Steam Powers the Cabarrus Odell Cotton Mill

16 Oct 2014

A 1905 engraving of John Milton Odell. Courtesy:

On Tuesday, October 16, 1899, at 2:30 p.m., Odell Manufacturing Company turned on the new 175-horsepower steam engine, capable of running 500 looms, at its newest addition, Mill No. 5. One hundred new looms were already in place in Mill No. 5, with 200 more ready for installation. Odell manufacturing planned to use the new looms to make colored cloth goods called turenne seer-sucker.

Odell Manufacturing Company was begun 21 years before in 1878, with Captain John Milton Odell’s initial purchase of the McDonald Mill. By 1888 it was the largest plaid mill in the South. By the end of the century, Odell Manufacturing Company, located at the end of North Union Street on Buffalo Ave (in buildings including what is now known as Locke Mill Plaza) comprised five mills, housing 30,000 spindles and 1,850 looms.

According to the October 18, 1899 Concord Times, Concord was indebted to Captain Odell for his contributions to the textile industry, including many which directly affected the prosperity of the Carolina textile mills, seven of which were in Concord. In all, those 13 North Carolina textile mills employed over 2,500 operators working 100,000 spindles and 4,000 looms.

John Milton Odell was born in Randolph County, the son of James, a farmer, and Anna Trogden Odell. After attending Middleton Academy, he taught school for several years and served for a year in the Confederate army (Company M, Twenty-second North Carolina Infantry). Accomplished in a variety of business interests, he settled permanently in Concord in 1880. His first wife, whom he married on 9 Mar. 1859, was Rebecca Kirkman, the daughter of Robert Kirkman of Randolph County. They had three children: William R., James T., and Ollie Makepeace Durham. Mrs. Odell died on 13 June 1889. Odell’s second wife, whom he married on 4 Aug. 1891, was Mrs. Addie A. White, the daughter of R. W. and Sarah Anne Phifer Allison. Odell died in 1910 and is buried in the Odell mausoleum in Concord’s Oakwood Cemetery.

The history and development of Odell Manufacturing Company and its contributions to Concord and Cabarrus County are documented in several sources. The Minutes of Odell Manufacturing Company Stockholders Meetings, January 10, 1879-January 16. 1902, as well as two dissertations by Dr. Gary R. Freeze of Catawba College, Salisbury: Master Mill Man: John Milton Odell and Industrial Development in Concord, North Carolina, 1877-1907, and Model Mill Men of the New South: Paternalism and Methodism in the Odell Cotton Mills of North Carolina, 1877-1908.

Courtesy of the Cabarrus County Public Library, Lore Local History Room