Guide to the Erwin Cotton Mills records, 1832-1976 and undated, bulk 1892-1967


Account books, nearly complete, and office files, very incomplete, of a textile mill, chiefly 1892-1967, and some personal papers of William Allen Erwin. The business files include letters, volumes, legal and financial papers, memoranda, printed material, reports, blueprints, and other records of the company. An information series contains files of histories containing articles, biographical sketches, and other reference material used by the company. The collection also includes two large cast-iron company seals. The correspondence is extensive only for 1928. There is material, primarily account books, for: Pearl Cotton Mills in Durham, N.C.; Cooleemee Cotton Mills in Cooleemee, N.C.; the Erwin Yarn Co., a textile selling agency in Philadelphia, Pa.; and the J.N. Ledford Co., a department store in Couleemee, N.C. Company plants represented were located in N.C. except for Stonewall Cotton Mills, Stonewall, Miss., beginning in 1948. Topics represented in the record files include the operations of Erwin Mills; the textile industry; relations with the Textile Workers Union of America in the 1930s and 1940s; mill buildings, houses, and equipment; James Buchanan Duke; Benjamin Newton Duke; profit sharing; Alpine Cotton Mills; Durham Cotton Manufacturing Co.; Locke Cotton Mills; Oxford Cotton Mills; proposed consolidation, 1928, with Springs Cotton Mills, Thomaston Cotton Mills, and Riverside and Dan River Mills; house and dormitory construction; real estate; hunting dogs; the Protestant Episcopal Church; St. Mary's School, Raleigh, N.C.; state and national politics in 1928; and the Erwin, Holt, and Smedes families.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Erwin Cotton Mills records
1832-1976 and undated
Erwin Cotton Mills
156 Linear Feet, Approximately 17,000 Items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Collection Overview

The records of the Erwin Cotton Mills, a textile manufacturing company, date primarily from 1982-1967 but include items as early as 1832 and as late as 1976. There are ten series: Information; Account Books; Alphabetical; Labor Relations; William Allen Erwin; Pearl Cotton Mills; Cooleemee Cotton Mills; Erwin Yarn company; J. N. Ledford Company; and Oversize. The collection relates mostly to the company's textile operations and related matters, but there is also some material concerning William A. Erwin's personal and family interests. The account books are largely intact. Most of the correspondence and topical records have not survived and are represented here only by scattered files. Records from the subsidiaries and acquired companies vary but have survived in similar fashion. the Account Books Series and Alphabetical Series comprise the bulk of the collection.

The Information Series consists of files of histories produced by the company of a variety of articles, biographical sketches and other reference material derived from numerous sources.

The Account Books Series consists of the following subdivisions: Ledgers; Journals; Supporting Papers for Journal Entries; Trial Balances; Exhibits; Early Statistics; Costs, Prices, etc.; Cash Record Books; Plant Ledgers; Cotton Records; Notes Payable and Receivable; Voucher Registers; Check Registers; Inventories; Payroll Records; and Miscellaneous Accounts. The accounts books are familiar in form until 1949 when the company stopped posting accounts by hand and began using business machines for its bookkeeping. At this point the ledgers and journals become difficult to interpret, and subsidiary records such as the supporting papers for journal entries, voucher registers, check registers, and cash record books have to be relied upon for data and the identification of numbered ledger accounts. Beginning in 1905, finding particular accounts in the ledgers can be difficult because transfer ledgers came into use. When a ledger became bulky, account sheets were moved into one or more transfer ledgers with similar dates. This practice also produced wide variance in the dates within a particular ledger. Most ledgers are not indexed. The company labeled their journals as daybooks until 1936 when they adopted the customary terminology of “journal.” The exhibit books record quarterly - and after 1942, annual - summaries of expenses, income, profit, and losses. The plant ledgers have both technological and architectural interest because they itemize equipment, buildings, and workers' houses, usually with dates of acquisition or construction. These records were begun in 1928 but list assets on hand dating as early as the 1890s. The “payroll letters” are quarterly financial summaries of labor expenses. The time books are not in the collection, and names of workers are difficult to obtain. Workers' names appear elsewhere occasionally, such as in the Workmen's Compensation Check Registers, 1961-1962, their individual rent accounts in some of the ledgers, and in some files in the Alphabetical Series. The company's minute books and stockholder books are not in the collection. Occasionally, accounts ordinarily kept in bound volumes were kept instead in loose files. These loose files are shelved in boxes in the appropriate parts of the Account Books Series.

