H.004. Piedmont Industrialization: Catawba, N.C.
- Creator: Southern Oral History Program
- Collection: Southern Oral History Program Interviews
The Catawba, N.C., interviews focus on the industrialization of an entire county. Cotton manufacturing began in Catawba County as early as 1816, but substantial industrial development in Catawba came with the railroads. Hickory and Conover, the main industrial centers, were originally stops along the Western North Carolina Railroad line from Salisbury to Morganton. Maiden, a third industrial town, developed around a cotton mill that farmer Henry Carpenter built to take advantage of a rail line through his property. After the turn of the century, Catawba County's nascent industry received a boost when the Southern Power Company (later Duke Power) began to promote industry in order to add customers for the electricity generated by its hydroelectric plants on the Catawba River. In addition to cotton, the manufacturing of hosiery, furniture, and work gloves became main industries in the area. Although the interviews are with workers in all four of Catawba County's major industries, furniture and glove manufacturing were stressed more than hosiery or cotton. Many of the interviews relate to the Shuford family and the many enterprises they created. In 1880, Abel A. Shuford founded a cotton mill at Granite Falls, which he later moved to Hickory. Shuford also founded Hickory's first bank (the First National Bank of Hickory) and invested in other local enterprises. Subsequent generations diversified into furniture, plastics, rayon, and pressure-sensitive tape. In the early 1980s, Shuford Mills and another Shuford enterprise, Century Furniture, were the largest employers in Hickory. Another branch of the Shuford family was instrumental in the development of the glove and furniture industries in Conover. Adrian R. Shuford began his career as a clerk in his uncle Abel Shuford's bank in Hickory. In 1916, Shuford and a local Republican politician, Charles Robert Brady, bought the Warlong Glove Company of Newton and moved it to Conover. Brady and Shuford branched into other business ventures, and, by 1925, they held a controlling interest in Hickory Handle. In 1927, they sold the company to Preston Yount and Rob Herman, who were the supervisors at the glove and furniture mills respectively. A year later, Brady and Shuford divided Conover Furniture into two companies, with Brady retaining control of Conover Furniture and Shuford taking charge of Warlong Glove. Under Shuford's management, Conover Knitting Company was established and installed in the same building as Warlong Glove. Conover Furniture passed to Brady's son, Walter Brady, and son-in-law Bill Barker upon his death in 1934. Interviews with members of the Shuford family and with Lula Brady Barker document the history of the Shuford and Brady enterprises in Conover. During the Depression, the furniture industry hit upon hard times owing to a decline in the market. As a result, Conover Furniture went bankrupt in 1938. James Edgar Broyhill, a Lenoir industrialist, bought the plant in 1941. Information on the development of the glove industry after World War II can be found in the interview with Arthur Little, founder and owner of Southern Glove, and in interviews with Ralph Bowman, former president of Hickory Chair, and Hugh Boyer, president of the company (now called Hickory Manufacturing). These interviews also document the transition from family to corporate management, and the interviewees' ties with the furniture industry as a whole through membership in such organizations as Western Carolina Industries and the Southern Furniture Manufacturers' Association.