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How the matter stands about the mill property.

From the Nicholson family file in the local history room at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville, this letter:

Nicholson’s Mills N.C.

March 4th 1886

Wesley J. Smith & Mary J. Smith

Dear Children we received Your letter of the 4 of Feb and was much rejoiced to hear that You had another fine son and all was doing well, but alas the last mail brough us another letter that give us the painful news that you had met with the sad misfortune to loss the child well my dear children greav not for the child it is gone to a far better state of existance and altho You can not call it back You can go to it where parting will be no more for ever in the sweet groves of bliss.  You wished to know how the matter stands about the mill property I can only say that Anderson Obtained Judgement against me at the last Court at Statesville and it will not be sold in a Short time but I do not know when as he has not Advertised Yet but it will not be long if I do not raise the money and there does not seem to be any Chance to do that.  James A. Barnard has been trying to sell his property ever since las fall so that he could buy mine but he has not met with the chance to do it Yet and I fear he will not find any one to buy his and if he dose not mine will have to go and it will go for nearly nothing.  but I can not help it unless some one would come to my help.  Watsons & family are all well except bad colds Barnard & family are in tolerble health only the baba it is not well nor has not been since xhrismast Wesley’s folks were well when he heard last but that is a month ago.  Sandford Reeces children have the hoopen cough very bad and they have lost little Mattie she died last Sunday morning was a week and they buried her ar Flatrock on monday following Cynthia May had been sick about four months and she died the first of Feb.  Old Miles was sick about two weeks and died the last day of January Jacks wife died the day before christmast.  I am no better off with my rhumatisam but get more and more helpless all the time.  Mama is very poorly at this time with cold but the most of the time she is tolerbly stout for one of her age we can not tell when we can go to see you we are feeble and the weather & the roads are bad,  You must come and see us when You can.

Your Affectionat father & mother     T.A. Nicholson  R.C. Nicholson

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Two months later, Thomas Allison Nicholson was dead. The “mill property” — a cotton factory he had announced so confidently in newspapers —
Rec__amp__Landmark_11_25_1881_cotton_factory
Statesville Record & Landmark, 25 November 1881.
— had been in foreclosure for years.
Nicholson had tried to sell other property to raise cash:
Rec__amp__Lndmark_1_15_1884_Nich_Mill_land_sale
Statesville Record & Landmark, 15 January 1884.
And his creditors had tried repeatedly to unload the factory:
Rec_and_Landmark_4_17_1885_Nicholson_sale
Statesville Record & Landmark, 17 April 1885.
But nothing worked. Thomas Nicholson died with this burden, and soon after, his son’s father-in-law, William I. Colvert, administrator of the estate, announced the liquidation of the cotton factory’s machinery.
WS_Western_Sentinel_12_9_1886_T_Nicholson_sale
Winston-Salem Western Sentinel, 9 December 1886.
The loss of the mill property by no means impoverished the Nicholsons, despite the plaintive tone of Thomas’ letter. When his widow died in 1903, her estate included three large parcels of land on Hunting Creek.
Record_and_Landmark_11_17_1903_RC_Nicholson_sale
Statesville Record & Landmark, 17 November 1903.
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Eagle Mills.

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.

——

Sville_Record_and_Landmark_4_19_1894_Eagle_Mills

Statesville Record & Landmark, 19 April 1894.

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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.

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Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2013.

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