1915, operated until the 1970s. The cotton gin behind the Renfrow store on North

Trade Street in Matthews was active until 1965; the structure was dismantled in the 1980s.47

Figure 9 This 1978 aerial image shows the Cornelius Cotton Gin as a storage building for The Farmers Company. Silos for feed
and other products surround the former gin. The seed house is still extant at this point.

In Cornelius, structural remnants of the town’s cotton history gradually disappeared. The

Cornelius Cotton Mill was sold to Ix Company in 1944, which operated the cotton mill until

August 1954. The mill reopened in early 1960 under the Samuel Hird and Sons banner but

abruptly shuttered in January 1961. The following year, the Gem Yarn Mill closed. Reeves

Brothers, a polymer manufacturer, also utilized the facility during this period, but by 1988 the

former Cornelius Cotton Mill sat empty. In July 1997 the cotton mill, by this time an eyesore

impeding the development of downtown Cornelius, was demolished. Plans for the area called

for a new town hall, public space, and mixed-use development. The Gem Yarn Mill was saved

and converted into an art community and commercial business space.48

After the cotton gin ceased operation, The Farmers Company continued to operate a feed

and garden store, later affiliated with Ralston Purina. A hip-roofed addition was added to the

north elevation of the gin in the 1970s or 1980s to serve as a garden center. Also, the original

1916 seed house as well as another seed house constructed after 1938 were torn down to make

way for a new, larger metal building to store goods. The gin itself also was used to store pet

food, plants, and other products. Rod and Miriam Whisnant took over The Farmers Company in

about 1990 after he retired. Miriam’s great-uncle W.R. Potts was a founding stockholder in the

business, and his stock had passed through the family down to her. The Whisnants operated the

store until July 1999, when increased local competition from national chains pushed the

company out of business after 80 years.49

The gin equipment, including four gin stands, and scales, which had remained in the

building since its closure, unfortunately were sold without authorization. The only remnant of

the equipment once in the cotton gin is a duct system in the rafters at the northeast corner of the

gin interior with ducts puncturing the walls to extend outside to the pull-through. The ducts were

part of the suction system which unloaded the loose cotton from wagons and trucks.50

The Cornelius Cotton Gin is one of the few remaining structures in Cornelius from its

heyday as a cotton town. No historic cotton gins remain in Mecklenburg County, and few have

been highlighted throughout the state. Only one cotton gin contemporary to the Cornelius

Cotton Gin has been listed on the National Register, the Speight Cotton Gin in Edenton. In

addition, the only other remaining cotton structure in Cornelius is the Gem Yarn Mill.

Preservation of the Cornelius Cotton Gin is synonymous with the protection of the foundation of

Cornelius as a cotton town.

Architectural Description

The Cornelius Cotton Gin is situated at the west corner of a parcel facing Catawba

Avenue which contains three total structures: a one-story metal building at the east corner of the

property nearest to Catawba Avenue (formerly The Farmers Company feed store) and a larger

one-story metal building at the south corner of the property. The site is rotated at approximately

a 45 degree angle from the north-south axis. For the purposes of this description, the building

elevations will be described using cardinal directions, with the northeast elevation described as

the north elevation and so forth.

The topography of the site is varied. From Catawba Avenue to the addition on the north

elevation of the cotton gin, the site is fairly level. But from the front of the structure to the

southeast corner of the property, the slope increases, dropping approximately 10 feet. What may

have been a retaining wall and is now a steep dirt incline approximately 5 feet in height forms

the boundary between the drive into the gin house and the rapid change in topography on the

west elevation of the cotton gin.

