ERWIN COTTON MILLS
Throughout the 19th century, much of the area around Pin Hook was farmland. According to the Herald-Sun, the Rigsbee family farm stretched 600 acres -- including the Ninth Street area. For one hundred years, the Rigsbees raised tobacco, corn, and sweet potatoes on the hills south of Old West Durham. They kept their pigs down in a ravine. In 1892, the Rigsbees sold a northern section of their land for the construction of Erwin Mills. 33 years later, they sold their holdings for a new university. That land is now called Duke's West Campus. And the ravine where the pigs were kept is now called Wallace Wade Stadium (site of the 1942 Rose Bowl -- moved to Durham due to fears of having large crowds on the west coast after Pearl Harbor). Today, you can still see the small Rigsbee family cemetery -- surrounded by a low, Duke stone wall and the football stadium parking lot.
As you walk down Ninth Street today, the long red brick building across from the Regulator Bookshop seems to be an almost forgotten footnote of history. And yet the Erwin Cotton Mills were the driving force that made Old West Durham what it is today. Durham County by Jean Anderson and The Durham Architectural And Historic Inventory (Historic Preservation Society of Durham) offer outstanding accounts of the impact Erwin Mills would have on the neighborhood. According to Anderson, the new company bought several adjacent tracts of land in West Durham and built a brick factory 75 by 347 feet, two stories high, with a picker building, dyehouse, boiler room, and engine house. Rows of neat houses were built for the workers, who in 1895 numbered 375. The factory then had 11,000 spindles and 360 looms producing fine muslin, chambrays, camlets, and denims.
Paul Bonner writes in the Herald-Sun that the steady noise of the mills reverberated throughout the surrounding village -- and so pervaded the workers' consciousness that they noticed it only when it ceased, making Sundays seem unnaturally still. Company housing was modest and decent by the standards of the times, decidedly Spartan by those of today. The houses had running water but most lacked bathtubs and some lacked commodes. They were heated by coal stoves and most had electricity. Families hung a card on their front porches to indicate to the ice deliveryman how many pounds to put in their icebox that day. Some houses had "Do-not-Disturb" signs advising that a third-shift worker slept there during the day.