The Alphabetical Series consists of a great variety of files, random survivals constituting only a small percentage of what were once massive office files. These records date throughout the life of the company and include financial papers, legal papers, letters, reports, memoranda, volumes, and other records, arranged by topics and names in one alphabetical series. There is information about costs, equipment and buildings, plant operations, property acquisition, trade organizations, agencies of the state and national governments, other companies and textile mills, individuals, etc. In addition to the usual audit reports and financial statements, there are other compilations that yield both summary and detailed figures about the company's financial situation. The government reports, taxation, and profit and loss files, and those for particular trade organizations are notable examples. The price books, 1905-1923 (Account Books Series) and the memorandum books, 1923-1938, include not only production and marketing statistics for the company and the industry but also management's memoranda about them. Annual reports are available only for 1929-1934 and 1955. The files for profit sharing include occasional correspondence by or about W. A. Erwin, James B. Duke, and Benjamin N. Duke and the origins and operation for his benefit, especially during 1916-1919. Names of mill workers can be found in files for notes receivable, mill house sales, accidents, employee accidents, profit sharing, etc. Notable files for textile mills owned or controlled by the same interests as Erwin Mills are those for Alpine Cotton Mills, Durham Cotton Manufacturing Co., Locke Cotton Mills, Oxford Cotton Mills, and the related Flint and Co. File. A file on consolidation concerns a proposal in 1927-1928 to merge Erwin with other major textile companies: The Springs Group, Thomaston Group, and Riverside and Dan River Group.

The Labor Relations Series focuses on the company's relations with its workers, the Textile Workers Union of America, and the federal government, mostly in the late 1930s and early 1940s. There were strikes and extensive negotiations. Records include contracts, memoranda, correspondence, wage charts, labor agreements, and other papers. In 1951-1952 the United Textile Workers challenged the TWUA.

The William Allen Erwin Series consists mainly of files representing his personal and family interests and business. An exception is the correspondence files that, while heavily personal, also include mill and textile industry business. This correspondence dates from 1893-1931, but is mostly from 1928, the only year in which Erwin's letters have survived intact. Notable topics include national and state issues and North Carolina parishes of the Protestant Episcopal Church, St. Mary's School in Raleigh, N. C., his correspondence about salary in 1920 with James B. Duke, St. Joseph's Episcopal Church, real estate, house and dormitory construction, the textile industry, University of North Carolina, Duke University, state and national politics, and hunting dogs. Notable correspondents of 1928 include Albert Anderson, Thomas Hall Battle, Martin E. Boyer, Jr., Joseph Blount Cheshire, Heriot Clarkson, Benjamin Newton Duke, H. R. Fitzgerald, John A. Law, Edwin Anderson Penick, Edward Knox Powe, James Augustus Thomas, Hobart Brown Upjohn, and members of the Erwin and Hold families.

The Pearl Cotton Mills Series consists of records from the 1890s until the mill's absorption by Erwin Mills in 1932. The accounting records are well represented by stock certificate books, ledgers, journals, trial balances, cash and bank account books, and inventories. The files are minimal but include the minutes and a variety of significant financial reports, statements, and other papers.

The Cooleemee Cotton Mills Series contains primarily records from the late 1890s until its acquisition by Erwin Mills in 1906, but there is some material as late as 1916. The accounting volumes are ledgers, a journal, and scrapbooks. This record group is small but includes legal and financial papers, a stock certificate books, and stock certificate books for the Colleemee Water Power and Manufacturing Co., 1899.

The Erwin Yarn Company Series consists of records of this textile selling agency at Philadelphia from its origin in the 1920s until its liquidation in the 1940s. Volumes include minutes, stockholder records, ledgers, journal, scrapbook, and sales journals. There are also several files of legal and financial papers.

The J. N. Ledford Company Series contains records of this department store in Cooleemee, N. C., from its origin in 1901 until the 1960s. W. A. Erwin was an original stockholder, and by 1919 Erwin Mills was the majority stockholder. Files include minutes, stockholder records, and scattered legal and financial papers and volumes. Some workers at Cooleemee Mills are identifiable in the Accounts Receivable for 1938.

The Oversize Series includes a financial statistics table, 1892-1954, several files of miscellaneous financial and land records, extensive blueprints of plants, buildings, and equipment in Durham, N.C., 1962-1976, two large cast-iron company seals, and a scrapbook. The scrapbook dates from 1919 to 1922 and contains clippings, printed material, and letters about textile industry news, labor-management relations, employee benefits, taxation, unions, strikes, profit sharing, production, and other matters.

