Carrboro History

The Village of Carrboro

The villages of Chapel Hill and Carrboro are contiguous, the western boundary of Chapel Hill being Carrboro’s eastern boundary. Chapel Hill is a much older town, being laid out in 1793. Carrboro’s history begins with the extension of a 10 miles spur of the railroad in 1882 from what was thereafter called University Station to a point about a mile west of the University. In the Chapel Hill Weekly, March 21, 1947, Louis Graves has told how Carrboro began and how it grew, and we quote from this article:

My memory extends to the early 1890’s when there were no buildings on the site of the present Carrboro but the railway station — which everybody called “the depot” — a cotton gin, a flour mill, a blacksmith shop, and one or two dwellings. Hacks with Negro drivers met every train and brought the passengers into Chapel Hill. Sometimes the drivers would race with each other down the main street, raising clouds of dust in dry weather or sprays of mud in wet weather.

Automobiles finally put this branch railway line out of business for passenger service. When the last train ran, a dozen or so years ago, Bruce Strowd issued an invitation to the children of Chapel Hill to make the trip over to the junction and back. Many of them found it an exciting adventure because they had never been on a railway train before… Captain Fred Smith was conductor on the train from 1889 for about fifty years….

Tom Lloyd’s red brick house, up on West Cameron Avenue, is one of the few pre-Civil War houses still standing in Chapel Hill. It was bought by the Leon Wileys several years ago and is now their home. They have made interior alterations, but the house is practically unchanged on the outside.

The little settlement clustered around the depot and the cotton mill grew steadily. It was named Venable, for Francis P. Venable, President of the University, for several years. When the Carrs bought the Lloyd cotton mill the name was changed to Carrboro.

The mill became part of the Durham Hosiery Mills, being known as No. 4. Another mill, which had been built by Lueco Lloyd, Isaac Pritchard and others, was bought by the Durham concern and became No. 7. The business of the Durham Hosiery Mills began to contract even before the depression. No. 4 closed in 1930 and No. 7 later.

Carrboro was in the grip of hard times in the 1930’s, but its distress was alleviated to a great extent by the successful effort of the University administration to provide jobs for its citizens in building operations and other University activities. The town had a come-back in 1942 when the former No. 7 mill was converted into a munitions plant. The plant stayed in operation 3 years and paid out several thousand dollars a week in wages. The was a real boom time for Carrboro….

About two years ago came the cheering news that the Pacific Mills, one of the country’s greatest wool-manufacturing companies, had bought the former No. 4 mill and would open a branch factory in Carrboro. Later the company bought the munitions plant building which had been stripped of its contents and left idle after the end of the war.

The Pacific Mills’ Carrboro branch, which is named the Carrboro Woolen Mills, began operations in April, 1945 after the first unit had been thoroughly modernized with air-conditioning, fluorescent lighting, and the latest spinning and weaving equipment. Not only was the interior of the building renovated and modernized but the grounds were attractively landscaped. After the second building was purchased, it was similarly modernized. The first bolt of woolen military cloth, made on contract for the government, came from the looms April 27, 1945. Within a few months, however, Pacific Mills was manufacturing its pre-war type of products — high grade worsteds for men’s and ladies’ suits, dress material, auto fabrics, and the like. The mills regularly employ about 525 persons, and have an annual payroll of $1,100,000. Except for a few key men, all are local people who had to learn the processes after they were employed. The resident manager is David E. Arthur, who came to Carrboro from Lawrence, Massachusetts.

The industry is a great asset to the county, giving it a vastly improved agricultural-industrial balance. Of course, it has given a tremendous boost to the village of Carrboro. This is reflected in new houses, new stores, paved streets, and a general evidence of prosperity. The Bank of Chapel Hill reopened a branch there.

Although the woolen mills are the town’s largest industry, there are several small but important concerns. The oldest is the Fitch Lumber Company. When R. B. Fitch bought the business of Andrews and Lloyd in 1923 he acquired one employee and a handful of lumber. Now the company employs 20 men to operate a planing mill, a coal yard, and five trucks. It owns and cuts much of its own timber which it converts into all kinds of building material.

Another business, established only in 1947, but now employing 20 persons, is the Colonial Press, Inc. With seven modern presses, it does all kinds of commercial printing including a great amount of work for the University of North Carolina and other institutions and departments of the state government. Its proprietor, Orville Campbell, has won distinction as the composer of the popular football song, “All the Way Choo-Choo.”

[source: "Orange County, 1752-1952," edited by Hugh Lefler and Paul Wager]