Glen Royall Mill Village Historic District

Glen Royal Mill Village SignThe Glen Royall Mill Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 27, 1999, and has a period of significance from 1900 to 1949. This residential area is characterized by an irregular grid of streets laid out c. 1899. House lots were not surveyed until 1941 when the village owner, the Royall Cotton Mill decided to sell the houses. 

The Royall Cotton Mill was incorporated in 1899, during a period of major expansion in North Carolina’s textile industry, to spin and weave cotton, producing cotton sheeting skein yarn, becoming one of North Carolina’s premiere textile concerns. Construction on the mill and village began in 1900. The mill hired contractor Benjamin Thomas Hooks to construct the village housing according to plans and specifications prepared by mill superintendent John D. Briggs. 

Residents shopped at the mill commissary located at the corner of Brewer Avenue and Brick Street, now converted into apartments, worshipped at a church in the village, and their children were educated in village schools. The early mill workforce is said to have come principally from a nearby area known as “The Hurricanes”, an area known for its hard-scrabble farms and moon shining, but some operatives came from other mill communities. The mill continued in operation until a shift from cotton to synthetics in the 1970s resulted in the closure of the mill in April 1976.  

 

Pyramidal House Triple-A House
Pyramidal House Triple-A House

 


HouseBeginning in 1900 the Royall Cotton Mill management built housing for its mill operatives and their families. These one-story frame houses originally featured weatherboard siding, wood shingle roofing, and brick foundation piers and flues. The dominant house in the village is a pyramidal roofed four room form, excluding ells or wings, with a central brick flue. The second most numerous type is the “triple-A” cottage, so named for its distinctive roof with two end gables and a third, decorative gable on the front elevation. The larger, multi-gabled mill superintendent’s house at 105 East Chestnut Avenue is related to this form. There are also several shotgun-form houses, distinguished by their narrow gabled fronts. 

The Powell-Drake House (a.k.a. Powell-White House), located at 614 North Main Street but actually faces East Cedar Avenue, is the exception as to house and lot size and style. This house is the largest and most architecturally refined in the district. This large two story house has a large lot and features Queen Ann, Craftsman, and Colonial Revival attributes, wrap-around porch supported by classical columns, porte-cochere, front entry with sidelights and transom, and leaded windows. Robert Powell apparently built the house, beginning in 1909, although the property wasn’t deeded to him until 1913. He was the son of one of the mill founders and served the mill in a number of capacities. HouseWhen the mill village was an incorporated town the resident of this house was the only voter in town other than the Royall Cotton Mill, the only other property owner. Its major renovation in the 1990s resulted in the owners, Frank and Kathryn Drake, receiving an Anthemion Award from Capital Area Preservation in 1998.   

The Glen Royall mill village was incorporated as the Town of Royall Cotton Mills in 1907 with the mill directors serving as the town commissioners. Apparently the principal motivation behind incorporation was a desire by the mill management to avoid annexation by Wake Forest, an action that would have doubled the mill’s tax burden. The town’s charter was repealed in 1945 but not actually annexed into the Town of Wake Forest until 1977! A company owned church and school, now incorporated into the Glen Royal Baptist Church at the corner of Elizabeth Street and East Chestnut Avenue, was constructed during the first decade of the 20th century and a separate public graded school, no longer existing, was built on an adjoining site by 1926. House

During the 1920s and 1930s, home construction in the village tapered off due to a period of economic downturn at the mill. However, construction began again immediately following the end of World War II, with Cape Cod cottages and other house forms built on undeveloped lots. Post-1949 houses are relatively few. 

Historic townhousesThe pyramidal, “triple-A”, and shotgun houses erected at Glen Royall were representative of a new architectural approach to the mill house building type. Traditionally, a 2-story hall and parlor plan was used in mill housing. However, new forms began appearing around the turn of the 20th century. In her 1929 study “Welfare Work in Mill Villages, The Story of Extra-Mill Activities in North Carolina” Harriet L. Herring conjectured that the new trend toward pyramidal cottages, or “square-topped” houses, resulted from the beginning of the bungalow influence. True bungalows became dominant after about 1915. Mill owners were careful to build a mix of houses of difference room numbers so as to accommodate the needs of their renters. Three-room houses were “popular with newly married couples and small families who do not want to take boarders”, whereas the larger houses permitted “doubling up” of families and the taking in of boarders during periods of peak production and employment. The evidence suggests that Glen Royall families took in boarders even if their particular house model was small. Glen Royall displays the mix of house sizes described by Herring, as well as both triple-A and pyramidal houses with double front doors suggesting the potential for conversion into duplexes. The dominant triple-A and Roadpyramidal forms alternate along the principal north-south streets of Elizabeth and Mill, with one type facing its mirror image across the street but flanked on each side by the other type. Mill villages where “no two adjoining houses are alike” were declared by some industry analysts to be a sign of social health, but in her interviews with mill workers Herring noted that few seemed to care whether their dwellings looked the same or different from adjoining houses. 

The Glen Royall Mill Village retains a high degree of architectural integrity. Most of the neighborhood’s original housing stock survives and the historic street pattern remains unaltered. Historic yard patterns and shade tree distributions have been preserved or perpetuated. The 1900 Royall Cotton Mill is contiguous to the district but is not included owing to loss of integrity.