The Chatham Manufacturing Company was started in 1877 along the Elkin River in Surry County North Carolina. What started as a grist mill for corn, then a carding mill for wool became the largest textile mill in the United States. It employed 3,500 people in the 1970s.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this mill to the people and history of Elkin. The mill employed workers from Surry, Allegheny, Wilkes and Yadkin counties. They were known for the Chatham Blanket, first produced in 1893.
Many a soldier serving overseas in World Wars I and II were warmed and comforted by these blankets.
The North Carolina Textile Encyclopedia states that between 1975 and 1985, more than 800 mills closed nationwide, and employment in North Carolina's textile mills fell from an all-time high of 293,600 in 1973 to 211,300 in 1986. The North Carolina Department of Labor estimated only 27, 500 people were employed in textiles in the state in 2017. Many former textile mills have been transformed into other uses unrelated to fiber or sit in ruin.
Thankfully the Chatham Mill has a champion in Leslie Fesperman and her colleagues. The mill will have new life as a fiber center. A place for appreciating all the history it represents as well as the future it promises for fiber artists. It is not hard to share Leslie's passion and vision for this place as a destination fiber center for people from all over the country.
The center is having a huge yarn sale on December 6th and 7th. Check it out here. Thank you Leslie for the tour and for doing such important work!