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Hope Mills - A brief history
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In 1839, construction of the first cotton mill powered by the Hope Mills Dam was completed and was the beginning of a new town of the same name, Hope Mills. Much of the heritage and the town's name itself can be attributed to the cotton milling industry that followed.
However, it was in the early 1700s that the first settlers arrived in the Cape Fear Region of what is now Cumberland County. A land office for the region opened in 1724 when there were already settlements beginning along the Cape Fear River and its creeks.
In 1761 a committee appointed by the Governor’s Council determined that the area at the mouth of Rockfish Creek was not a fit place for erecting a town, as the landing was very steep, the back roads unfit, and a very expensive bridge would be necessary.
However early land grants show that settlers, who were mainly Highlanders from Scotland, had begun living along the roads built in the area, most of them upon or close to rivers and waterways, the Little Rockfish Creek being one of them. By the mid-to-late 1700s a large saw mill had been built along the Little Rockfish Creek and the hearty Scottish settlers were at home in this rugged topography, familiar of their home land to these folks.
Dating back to 1766, when due to the wealth of natural water power and the abundance of timber, a lumber camp, saw mill, grist mill and pottery business were established.
The 18th Century was a period of booming trade in the Colonies. In 1789, the first permanent settlement was organized on Little Rockfish Creek. By 1830, the cotton industry had begun developing in the South. In 1839 the first cotton factory on Little Rockfish Creek – Rockfish Factory - was completed. The mill was constructed in approximately the same place an old saw mill and gristmill had been located, next to a dam on Little Rockfish Creek.
By the mid-1840s this factory was the largest cotton mill in North Carolina in terms of capital investment and the value of production. In 1841 a mill was constructed on Beaver Creek, about one and a half miles northwest of Rockfish.
As the textile industry flourished, so did the Rockfish Factory village, with a company store and rows of houses built for the families of those who worked in the cotton mills. With the advent of the Civil War, General William T. Sherman’s troops burned eight cotton mills in Cumberland County, including the Rockfish Factory, in March 1865. In their haste to depart from an approaching calvary, the Bluff Mill was spared. However many dwellings as well as bridges, were destroyed.
By 1868 the Bluff Mill was back in operation. A few years later in 1872, the property was sold to a newly-incorporated Rockfish Manufacturing Company. After much rebuilding, renovation and replacement of machinery, the mill was re-opened in 1872, and became known as the Hope Mill.
In 1885 the name of the settlement on Rockfish Creek was officially changed to Hope Mills and by 1890 the village of Hope Mills was the second-largest community in Cumberland County, incorporated as a town in 1891. By this time, the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway running from Wilmington, North Carolina to Bennettsville, South Carolina, ran through Hope Mills. The proximity of rail service greatly enhanced the growth of the mill industry in the area.