Charlotte's textile industry roots, from emerging to booming

Bank of America’s oldest heritage bank in Charlotte helped finance the beginning of North Carolina’s role in the American Industrial Revolution with textile production.

In 1874, Charlotte was a small but growing town with a fledgling textile industry. Several small textile mills with names like Ada, Alpha, Victor, Louise and Elizabeth were emerging in rural areas and with them communities, which came to be known as "mill hills." Then, as now, local industry tied groups of neighbors into close-knit communities that lived, worked and played together. The well-being of these communities was important for the continued growth and prosperity of Charlotte.

Charlotte's mayor, Clement Dowd, knew this and so he proposed the inception of a bank that would serve Charlotte's up-and-coming textile industry. So with capital of just $50,000, Bank of America's oldest heritage bank in Charlotte, the Commercial National Bank of Charlotte, was founded in 1874. Mayor Dowd served as its first president.

The bank funded the operation of Charlotte's earliest mills, including Atherton Cotton Mill, which opened in 1893. It was a spinning mill, which housed machines that spun and twisted together the raw cotton into fibers to form yarn. Following a short gold rush in Charlotte, cotton became the new, sustainable gold of Mecklenburg County at the turn of the century. Because of this, cotton in Charlotte came to be known as "the white gold of the South" and "King Cotton."

Despite Charlotte's small population, Commercial National Bank prospered. Through a combination of relatively conservative fiscal policy and sound analysis, the bank weathered the depression-like banking storms of 1893, 1907 and 1929 – 1933 with its assets largely intact. With the help of the bank's funding, the growth of the textile industry in Charlotte and the surrounding region boomed. Thirteen years after the first mill, three counties in and around the greater Charlotte area ranked highest in number of spindles in the state.

The local capital from the bank drove Charlotte's growth with little help from outside investors and served as a foundation for our company's business and culture today with its commitment to local economy and communities. "Charlotte is essentially a home-made city," stated Charlotte publisher Wade Harris in 1899. "All the cotton mills and clothing factories were built mainly by Charlotte people."

Commercial National Bank, our original predecessor bank in Charlotte, went on to drive Charlotte’s growth from a “mill hill” to a prosperous commerce center. The bank would be the first bank in the region to install automated commercial teller machines, offer the first drive-in branch in North Carolina, and market to Charlotte’s growing suburban population.

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