The Golden Belt District is Durham's most "intact and representative example of the early twentieth-century mill village" and was originally established to produce bags for local tobacco manufacturer W.T. Blackwell & Co. Ninety-two thousand yards of cotton were purchased monthly to produce the daily output of 70,000 to 80,000 bags.
Understanding the economic value of vertical integration in manufacturing, President Julian S. Carr founded the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Company, producing cotton cloth on 200 looms and was considered "one of the finest factories in the country".
A few years later, The Golden Belt Bag Factory was incorporated to produce a single product - tobacco bags. Workers, mainly women and children, would do the hand finishing work at home for 30 to 40 cents per thousand bags. This equated to a day (or two) of full labor. Hand work, like sewing production today, was still necessary to clip strings, turn, and drawstring each bag.
As tobacco grew, so did the Golden Belt, with the purchase of the vacant factory buildings of the American Tobacco predecessors and by 1900, 48 machines produced up to 15,000 bags each day for tobacco, flour, cornmeal, and salt. Even at this capacity, the labels and drawstrings were still being done on the kitchen tables of local Durham workers.
Carr continued his expansion of the Golden Belt Manufacturing Company directly across the street from his other textile investment, the Durham Hosiery Mill. As a cotton and bag mill requiring dangerous work (often 12 - 18 hours each day), Golden Belt was one of the first southern textile mills to employ African American workers in production. Although, the majority of jobs were held by women and sadly, children 8 years of age and older.
Like many mill villages, small homes within walking distance of the factory were built for workers to rent, however, few stand today. Even diversification into plastic cigarette tips couldn't save the mill from closing during the decade of 1975 to 1985, when our country lost 800 textile mills to outsourcing and 100,000 jobs here in North Carolina.
The building remained vacant until 2016, when New York based LRC Properties did a complete renovation of part of the original campus, including the 118 year old cotton mill. Now a vibrant community where music, the arts, entertainment, and food meet residential and commercial development, this century old building on the National Register of Historic Places has been given a new lease on life and modernized for the 21st century. With a vision to make "arts the center of the community", the Golden Belt Campus is playing a vital role in the revitalization of one of America's coolest cites; Durham, NC.
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