An abstract from Heritage of Iredell County, Vol. I (1980) —
In 1846, peddlar Andrew Baggerly bought the old Francis Barnard mill tract on Hunting Creek in north Iredell County. In 1849, he placed an ad in Salisbury’s Carolina Watchman: “Capital Wanted And If Not Obtained Then Valuable Property For Sale.” He described the property as “the most valuable water power in the Southern Country … situated on Hunting Creek in Iredell County, twenty-eight miles west of Salisbury … [on] a never-failing stream, … remarkable for its purity, … [and] adapted to the manufacture of paper, to calico printing, to bleaching etc.” Baggerly noted that there was a dam in place, an active sawmill, a grist mill soon to open, and a factory building about half-finished.
On 2 Mar 1850, Baggerly, James E.S. Morrison, William T. Gaither, William R. Feimster, William I. Colvert, G. Gaither Sr. and Andrew Morrison filed a deed for a 318 1/4-acre tract called the Eagle Mills place. By 1852, the factory was operating with William I. Colvert as its agent. It had 700 spindles and 12 looms and employed an overseer and 22 workers, 20 of whom were women. By 1854 the adjacent former Inscore Mill had been added to the works, and Baggerly claimed the “intrinsic and speculative value” of the complex was $2,700,000.
In 1855, Baggerly advertised in Charlotte’s North Carolina Whig and in the Carolina Watchman, calling the complex “Eagle City, the Great Point of Attraction, Destined to be the great center of manufacturing interests in Western North Carolina and perhaps the United States.” He deeded the president and Congress of the United States a ten-acre block in Eagle City called Eagle Square, located on Market Street.
After Baggerly was forced to liquidate his assets during the Panic of 1857, William Colvert became the owner of his interest in Eagle Mills. “According to tradition there was a tobacco factory, hotel, oil mill, and general store at Eagle Mills in addition to the grist mill and cotton factory. A number of homes stood in the horseshoe bend above the mills and a church was eventually constructed on the edge of the settlement.”
In the spring of 1865, Stoneman’s raiders came upon Eagle Mills unexpectedly and burned it to the ground. The mills were rebuilt, but Eagle Mills never recovered its former prosperity. The cotton factory and grist mill operated until destroyed by fire in April 1894. At that time, William I. Colvert, Robert S. Colvert, and James E.S. Morrison were the owners.
The only remains at the site are gravestones in the church cemetery, traces of the main road to the mill, the grist mill’s foundation stones, and, a short distance upstream, remains of the stone supports where a covered bridge crossed the creek.
Statesville Record & Landmark, 19 April 1894.
When William I. Colvert took charge of Eagle Mills in 1852, my great-grandfather Walker Colvert was in his early 30s and father of a one year-old boy, John Walker Colvert. I don’t know exactly what kind of work Walker did for W.I., but they had grown up together, and Walker was an entrusted slave. Even if his primary labors were not at the cotton factory complex, I am certain that he spent considerable time in and around his master’s largest investment. So, too, would John Walker, who remained with W.I. after Emancipation. He is listed in W.I.’s household in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, and I suspect he stayed at Eagle Mills until the final fire closed down the works.
On a rainy December morning I cruised the backroads of northern Iredell County, drinking in the landscape that was home to my Colverts and Nicholsons for much of the 19th century. I made a left onto Eagle Mills Road, headed north. A sharp bend in the road and there, a bridge over Hunting Creek. I pulled over and, ignoring a No Trespassing sign, clambered down to the sandy bank. The waterway is too shallow and rocky to have been paddled or poled, but I imagine that Walker and John Walker knew its course very well. Hunting Creek powered Eagle Mills and was a direct link between W.I. Colvert’s lands and those of Thomas A. Nicholson, whose son James Lee married W.I.’s daughter and whose granddaughter, Harriet Nicholson, gave birth to John Walker Colvert’s first child.
Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2013.