Francis Marion Pickett saw opportunity in the rapid expansion of the textile industry in the South in the earliest years of the twentieth century. His hometown, High Point, had all of the necessary requirements to start a local mill: plenty of electricity, access to the railroad, and a large pool of available workers. Though the city had traditionally focused on the manufacture of wood furniture and had not invested heavily in textiles, changes began with the establishment of the High Point Hosiery Mill in 1904.
Pickett partnered with his brother W. P. Pickett and others to incorporate a cotton mill in 1910, and employed the services of prolific mill architect, Lockwood, Greene, & Co, to design an expansive building on High Point’s far western boundary. The architectural firm began in 1832 – the earliest years of the industrial revolution in textile manufacturing – when founder David Whitman provided mill design services throughout New England advising industrialists on the placement, design and construction of factories. When Whitman died in 1858, Amos Lockwood took over the business which he relocated to Boston. Stephen Greene joined him in 1882, and the firm’s scope expanded to supplying all necessary architectural and engineering services. The publication Textile World Record announced in March 1911:
“Contract for the erection of buildings for the Pickett Cotton Mills has been awarded to the Central Carolina Construction Co. of Greensboro, North Carolina. As noted previously, the plant will have 12,000 spindles and 300 looms to be operated by electric power from the High Point plant of the Southern Power Co. Lockwood, Greene & Co. of Boston have prepared plans.”
This classic cotton mill was constructed with thick brick walls and an external stair tower. Insurance companies maintained standards for the buildings they insured, and specified fireproofing procedures that gave cotton mill buildings their distinctive appearance. For example, stairwells had to be located outside the main block of the building in order to prevent fire from spreading to higher floors. Therefore, the stair tower at the Pickett Mill stands in front of the main building. Enormous windows let in the light of day for task work and thick wooden beams of Georgia pine resisted vibrations of machinery. Changes were made to the building over the years, most notably the removal of the vast windows when the mill was air-conditioned in the late 1960s.
By 1915, the mill employed 114 workers (72 male and 43 female) who worked ten-hour days. The complex featured the best technology of the time. Its machinery was made by the H. and B. American Machinery Company of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The 260 automatic looms were supplied by the Stafford Company of Readville, Massachusetts. The boiler is a locomotive-style butt-strap boiler manufactured in 1912 by the J. & S. Schofield’s Sons Company of Macon, Georgia and was continuously inspected until at least 2006. There are few operational boilers a hundred years or more in age, and as a Southern-made boiler from the 1910s, this one is quite rare.
The mill played a special role in labor relations. By 1920, the mill was operating 252 days a year with both day and night shifts of ten hours each. The mill produced an estimated $750,000 worth of goods produced by a workforce of 182 employees composed of 110 men, fifty women, and twenty-two children. The mill soon expanded its product line to include print cloth and yarn. Labor relations collapsed in mid-July 1930 when 250 workers at the mill went on strike due to a lack of agreement with management over hours and wages. Again in July 1933, 300 employees conducted a walkout and the mill shut down. Though the mill improved relations with its labor base for the next several decades, it closed in 1985 due to foreign completion.
The Pickett Cotton Mill was placed on the National Register 1 September 2015. High Point’s early industrial buildings are critical in documenting the transformation High Point as a manufacturing center in the decades surrounding 1900, and the growth of that industry in the following decades. Its history is ongoing – in 2014, the Belgian-based company, BuzziSpace, opened its North American production center in the mill making furniture.
The National Register Nomination for this property was written by Laura A. W. Phillips, Architectural Historian of Winston-Salem, December 23, 2014.