NINETEEN YEARS after founding Belmont's first cotton mill, Robert Lee Stowe deservingly had a textile mill named after his own family, the eleventh to be built in that thriving cotton manufacturing town. Soon to turn 54 years old, the prolific textile entrepreneur directed his attention to building a model new plant on a tract of land served by the Piedmont and Northern Railway between Belmont and Mount Holly, in an area to be known as North Belmont. It was near enough to town for the use of its amenities, but far enough in the country to provide an ideal rural setting desired by many workers for pleasant living and recreation.
Stowe Spinning Company was incorporated February 5, 1920, by R.L. Stowe, S.P. Stowe, W.B. Puett and R.F. Cox. It was for the Stowes what Acme Spinning Company, founded six months earlier, was to be for the Linebergers. It was primarily Stowe-onwed and Stowe-operated, and there was a sense of pride in its inception and its prospects for the future. Samuel P. Stowe was the first president, Robert L. Stowe treasurer and general manager, and R.F. Cox, secretary. The original board of directors consisted of the officers and several other prominant textilists in the Belmont area. The outstanding capital stock was $886,000. By comparison, the Climax Spinning Company, similar in size, had been built less than five years earlier for only $300,000. The war inflation had increased prices for goods and services substantially.
A modern one-story brick factory, 125 x 630 feet, with large steel frame windows, was erected on the North Belmont site under the supervision of R.C. Biberstein and Company of Charlotte, the architects and engineers. There were 21,760 Whitin spindles put into operation when the mill was completed in late summer of 1921. Like most of the other mills in Belmont, the goods produced by Stowe Spinning were fine quality combed cotton yarns of various numbers and twists for the knitting and weaving trades. Sales were both direct and through brokers throughout New York, New England, Pennsylvania and the South.
Adjacent to the mill rose a model village of 91 one-story cottages with the latest amenities. Along with the Acme, Linford, and Perfection villages, it constituted North Belmont, with stores, businesses, and professions all its own. Few mill villages would be built in the years after mid-1920s. They would no longer be required to induce workers to come to the area for employment. Thanks to Henry Ford, the automobile had arrived in great numbers and most every American family could afford one. Workers thereafter could easily and comfortably commute to work from almost any place in the county or general area in a reasonable time. Other incentives would be required, like better working conditions, shorter hours and higher pay.
With its dedicated management and sound financial condition, Stowe Spinning Company flourished during the 1920s and survived the ten years of the Great Depression. Robert Lee Stowe, Jr. (1902-1985), a Davidson College Graduate, joined the mills managed by his father in 1925 and began to learn all aspects of the combed sales yarn industry from buying to selling. By the 1930s he was involved in major management duties, and by the time of World War II he had become general manager of the R.L. Stowe-managed mills. The officers of Stowe Spinning Company remained relatively consistent for 36 years until the death of Samuel P. Stowe in 1956, whereupon Robert L. Stowe, Sr. became president, and Robert L. Stowe, Jr. was promoted to treasurer and general manager.
Improvements were consistently made in the 1970s to maintain quality output. There were now 28,696 spindles producing No. 16s to 60s combed cotton sales yarn, single and ply, put up in a wide variety of packaging for knitters, weavers and mercerizers. Robert L. Stowe Jr. was president and treasurer.
Stowe Spinning Company operated under the conservative but sound executive management of Robert Stowe, Jr. until his passing in 1985 at the age of eighty-one. He was succeeded by his two oldest sons, Robert Lee III and Daniel Harding, who assumed the top management positions and expanded the capacity of the mill to 39,000 spindles. On September 27, 1985, R.L. Stowe Mills, Inc., a holding company, was formed as the parent corporation for Stowe Spinning Company, The Chronicle Mills and National Yarn Mills.
The Stowe Spinning Plant survived into the 21st century as an efficient spinning facility, producing the same premium quality ring-spun cotton yarn it has continuously produced for the past 80 years. While its 39,000 spindles were of the older ring spinning type, continued demand for this kind of fine yarn remained strong. It was promised a bright future under the leadership of the third generation of the R.L. Stowe family, who had contributed so greatly to Gaston County and its industrial history.
Ragan, Robert Allison, The Textile Heritage of Gaston County North Carolina 1848-2000 . Charlotte: R.A. Ragan & Co., 2001.
IN 2009, AFTER 108 YEARS in the yarn business, R.L. Stowe Mills closed. A dramatic drop in business led the Stowe family to conclude that their era in Belmont had come to a close. Although the mills are closed, the Stowe family will live forever in spirit in the town of Belmont, as their name adorns many precious places, from Stowe Manor to Stowe Park downtown and the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. (Jackson, Daniel. Gaston Gazette. 5 January 2009.)
The end of one era marked the beginning of another. In 2004, while R.L. Stowe was closing its mills, local entrepreneur DJ Toal began to purchase them. DJ Toal moved his first company, Bisque Imports, into the Majestic Mill in 2004. The mill was fully restored less than 10 years later in time for Bisque Imports' move to Stowe Spinning. The Majestic Mill now houses the Catawba River Antique Mall. In addition to Stowe Spinning, DJ and his team are also restoring the National Mill for their sister company, Slumpy's.