200 Years of Making History
Rocky Mount Mills’ 200 year history makes us one of North Carolina’s most interesting destinations. But it’s what we’re doing now and where we’re going that makes us so inspiring.
Established in 1818, Rocky Mount Mills is believed to be the second oldest cotton mill in the state, and was the longest in operation until closing at the end of the twentieth century.
Once the manufacturing engine of a bygone era, the mill and surrounding neighborhood have been reborn as a complete live-work-play community. Walking the grounds, you can take in meticulously restored historic buildings brimming with thoroughly modern pursuits.
Then & Now
In the early 1800s, pioneers constructed a dam across the Tar River at a rocky outcropping forming natural falls. They also built a grist and sawmill as well as a cotton gin at the site. The town of Rocky Mount, named after this location, would later be formed one mile to the south.
The mill complex evolved over time on approximately 20 acres south of the Tar River. Cotton proved to be the most successful product created there. And while the mill had to be rebuilt on two occasions because of fire, it remained in operation until 1996.
Situated atop a grassy slope, The Battle House was commissioned in 1835 by Benjamin Battle, one of the sons of Joel Battle, founder of the mill. Today, the beautifully restored house serves as the campus’ administrative headquarters and overlooks concerts and festivals on its lawn.
Across the street is Mill Village. Developed well over a century ago as housing for some of the mill’s workforce, each home has been lovingly modernized to create a bustling neighborhood.
Slave Labor & Civil Rights
As we write a new chapter in the evolution of this notable site, Rocky Mount Mills is making a thoughtful effort to recognize the roles of peoples often left out of history.
For at least the first thirty years of operations, human labor for the Rocky Mount Mills came from slaves and free persons of color. In the decades immediately following the Civil War, white men, women and children formed the workforce. African Americans took on segregated mill-work roles in the twentieth century, but throughout the community’s history black labor–whether in the fields, on the loading docks, in the kitchen–was crucial to the economy.
The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill is leading an ongoing project through the Community Histories Workshop to chronicle our story. A core component of the project includes sharing that history with the community via oral histories, digitization of archived materials and dynamic displays throughout Rocky Mount Mills’ campus.
Expansion & Reinvention
As noted, the early history of the complex is marked by several fires that necessitated large-scale rebuilding projects. In one case, Union troops set the mill ablaze during the Civil War.
In response to the fires, subsequent buildings employed masonry exterior walls and fire protection systems that used water pumped from the river. As the cotton mill grew and operations became more specific, many large additions were added to the complex.
The current development is comprised of buildings from antebellum, postwar, and twentieth century eras, and is bounded by the Tar River to the North, Falls Road to the West, and Elm Street to the South.
In the early 21st century, Capitol Broadcasting Company, which led the restoration of the acclaimed American Tobacco Campus in Durham, bought Rocky Mount Mills and began reinventing it as a mixed-use destination. In 2017, Envolve Vision signed on as the campus’ first corporate headquarters.
With 2018 marking the mills’ 200th anniversary, we hope to see you here, too — helping us continue to make history.
Burned Down & Rebuilt