The Birth of a Mill Town,
In 1905 James W. Cannon decided to build a new factory and a mill town for its workers. To that end he purchased more than 1,000 acres of land in Cabarrus County and Rowan County, North Carolina. Mr. Cannon knew for his mill to survive in rural farm country the workers needed housing, entertainment, health care, shopping opportunities and educational facilities. With all this in mind, not only did he begin construction of his textile mill but also the facilities needed to keep his employees happy.
By 1908, Cannon had built a plant and homes for the 840 workers he employed. In addition to housing, Cannon understood entertainment was an important part of keeping his employees working. The first YMCA was under construction by 1907, and by 1910, the facility was completed with additions already planned.
Y.M.C.A. Kannapolis, N.C.
Y.M.C.A., Cannon Mills, Kannapolis, N.C.
Y.M.C.A. Kannapolis, N.C.
A new YMCA building was opened in 1925. The building not only became a landmark, but it was also the home of the YMCA with the largest membership in the Southeast. The 1925 structure burned in 1937, but the activities continued in a temporary facility until a new building was completed in 1940. The new facility included swimming pools, gyms, bowling, a library, and meeting space.
Mary Ella Hall (named for J. W. Cannon’s wife) was among the several large homes built as boarding houses about 1918. This boarding house was built next to the first YMCA and served as temporary housing for female employees. There was space to accommodate 240 residents in its 120 double rooms. The amenities were unusual for that era. Included were sixteen parlors, a swimming pool, and exercise equipment. The basement included living quarters for service workers. In later years, single men and married couples were allowed. The building was torn down in 1963.
J. W. Cannon High School
Education was important to the Cannons. The early schools built by the Cannon family, including Central High School that was built in 1924, were constructed on six acres of donated land. It was renamed after J. W. Cannon, and later when a new school was built it became a junior high school.
Cabarrus County General Hospital
Communities of employees need to be healthy; at first the mill provided a company healthcare center and offices for doctors and dentists to practice. Some of the larger homes were built for the local physicians. By 1917, Cannon had full time nurses on staff. In 1937, funds for a new 55 bed hospital were made available and by the 1950s additions had increased the capacity to 300 beds.
The first movie theatre in Kannapolis came in 1936, but it fell victim to a 1942 fire. As soon as building supplies were available after the war, the Gem Theater was built. Some considered it the finest movie theatre between Washington, DC, and Atlanta. The work was completed in 1948, and it is still in operation. In its early years, it was common to have movie stars such as Roy Rogers attend the first showings.
Kannapolis War Memorial
In 1943, the mill created a memorial to all service men and women serving in the military and Red Cross. The structure was built as a replica of Mount Vernon and was placed in the park by the main headquarters and lake. There was room for 3,000 names on the wall. A year later a porch was added, providing space for more names. This memorial remained in the park until the late 1970s.
Today, many of the mill houses remain. Some of the schools have been refurbished and are in use. Some downtown buildings are still there, but the mill is gone.
Like many American cities, all that is left of their history are a few postcards.