Courtesy of Preservation Greensboro Incorporated
& Benjamin Briggs, Executive Director
are as central to the development of modern Greensboro as the Cone Mills
Complex in northeastern Greensboro. The nearly two million square foot
complex; including Revolution Mill, Revolution Warehouse, Olympic Mill,
Printworks Mill, and White Oak Mill; straddles Buffalo Creek and is
key to Greensboro’s historic development as a national center
of the textile industry. These structures combine to demonstrate the
city’s role as a major industrial center of the American South.
Tennessee and raised in Baltimore, brothers Moses and Ceasar Cone organized
their textile empire after noticing rapid expansion of the industry
while traveling the south on behalf of their father’s wholesale
grocery company. The two men entered into cloth manufacturing in 1887
when they partnered with C. E. Graham, owner of the C. E. Graham Manufacturing
Company in Asheville. Moses quickly realized that southern manufacturers
needed a local selling agent if they were to compete with northern mills.
In 1889, he convinced 90% of southern textile interests to allow him
to market their goods through the Cone Export and Commission Company.
The firm, established in 1890 in New York City by Moses Cone, later
relocated to Greensboro to take advantage of Greensboro’s proximity
to cotton fields, gins, warehouses, and railroads.
and Ceasar Cone were involved with numerous other enterprises in Greensboro.
Responding to the lack of a finishing plant in the south, the Cones
established the Southern Finishing and Warehouse Company in 1892 northeast
of the city. Finishing is a process of washing, scouring, bleaching,
and drying textiles after they are assembled. In 1893, the Cones took
over the C. E. Graham Manufacturing Company, a step that led to establishment
of their denim mill. Great anticipation surrounded the prospect of denim
production in the city, with James A. Odell (owner of Odell Hardware
Company) exclaiming enthusiastically “Grab hold of their coat
tails, boys, and don’t let them get away!”
Cones first mill was erected northeast of the city on the North Buffalo
Creek in 1895-1896. Named Proximity Cotton Mill in recognition of the
mill’s placement adjacent to the Piedmont’s cotton fields,
the factory became a national leader in the production of denim. In
1898, the brothers convinced long-time friends, Emanuel and Herman Sternberger,
to come to Greensboro to establish a flannel factory. Flannel had not
been manufactured in the south and it was thought this innovation would
be a “Revelation” to textile circles. According to local
history, the mill organizers felt that the name “Revelation Mill”
might have Biblical associations and instead chose “Revolution”
as the name for the new flannel mill.
mills soon followed, including White Oak Cotton Mills in 1902-1905,
the largest of the Cone holdings. White Oak held title as the world’s
largest denim mill throughout most of the twentieth century. In 1948,
all Cone holdings were consolidated under Cone Mills Corporation, an
entity that manufactured corduroys, drills, twills, suedes, towels,
wash clothes, jeans, print cloths, plisses, diapers, sateens, coverts,
and blended fabrics.
myriad of mill complexes in northeastern Greensboro, Revolution Mill
has the distinction of being the first modern flannel mill in the American
South. The increase in popularity of flannel fabric accounts for the
growth of Revolution during the first quarter of the twentieth century.
By the 1930s, the mill had become the largest exclusive flannel producer
in the world, incorporating many of the innovations of the Southern
textile industry that occurred after 1900.
the buildings related to the Revolution Mill complex were erected in
three major periods of expansion. The first period began in 1900, when
the earliest buildings were constructed and the mill began operations.
The second period of building was in 1904, doubling the size of the
original mill. The final stage dates from 1915, when large wings on
the east and west sides of the plant again doubled its size. In addition
to these major building campaigns, other years brought smaller-scale
expansion projects. The final major change to the buildings occurred
in the 1960s, when most of the windows in the buildings were closed
and the building exteriors were veneered with brick as part of the introduction
of conditioned air to the manufacturing process.
construction methods and floor plans of the mill are typical of textile
mills built during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The buildings are utilitarian and built with a focus on safety and efficiency
instead of aesthetics. Large floor plates allowed for massive machinery
and flexible, ergonomic work stations. Numerous windows allowed natural
light into the workplace in the days before artificial light was strong
enough for task work.
design and construction practices were related to the requirements of
the insurance industry. Common among mills built during this time, these
practices are often referred to as “slow-burning construction.”
Slow-burn specifications were developed by the New England Mutual Insurance
companies and were required for insurance coverage by New England Mutual
and the Factory Insurance Association (insurers of the Revolution Mills
complex). Specifications included watertight floors, segregation of
spaces by use through inserting massive brick firewalls, and use of
heavy “over engineered” timbers for construction that would
support their weight for some time in a major fire. Today, these features
common to mill and industrial construction across the country, are the
key features that make these spaces flexible and highly sought after.
Mills operated the Revolution Mill until February of 1982. After closing,
the mill was sold to Revolution Associates to be adapted as apartments
and offices. The entire complex was placed on the National Register
of Historic Places in 1984 based on its associations with early industrial
development in Greensboro, associations with the Cone and Sternberger
families, and its distinctive construction techniques, including the
“slow-burning construction” standards.
When it was determined that the layout of the mill was not well suited to apartments, Revolution was sold again to an investor who would lease the mill to three primary tenants for the next almost twenty years. In 1987 during this ownership, the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, a private, nonprofit group, dedicated to enhancing economic development in Greensboro, was organized and began operation in Revolution Mill, where it remained until the summer of 2012.
In February of 2003, Revolution Studios, LLC, purchased the mill and began a $5 million renovation plan to convert the facility to office space. In August of 2006, the owners of Revolution Studios, LLC, began a much more expansive redevelopment of the complex, with a goal of renovating the entire complex for commercial real estate uses.