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Published February 13, 2014

Raleigh’s Failed Destiny: The History Of Our Cotton Mill Condos

Many Raleigh residents have noticed the large, industrial-looking building while heading north from downtown on Capital Boulevard. The Cotton Mill, now considered one of the city’s premier addresses, features 50 modern, luxury condominiums.

However, the impressive building started life as a textile processing mill in the 1890s. It also served as a gateway for rail freight lines on its east side. So how did this historical Mill make the transition from industry to luxury? A spectacular failure, that’s how.

According to the RHDC report, Raleigh’s rise to industrial prominence “was seen not only as possible, but as Raleigh’s destiny.” This particular Cotton Mill marked the first of several mills built in the area during the late 1800’s, as Raleigh attempted to grow a more industrial image.

Raleigh Cotton Mill, circa 1897. Picture Curtosey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the State of North Carolina.
Raleigh Cotton Mill, circa 1897. Picture courtesy of Bureau of Labor Statistics of the State of North Carolina.

Caraleigh Cotton Mill and Pilot Mill sprung up soon after. We were well on our way to becoming an industrial city, with sprawling mill villages built on cotton. Destiny was at hand. But alas it was not to be, as cotton prices dipped dramatically only a few years later. Within thirty years, the Great Depression crushed mills across North Carolina, leaving a lot of empty spaces waiting to be reaped.

RELATED: If Raleigh’s Roads Could Speak: A History of Street Names.

Fortunately, Raleigh was left with its primary strengths: Retail, Commercialism, Politics. Raleigh is not a factory town. The Mill was reincarnated as a large storage space for local businesses. It changed owners several times. C.B. Barbee and Henry T. Hicks. Wolf Branch Storage Company. Southern Jobbers.

And then, in the true commercial and retail spirit, Raleigh found a new use for these spacious and historically beautiful buildings. The Cotton Mill was a relatively inexpensive piece of downtown real estate, and yet in the mid-1990’s many of the condominiums built within sold for $150,000 a pop. Developers turned a hundred-year-old failure into a spectacular success, “preserving old architecture and bringing business back downtown,” according to timely article in the News and Observer.

Located at 614 Capital Boulevard, The Cotton Mill is listed on the National Historic Building Registry. The large windows originally let natural light in so that workers could see, before the use of electrical lighting. They now offer great views of the city in all its commercial glory.

According to the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, the building is a “relatively rare example of late-nineteenth-century industrial architecture in Raleigh.” The brick construction was common for mills built during the 1890s.

Cotton Mill to the left of Raleigh Ball Field circa 1952. Courtesy of the News & Observer.
Cotton Mill to the left of Raleigh Ball Field circa 1952. Picture courtesy of the Raleigh News & Observer.

Open spaces, elevated ceilings, and hardwood floors make a beautiful residential facility, and The Cotton Mill condos feature many modern elements, including professional-grade kitchens and unique floor plans, but they also highlight some of the exposed wood beams and brickwork from the original building.

RELATED: The Raleigh Underground: An Abandoned Mall Right Beneath Our Feet.

Although Raleigh failed to reach its factory-filled dreams, our Cotton Mills are notable pieces of history standing amid modern highrises. If only we could let more of our historical buildings remain, even after they fail in their initial use, what glorious reincarnations might we discover?

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  • Ginny Gillikin

    Ginny

  • I have a journalism degree and an English minor from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. I write for my personal enjoyment and have written for publication in NC and VA. I enjoy music, books, photography, travel and museums. Previous jobs include positions at Deep South Entertainment in Raleigh and ReverbNation in Durham. All my articles.

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