The Cornelius Cotton Gin, built circa 1919, is a large wood-framed structure with a gable

roof. The exterior consists of both corrugated (on the north, east, and south elevations) and

newer Strongrib metal siding (on the west elevation) applied directly to the wood frame. The

principal mass of the building is the gable-roofed gin house. A shed roofed porch extends off the

east elevation of the cotton gin. A single-story hip-roofed addition was added at a later date,

most like the 1970s or 1980s, to the north side of the cotton gin. The addition, which has a metal

roof and wood lattice and metal siding on the wood frame walls, extends beyond the east and

west elevations of the cotton gin and is built directly adjacent to the north exterior wall.

Figure 10 North elevation of the Cornelius Cotton Gin.

The north elevation of the cotton gin, which faces Catawba Avenue, has a gable end one

bay wide. The center of the gable has a faded square metal sign affixed to the outside. The hip-

roofed addition stands in front of the cotton gin; it is seven bays wide with gates in the second,

fourth, and sixth bays.

Figure 11 West elevation of the Cornelius Cotton Gin.

The west elevation, which includes the hip-roofed addition plus the cotton gin structure,

is seven bays wide. The first bay of the cotton gin is an opening which passes through to the east

elevation in which wagons and trucks would pull under to be weighed and for the cotton lint to

be suctioned into the gin house. Each of the remaining six bays of the west elevation once had a

tall window. However, these windows have been removed, and the openings have been covered

with corrugated metal siding. The fourth and sixth bays of this elevation have small rectangular

windows installed in a portion of the former window openings. Located just above the former

window opening in the second bay is a round hole that has been covered with sheet metal; the

pipe which passed through this hole was probably the smokestack from the heater in the office

inside the gin house. The brick foundation of the gin house is visible beyond the steep drop

beyond the driveway into the wagon bay. At the corner of the west and south elevation, the

foundation is nearly 9 feet tall. Between the sixth and seventh bay at the base of the foundation

is a single metal ventilation grate. In the foundation below the former window openings of the

sixth and seventh bays are two square openings which have been filled with cement. Wood

lintels are visible in the crack between the top of the cement fill and the brick foundation.

Figure 12 South elevation of the Cornelius Cotton Gin.

The south elevation of the Cornelius Cotton Gin is four bays wide and is gabled. The

fourth bay is the enclosed back side of the shed porch which extends from the east elevation.

The three bays of the cotton gin house feature two former window openings, also with the

windows removed and openings covered with corrugated metal, flanking a large doorway which

also has been covered with corrugated metal. Above the former doorway is a square opening at

the top of the gable, covered with corrugated metal. The brick foundation has another square

opening, similar to those on the west elevation, which has a wood lintel and has been sealed with

cement. Flanking the doorway are protruding pairs of rebar level with the base of the doorway,

remnants of the frame system used to lift baled cotton out of the gin into waiting wagons for

transport to warehouses. Below the doorway, approximately ten rectangular openings about two

feet from the ground appear to have been for the support of a wooden loading dock.

Figure 13 East elevation of the Cornelius Cotton Gin.

The east elevation of the cotton gin, which includes the hip-roofed addition plus the

cotton gin structure, is six bays wide. The first three bays are comprised of a shed roof porch

extending out from the principal mass of the gin. The shed porch roof is supported by framed

walls on the two ends with a center column, all with y-frame supports. An irregularly-shaped

concrete block loading dock, added at a later date, extends out from the porch. Under the porch,

the flanking bays each have a large doorway into the open interior of the gin. The left door is a

sliding metal barn door hung on a horizontal railing. The right door is a wood-framed metal door

on a reverse right-hand pivot hinge. The center bay under the porch is perforated with four small

horizontally rectangular windows with the window heads even with the door heads. The fourth

bay of the elevation is a blank wall with corrugated metal. The fifth bay is the pull-through

opening through to the east elevation for the wagons and trucks.

Figure 14 View of the south-facing interior elevation of the pull-through.

The interior pull-through has two elevations. The south-facing elevation of the pull-

through, which has the hip-roofed addition built directly against it, is wood framed with

corrugated metal applied directly to the exterior and rests upon a brick base. This elevation

formerly had three openings across the bottom, indicated by the y-shaped framing, but they have

been covered with plywood.

