Mount Vernon Mill No. 1

At the heart of textile manufacturing along the Jones Falls

Mill No. 1 sits on the site of Laurel Mill, a late 18th-century flour mill originally owned by prominent businessman and abolitionist Elisha Tyson. In 1849, the newly chartered Mount Vernon Company built a textile mill on the site. Mill No. 1 stood at the threshold of a burgeoning textile empire that would control most of the world’s cotton duck production, a heavy canvas used primarily for ship sails.

The textile mill and neighboring village Stone Hill shared a close relationship well into the 20th century. Residents renting company-owned housing in Stone Hill were required to be employed in the mill to live there. The mill's bell called workers to the factory floor for their twelve hour shifts. Mill boss David Carroll lived in a mansion at the top of the hill overlooking the village and mill his wealth built. The extant mansion later became the Florence Crittenton Home.

In the mid-1800s, about 400 men, women and children—some as young as eight years old—worked in and lived next to the mills. The company expanded in 1853 with the construction of Mill No. 3 across the street. In 1855, the Mt. Vernon Company controlled six mills in the Jones Falls Valley from Mt. Washington to Remington, and established adjoining villages that would grow into the neighborhoods of Hampden and Woodberry. When Mill No. 1 burned in 1873, it was replaced with the larger factory that stands on this site today. Inside the mills, the cotton looms made a lot of noise, and dust from the cotton was always in the air. Excess cotton had to be swept off the floor and cleaned off the looms to prevent fire. Workers heard the constant loud humming of the looms and breathed in the cotton dust. An entire paycheck could go to rent for the company houses and toward groceries purchased from the company store.

In 1899, area mills merged to form the Mount Vernon-Woodberry Cotton Duck Company, at the time the world’s foremost manufacturer of cotton duck, with mills from South Carolina to Connecticut, and a board of directors based out of New York City. By 1915, the Mt. Vernon-Woodberry Cotton Duck Company broke apart and was reformed as Mt. Vernon-Woodberry Mills, which controlled mills in Hampden and Woodberry, South Carolina, and Alabama, and employed about 2,200 workers locally. Production boomed during World War I and workers leveraged demand to gain a 10 percent wage increase, a reduced 55 hour work week, and cleaner facilities.

Demand for cotton duck dropped immediately after the war, and management cut wages by one-third and increased hours. Tensions within the company culminated in a 1923 strike, when 600 workers voted to reject the offer of a 54-hour work week and 7.5 percent pay increase and demanded a 48-hour work week with a 25 percent pay increase. Despite support from local clergy and the Textile Workers Union of America, the workers were forced by necessity to return to the mills. The company began to sell off its housing and move its operations to Alabama and South Carolina where labor was cheaper and less organized. During the Great Depression, many mill workers were laid off. Many went on welfare. Others, however, refused to go on welfare, and searched for additional jobs to support themselves. At this time most workers made between five and seven dollars per week and worked ten hours a day.

World War II created new demand for canvas. Tarps, rope, netting, mailbags, tents, and stuffing (made from cotton bits called ‘shoddy’) were all in demand from the military. Synthetic fabrics, which required bricking up the mill's windows to control humidity levels, emerged as new products. Many people from the South came to work in the mills at this time. After the war, production declined, never to regain its earlier levels. The Mount Vernon Company finally closed its Baltimore mills and moved all operations to North Carolina in 1972.

Some industry persisted in the mill buildings. Life-Like Products, a maker of model train sets and styrofoam coolers, was one. The international textile firm Rockland Industries, with origins upstream, used Mill No. 3 to store its textile supply after the Mount Vernon Company left. In 2013, Mill No. 1 was redeveloped by developer Terra Nova Ventures and now includes apartments, office space, a restaurant, and an event venue. Although they no longer function as mills, these buildings continue to serve as places of housing, food, and work within Hampden.



2980 Falls Road, Baltimore, MD 21211