Many topics, persons, and businesses included in the various series may also be represented by accounts or entries in volumes of the Account Books Series.

More Biographical / Historical Info

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[Identification of item], Erwin Cotton Mills Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

1. Information Series

Reference material and company histories.

Box 1

2. Alphabetical Series, 1832-1967

A variety of files under topics, persons, and corporate bodies including financial and legal papers, letters, reports, memoranda, volumes, etc. Arranged alphabetically.

Box 1-47

3. Account Books Series, 1892-1967

Ledgers; journals; supporting papers for journal entries; trial balances; exhibits; early statistics, costs, prices; cash record books; plant ledgers; cotton records; notes payable and receivable; voucher registers; check registers; inventories; payroll records; and miscellaneous accounts. Arranged chronologically by types within the above groups.

Volume 1-321

4. William Allen Erwin Series, 1871-1932

Files relating to his personal and family interests and business. The correspondence files also include mill and textile industry matters. Arranged alphabetically.

Box 50-56

5. J. N. Ledford Company Series, 1901-1963

Files of financial volumes and papers arranged by types.

Box 59-62

6. Labor Relations Series, 1933-1952

Files for the company's relations with its workers, the Textile Workers Union of America, and the federal government. Arranged alphabetically.

Box 47-50

7. Pearl Cotton Mills Series, 1892-1932

Stock certificate books, ledgers, journals, trial balances, cash and bank account books, inventories, and files of minutes, financial, and other papers. Volumes arranged chronologically by types and files arranged alphabetically.

Volume 322-344

8. Cooleemee Cotton Mills Series, 1899-1916

Ledgers, journal, cashbooks, and files of legal and financial papers and stock certificate books. Files arranged alphabetically and volumes chronologically by type.

Volume 345-349

9. Erwin Yarn Company Series, 1919-1948

Minutes, stockholder records, ledgers, journal, cashbook, and sales journal, and several files of legal and financial papers. Volumes arranged chronologically within types. Files arranged alphabetically.

Volume 350-357

10. Oversize Series, 1892-1976 and undated

Blueprints in oversize folders, scrapbook, several files of financial and land records, and two large cast-iron company seals.

Oversize papers and artifacts
Oversize-box 63-64

Historical Note

Historical Note

Date Event(s)
1892 Erwin Cotton Mills incorporated, the Duke family owning a controlling interest with Benjamin N. Duke as president and William Allen Erwin as manager.
1893 Mill No. 1 in West Durham began operation
1896 Mill No. 1 doubled in size
1903-1904 Mill No. 2 built at Duke (now Erwin), Harnett Co., N. C.
1906 Colleemee Cotton Mills, Cooleemee, Davie Co., N. C., acquired and operated as Mill No. 3
1909-1910 Mill No. 4, bleachery and finishing plant built in West Durham
1925 Erwin Yarn Company, a selling agency, established in Philadelphia, Pa.
1925-1926 Mill No. 5 built at Erwin, N. C.
1927 William A. Erwin succeeded B. N. Duke as president
1932 Kemp Plummer Lewis succeeded W. A. Erwin as president
Pearl Cotton Mills in North Durham acquired and operated as Mill No. 6
1937 Finishing plant added at Cooleemee, N.C.
1947 Erwin Yarn Company liquidated
1948, ca. Diana Mills at Neuse, Wake Co., N. C., acquired and operated as Mill No. 7
1948 William Haywood Ruffin succeeded K. P. Lewis as president
Stonewall Cotton Mills, Stonewall, Miss., acquired and operated as Mill No. 8
1949 Accounting procedures changed from longtime standard forms posted by hand to radically different forms utilizing business machines
1950 Company changed name to Erwin Mills
1953 Abney Mills of South Carolina acquired control and its president, Francis Ebenezer Grier, became chairman of the board
1960, ca. Burlington Industries acquired control, Erwin Mills continuing as one of its divisions
1969, ca. Mill No. 6 in North Durham closed
1986 J. P. Stevens acquired and closed West Durham plant

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The records of Erwin Mills, a textile manufacturing company, were gifts and deposits to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 1951, 1955-1956, 1966, and 1987, by Dr. Frank T. de Vyver, Nathaniel Gregory, Erwin Mills, and the J. P. Stevens Company.

Processing Information

Processed by: Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Staff

Completed 1987

Encoded by Stephen Douglas Miller