Figure 15 North-facing interior elevation of the pull-through.

The north-facing elevation is three bays wide. The center bay has a wide door opening

which has been framed in with double doors opening into the interior of the gin. Above the

double doors is a square opening through the wall now filled with composite corrugated panels.

The base of this wall is also brick. Various round metal ducts puncture this elevation, most

likely remnants of the suction system for unloading cotton from wagons and trucks. The Howe

roof trusses and metal roofing are visible both in the pull-through and in the gin interior.

Figure 16 Interior of the cotton gin looking to the north. Visible are the office enclosure (left) and duct system (right).

The interior of the Cornelius Cotton Gin is a large open space with the wall and roof

framing visible. The current occupant, a furniture refinishing business, has covered some of the

interior walls and roof rafters with plastic house wrap. Immediately to the right upon entering

through the double doors in the pull-through is a wood framed full-light glazed office enclosure.

The office is four bays wide and four bays deep. To the left of the double doors is a duct system,

most likely a remnant of the suction system used to unload cotton from wagons and trucks. At

the southeast corner of the interior, the floor slopes toward what was most likely a floor drain

which drained away oil and water expressed from the cotton bale press.

North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Handbook of North Carolina (Raleigh, NC: Edwards and Broughton,
1893), 218.
Richard Mattson and William Huffman, Historic and Architectural Resources of Rural Mecklenburg County,
North Carolina, 1990, E3-4; Sherry J. Joines and Dan L. Morrill, Historic Rural Resources in Mecklenburg County,
North Carolina,, accessed June 1, 2015.

Daniel A. Tompkins, History of Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte, Volume 1 (Charlotte, NC:
Observer Printing House, 1903), 96. While Whitney invented the cotton gin, Hodgen Holmes improved the
machine by replacing Whitney’s seed separator, a wire-spiked roller, with a saw mechanism.
Miners’ and Farmers’ Journal, February 10, 1831.
“New York Correspondence of the Democrat,” Charlotte Democrat, October 15, 1880.
Daniel A. Tompkins, Cotton and Cotton Mills (Charlotte, NC: published by the author, 1901), 67.
Fifteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor and Printing of the State of North Carolina for the Year 1901,
(Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton, 1902), 495-496.
Handbook of North Carolina, 220.
Leslie B. Rindocks, A Town by Any Other Name (Davidson, NC: Lorimer Press, 2005), 22-23.
Laws and Resolutions of the State of North Carolina (Raleigh, NC: P.M. Hale, 1885), 778-779.
Fannie Lou Bingham, “Cornelius Owes Birth to Business Dispute,” Charlotte News, September 27, 1935.
The History of Cornelius (Cornelius, NC: Cornelius Jaycees, 1971): 30. Hereafter referred to as Jaycees.
Rindocks, 23. When the town of Davidson College changed its name to Davidson in 1891, Section 36 of the new
town charter granted the board of commissioners the power to appoint a cotton weigher. Laws and Resolutions of
the State of North Carolina, (Raleigh, NC: Josephus Daniels, State Printer and Binder, 1891), 82.
Rindocks, 23; Jaycees, 30.
Johnston would later own his own cotton mills, including Highland Park Mills in Charlotte. Mary Beth Gatza,
Johnston Building, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, May 27, 1991,
Jaycees, 30,
Asheville Citizen, June 16, 1887.
“Davidson College, April 22, 1889, Carolina Watchman, April 25, 1889.
“Progress at Davidson College,” Statesville Record and Landmark, September 3, 1891.
Charlotte Democrat, August 26, 1892; “Chartered by the State,” Wilmington Messenger, September 26, 1903;
Rindoks, 27.
Jaycees, 29-30; Charlotte Observer, January 11, 1913; Rindoks, 27.
Rindoks, 25.
Richard Mattson, “The Rise of the Small Towns,” Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission,, accessed July 14, 2015; Lara Ramsey, “Survey and
Research Report on the Eli H. and Francis M. Hinson Store,” Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks
Commission, July 10, 2004,,
accessed July 14, 2015.
Interview with Jack Conard, June 29, 2015.
Karen Gerhardt Britton, Bale O’ Cotton: The Mechanical Art of Cotton Ginning (College Station, TX: Texas
A&M University Press, 1992), 80-82.
Interview with Rod and Miriam Whisnant, July 31, 2015; Britton, 62-73; James R. Lewis, “Texas Gin House
Architecture: A Survey and Case Study of the Cotton Gin as a Historic Building Type” (thesis, University of Texas
at Austin, 1987), 70-72.
Interview with Rod and Miriam Whisnant, July 31, 2015.
Interview with Rod and Miriam Whisnant, July 31, 2015.
“Doings at Cornelius,” Charlotte News, August 4, 1908.
Interview with Rex Childress, July 9, 2015.
Mecklenburg County Deed Book 263, Pages 631-632.
Luther A. Ransom, The Great Cottonseed Industry of the South (New York: Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter, 1911),
18; William S. Powell, ed., “Daniel Augustus Tompkins,” Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (Chapel Hill,
NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996),
“Cotton Selling at Cornelius,” Evening Chronicle, October 1, 1910; Mecklenburg County Deed Book 435, Pages
129-131; Britton, 34, 76.
Britton, 78.
The Farmers Company, Certificate of Incorporation, Secretary of State of North Carolina, May 27, 1920.
“Boll Weevil Is in This County,” Charlotte News, September 7, 1921.
Interview with Rod and Miriam Whisnant, July 31, 2015; Mecklenburg County Deed Book 617, Page 508.
Britton, 90, 96.

