Re-purposing a 1900’s Cotton Mill for the 21st Century, in Edenton, NC.

March 11th,  2015.

How lucky could I be………..I had read about the Cotton Mill conversion and asked Eleanor if she would put it on our itinerary when I visited.  Little did I know ,she would ask her Realtor, Anne Perry from Sotheby’s to be our personal guide.  Anne had been involved in the Cotton Mill Project since the beginning and knew every detail about it.  Her family has lived in Edenton for several generations and  she knows the history of the town as well as the history of its citizens.  Climbing into Anne’s car, Eleanor, Jean Ann and I were first taken on an overview tour of Edenton by Anne who told us the history and gave us explanations of changes that had taken place as well as information on how few changes have in fact taken place,  We looked at the harbor, with its boats rocking in the water and learned that in addition to pirates being very active in the early days, much history was been written here. This was once a thriving port, collecting big money through its Customs House and because it was a seafaring community there was also boat building. Anne knew everyone and knew who lived in each house and it was fascinating  touring with an insider.

Arriving at the Cotton Mill was “deja vu”,  because I had seen pictures, but had no idea of its grandeur and scale until I saw the buildings.   It was completed in 1900 and operated as a working Cotton Mill, making an important contribution to the local economy and employing many workers.  Due to the economic downturn, it closed operations in 1995 when it was donated to  Preservation North Carolina, dedicated to the preservation of historic sites and buildings. This gave the new development significant tax advantages which came in handy during the refurbishment.

The original Mill is an Italianate Revival brick Industrial complex, a style popular at the turn of the Century for Mill Designs in the Carolinas and is said to have been built using one million bricks that were made on site. Anne said the conversion project was awarded to Clearscapes in Raleigh NC, who she knows personally and who are experienced architects in Warehouse and Factory conversions.  Under Cleasrscape’s supervision, the work was executed with great awareness to its heritage, preserving as many of the architectural walls, joists, beams and details as possible and even the original cotton mill scale from the factory has been incorporated into the interior design as a feature. The color of the bricks is a warm gold, and the exposed brick walls have been retained for the interiors giving it a rustic, industrial feel. The ceilings are fifteen feet high with exposed beams and joists and the original floors are a warm, weathered maple.  There are approximately one hundred and eighty  segmented arched windows that are an important architectural feature of the design and are twelve feet high and five feet wide. In the 1960’s when Air Conditioning was added, several windows were removed and the open space was bricked up.   For the restoration, the bricked up window spaces were re-opened and new windows were ordered, exact replicas of the original ones.   As each window opening was slightly different in size, they  had to be custom made, adding significantly to the the costs.

Anne walked us through a separate building alongside the Mill that had previously been used to store raw cotton.  It is presently being converted into five single story condos,  ideal for part time residents or homeowners wanting to downsize.   There are also seventy cottages in the Cotton Mill Village  on the same development.  These had been built to house the managers, factory workers and their families, mostly one and two bedroom houses. When the Mill closed down, an effort was made to sell them.  With very little demand at the time, they sold for $20,000 to $25,000 each.   Now twenty years later,  these charming cottages have been restored and updated and are worth $250,000, if you can find one for sale.  I had the opportunity to stay in one and will write about that separately.

Where once machines had hummed and clicked spinning cotton, there are now thirty condos, each one a different configuration and each one “disciplined” by the original construction and design.  We were able to see the interiors of the condos and whether furnished in modern, traditional or eclectic style, they are dramatic. inviting living spaces with the large windows letting in lots of light and sunshine  with a vista of the outdoors.  bringing new life to this historic building.  Abutting the Edenton Bay and a couple of blocks from “town”, living  at an address that is now on the National Register of Historic Homes, is a unique experience that can only be shared by a limited number of homeowners. Lucky people !!

This was a most generous and unique tour by Anne Perry, with many details and insights to how this groundbreaking development had come about, working through  many hurdles, getting endless approvals and permits before the project was completed.  How fortunate that in the correct hands these beautiful old buildings have been saved and re-purposed for future generations.

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