Published on August 20, 2014
C Mount Holly & its People: Then and Now c . . . . . . C Mount Holly & its People: Then and Now c . . . . . . C Volume I: The Mills c C Mount Holly & its People: Then and Now c . . . . . homas Randolph Tate (1808–1879) of Greensboro, NC, started to build the Mountain Island Mill in 1846. Earlier, his father-in-law, Henry Humphreys (1790–1840) built the Mount Hecla Steam Cotton Mill in Greensboro in 1828. The machinery for this mill came from Manchester, England. The mill used steam-generated power for its cotton manufacturing. Tate’s idea was to use water-power instead which was less expensive than steam, hence the move to Mountain Island on the Catawba River. Tate purchased the Mountain Island land of 1,100 acres, 200 from Michael Quickle and another 900 from two major sources—600 from David Caldwell and 300 from John Farrar. It is said in several stories that the name Mountain Island was derived from Mount Hecla as well as the little mountain island that is now almost covered by water. Was there already a Mountain Island community or area named from the physical island mountain in the Catawba River from which the mill was named, or did the Mill acquire the name first from which the mill village and surrounding area than acquired the name Mountain Island? Tate and Humphreys constructed a stone dam and a five story red brick building of 100 by 80 feet to house 3,000 spindles and 150 looms all transported by mule teams from Greensboro. The brick building had a massive stone foundation. The bricks were handmade cherry red bricks supposedly made by the Mountain Island Manufacturing Company to the west of the Mill site. T This seems questionable as to why a brick company would be located here. Once the Mill buildings were completed in 1848, the machinery was hauled from Greensboro to Mountain Island and the mill began operating in the fall of 1849, according to Dave Kelley’s mother (Jane Phifer Kelley) who was 12 years of age then. Other stories mention the fall of 1848 when the machines began to hum and the first bolts of cloth rolled out of the mill. (Rediscovering the Confederate Treasury-A Mountain Island, NC History) The Mill site was chosen for two reasons—one was that there was already a partially constructed canal around the shoals, originally intended to convey cotton to Charleston but which could easily be used for a race; the other was that water power was cheaper than steam. The water flowed through the mill race to turn the giant wooden or iron water wheel to rotate a system of clutches, rope drives, and gears to move shafts, pulleys, and leather belts to deliver power to all the floors. No. 8, 10, 12 cotton yarn was made mostly for heavy sheeting. Mountain Island Mill 1848-1916 In 1916 came the great flood which destroyed the Mill and all its buildings as the river rose 55 feet above normal.