G.S. Meloy, “Some Economic Aspects of Present Cotton-Gin Emplacements” (presentation, Conference of State
Cotton Gin Engineers, Stoneville, MS, April 8-10, 1940), 5; Richard Mattson, William Huffman, and Claudia
Brown, “Croft Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, December 1998, S8-7.
Britton, 96.
North Carolina Historical Crop Estimates, 1866-1974, North Carolina Crop and Livestock Reporting Service 143
(January 1981), 9.
Certificate of Amendment of The Farmers Company, Secretary of State of North Carolina, July 28, 1951.
Interview with Jack Conard, July 9, 2015.
W. Glenn Tussey and M. Elton Thigpen, “Costs of Ginning Cotton in North Carolina,” North Carolina
Agricultural Extension Service (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State College, 1958), 1.
Cornelius, North Carolina and Davidson, North Carolina Land Use Survey and Analysis and Land Development
Plan, North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development (July 1968), 4.
Phone Interview with Jack Conard, July 28, 2015.
Emily Ramsey and Lara Ramsey, “Survey and Research Report on the Bradford Farm and Store,” Charlotte
Mecklenburg Hitsoric Landmarks Commission, April 18, 2002,, accessed July 27, 2015;
Stewart Gray and Paula Stathakis, “Survey and Research Report on the Oakley House,” Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Landmarks Commission,,
May 2003, accessed July 14, 2015; Dan L. Morrill and Nora M. Black, “Renfrow Hardware Store,” Charlotte
Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission,, May 28, 1991, accessed July3,
“Cornelius Mill Reopening, Will Provide 600 Jobs,” Charlotte Observer, July 29, 1959; “Hird Mill at Cornelius
Will Be Closed Soon,” Charlotte Observer, January 17, 1961; Jaycees, 20; Rindoks, 109, 115.
Interview with Rod and Miriam Whisnant, July 31, 2015; “After 79 Years, Cornelius Store to Close Shop,”
Charlotte Observer, July 11, 1999; Interview with Jack Conard, June 29, 2015.
Interview with Rod and Miriam Whisnant, July 31, 2015.


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