Tag Archives: Salem

A Night in the Cotton Mill

On a recent roadtrip, we decided to spend a night in the Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem, NC.  What made this choice easy to make was that the Brookstown was once the home of the Salem Cotton Manufacturing Company and the Arista Cotton Mill.

The Salem part of Winston-Salem was established in the eighteenth century by the Moravians, a Protestant group  that had settled in Pennsylvania, but then expanded  into North Carolina.  The group prospered and became involved in a number of money-making enterprises, including establishing a cotton mill in 1836.  The primary name in this and the later mill, the Arista, was that of Fries.  One of the thirty investors in Salem Cotton Manufacturing Company was Francis Fries, who became the superintendent of the mill.

It’s interesting that even though much cotton was being grown in the South in the early nineteenth century, the finished products of yarn and cloth were made elsewhere.  Most Southern cotton was sold to manufacturing companies in the Northeast and in Great Britain.  Until the development of the steam engine, it was not viable to try manufacturing in the South because the fall line, which was needed for water power, was far from the centers of population.  Even with steam power, cotton manufacturing was slow to come to the South.  It seems that most people were just satisfied with the system that was in place.

But the Moravians were entrepreneurs, and were willing to take a risk on cotton production.  Unfortunately, the enterprise was not successful.  Francis Fries left the company to form the Salem Woolen Mill, and in 1850, the cotton mill was sold.  It went through a succession of owners, but eventually  the building was converted into a flour mill.

Click to enlarge

In 1880, the son of Francis Fries, also named Francis, decided to take another go at cotton manufacturing.  By that time, cotton mills were springing up all over the South.  The Arista Cotton Mill was a typical vertical operation, with one floor for cleaning and carding the wool, another floor for spinning it into thread, and finally, the last floor was for weaving.  It was built next to the old Salem Cotton Manufacturing building, which was still producing flour.

After the turn of the twentieth century, the two companies merged, with cotton chambray, also known as Salem Jeans, being the primary product.  I couldn’t find a firm date for when cotton production ended, but one source said the 1920s.  By the 1940s the buildings were being used as a tobacco warehouse, and in 1970 the complex was bought by the Lentz Transfer and Storage Company.

In 1976 Lentz was in need of more space, and so a wrecking company was contracted to tear down the old buildings.  Instead, the owner of the wrecking company recognized the historical significance of the buildings and  through a series of negotiations, the buildings were saved.  Adaptive restoration began, and in 1984, the Brookstown Inn opened in the buildings.

The inn has a very nice historical display in the lobby, with old photos and reproductions of newspaper clippings and documents.  You can see a very small part of it above, and for a better look, the inn’s website has posted some pictures of the exhibit.

I, of course, loved the Fries family photos.  This one was taken at Watkins Glen, New York.

You can sort of see how the Salem Mill building has changed over the years, even though my photo was taken from the west, and the old photo shows the building from the east.  Note the lean-to addition in both photos.  I could not take my photo from the east because the Arista building now stands in the way.

There are abandoned textile mills all over the south.  More and more people are seeing the value in these old buildings, and they are being made into shopping spaces, apartments, and inns like the Brookstown.   What I really love about the Brookstown Inn is how they continue to tell the story of the Salem and Arista Mills.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, North Carolina, Road Trip, Southern Textiles