The Alpha Cotton Mill, Charlotte's second cotton mill, was started in 1888 by D.A. Tompkins and other Charlotte businessmen determined to bring manufacturing to the New South and particularly to Charlotte. The Alpha Mill sold its stock on a weekly payment plan, the first to use this capital raising technique. One of the original investors, E.K.P. Osborne, also organized Charlotte's first streetcar system.
The mill started operation as a yarn mill. One-story mill houses were built at the property for the workers with some of the houses still in existence nearby. The mill was sold in 1901, its name changed to the Orient Mill, and its operations changed to a weaving mill, producing finished cloth. It was described at the time as "one of the most complete mills in the South for making twisted yarns... and for weaving fancy cloth".
In subsequent years, the ownership of the mill changed several times but it was in continuous operation as a cotton mill until 1955 when the Carolina Textile Engraving Company (later Consolidated Engravers Corporation) moved their operations to the mill. The company engraved patterns for the printing of textiles, floor coverings and similar materials. Consolidated Engravers ceased operations at the site in June 2001 and Crosland, Inc. bought it for renovation and redevelopment in July 2005.
The Alpha Mill with its related mill housing and the Highland Mill on North Davidson with its mill housing set the working class character of North Charlotte, which was very different from Dilworth and Myers Park to the south. These mill villages had their own shopping centers, churches and recreation so workers would never have to travel far. Both mills were built along the railroad, which was critical to their operations. In the early 1970's, the Brookshire Freeway was completed, setting a more definite separation of North Charlotte from the uptown area.
Throughout the mill's history, buildings were built, removed and added to on the site. The original mill was at the southwest corner of the site. The boiler room and chimney stack remain from the 1889 structure. The mill building with the tower was built at about 1901 and the building to the north behind the chimney stack was added sometime between 1905 and 1911. Just east of the boiler room (and at the current location of the swimming pool) was a 200,000 gallon reservoir. A cotton bale warehouse also stood at about the center of the property. Consolidated Engraving tore down the original mill in the 1950's and built a one-story addition typical of 1950's industrial buildings that Crosland has subsequently removed.
The main buildings of Alpha Mill were built at a time when industrial buildings were built with architectural character and ornamentation, as can been seen in the brick arches and eave details. The square tower was built purely as a decorative element with elaborate brickwork particularly at the top that has brick corbelling under crenelles. The overall style is Romanesque, common at the turn of the century. Although modern industrial buildings are built more practically, they do not have the same visual appeal or character of buildings like Alpha Mill.
To learn more about the history of mills in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, go to http://www.cmhpf.org/essays/cottonmills.html