A Textile Village Springs to Life:
McAdenville was destined to become a vibrant textile manufacturing center with its
flowing rivers and acres of cotton all around. It just took the pioneering vision of Rufus Y. McAden to make this a reality. With
the Atlanta-Charlotte Railroad laying tracks in 1873, McAden purchased the land along the South Fork of the Catawba River in 1880
and then chartered the Springs Shoals Manufacturing Company in 1881. The town was planned around the cotton mill with houses
built to attract workers from the mountains and surrounding area. A company mercantile was established along with wheat and corn
mills, a town library and phone lines to enhance the quality of life of the workers. In 1883, the town was incorporated as
McAdenville and the company became known as McAden Mills.
The Bell Tower of the majestic McAden Mill, situated at the center
still rings today, and is considered a symbol of the town’s unrelenting,
Connections & Innovation:
McAden Mills was a pioneering cotton factory considered to be the first truly modern textile
mill of its time. It grew to be the largest in Gaston County through its innovative approach to operations. In 1883, Thomas Edison
was hired to build a hydroelectric generator, No. 31 known as a dynamo, to power the lighting in the mill and mill houses. The
mill’s textile innovations resulted in its woven fabrics being exported to as far as the West Indies, South America and the
Philippines. Other innovations included a finishing department to dye fabric with bright colors.
The Thomas Edison No. 31
generator, known as a dynamo,
is on loan at the Gaston County Museum of Art and History.
A Mill Town that Will
When the Great Depression hit in 1929, McAden Mills felt its devastating impact with machinery becoming outdated and
orders for production dramatically slowing, which resulted in the mill’s closure in 1935. While the mill was gone, many of
the people stayed with a strong faith and belief in the town and its potential. William J. Pharr saw its potential too and took
action that would endear the people of McAdenville to the Pharr family and their commitment to McAdenville for decades to come.
The first order of business was the purchase of the three closed plants, 450 acres of land and 250 village houses. Pharr, in
partnership with his father-in-law, Robert L. Stowe, and brother-in-law, Daniel J. Stowe, invested monies into the property with
the understanding that the newly established Stowe Mills was Pharr’s full responsibility. The second demonstration of
Pharr’s commitment was when he, his wife, Catherine, and young children moved to McAdenville to make it their home from the
very beginning as the manufacturing operation was being brought back to life.
Innovation Returns With Global
Under Pharr’s leadership, McAdenville’s textile innovation resurged with yarns being introduced by the mill as demand increased during World War II. Pharr’s product diversification
enabled the company to be among the first to convert to spinning synthetic yarns, which could only occur in a plant which had
equipment to spin wool. Pharr Yarns was such a high-performing division within the company that it resulted in the
company’s name being changed. Pharr Yarns continued as a global innovator of synthetic yarns through its
legacy of strong family leadership as J.M. “Bip” Carstarphen carried forward the family’s
hands-on, caring approach after W.J. Pharr passed away in 1981. Today, Pharr’s grandson, Bill Carstarphen, serves as
President of Pharr Yarns and continues the company’s global leadership.
Inside Pharr Yarns
An Open-Door Community Spirit:
What made the community experience different compared to before Pharr was
leading the mill was the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Pharr made it a point to move to McAdenville and become active residents of this
vibrant community. The family’s daily involvement in the community coupled with their open-door policy in the company built
a trust and admiration among town residents and co-workers alike. Mr. and Mrs. Pharr’s love and commitment to the town was
continually demonstrated through their philanthropic generosity and involvement. The development of the McAdenville Community
Center, now the Pharr Family YMCA, is a shining first example, and the custom of lighting trees throughout the town, which has
grown to be known as Christmas Town USA today, is yet another illustration of the family’s legacy-building impact on the
Pharr Family YMCA, originally the McAdenville Community Center
Generations of Sharing & Caring:
The preservation of McAdenville, a town cherished by so many people
through the years for its unique mix of innovations to secure its future and traditions to respect the past, is attributed to Mr.
and Mrs. Pharr’s legacy of caring and sharing within the community. Their deep love for the town and its people was most
clearly exemplified when Pharr Yarns celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1989 with the theme “For the People.” The
Pharr’s dedication to McAdenville inspired their future generations to keep this strong sense of community and family values
close at heart. Today, the Carstarphen family continues to be visible and supportive members of the town and its treasured
traditions while remaining committed to the continued success of their family-owned and operated business, Pharr Yarns.
Pharr Yarns & McAdenville Elementary School
Tapestry of Firsts:
McAdenville boasts a tapestry of firsts that reflect the thinking that has secured a unique place for our town in the history of the region. In addition to McAden Mills’ numerous firsts in textile
manufacturing, it has been reported to be the first electrically lighted textile mill in the world. In 1883, McAdenville became
the first community in North Carolina with electric lights. The town built the first library and installed the first
locally-owned telephone system in Gaston County. The first formal public kindergarten program in the state of North Carolina was
launched at McAdenville Elementary School in the 1960s. The late Thomas Kinkade, an American painter, added to
McAdenville’s legacy of “firsts” when he selected McAdenville as his first and only town in North Carolina to be
captured in his glowing brush strokes. It was fitting that this world-renowned “painter of lights” would immortalize
McAdenville’s Christmas-time magic through his illuminating technique.
“The Lights of Christmastown,” was completed in 2007 with the original work now residing in a vault in California.
Other North Carolina Kinkade works include Cape Hattaras and the Biltmore Estate.
A Legacy of Lights:
It's fitting that the town that drew neighbors from counties throughout the region to admire its electric lights in
the 1880’s would be the town that draws more than 600,000 visitors worldwide for its holiday lights today.
Branded Christmas Town USA in 1993, McAdenville’s 26 days of holiday splendor was inspired by the McAdenville Men’s
Club when Bip Carstarphen and fellow members decorated nine trees around the McAdenville Community Center in 1956. With each
holiday season, through the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Pharr, the lights continued to shine in traditional holiday colors of
twinkling red, green, and white on more trees. As members of the community decorated their homes, the company strung lights on all
the trees and added displays of holiday merriment. Festivities were added to the holiday tradition with the Tree
Lighting Ceremony kicking off Christmas Town USA in 2000. In 2011, Christmas Town USA was named one of the Top 10 places to visit
at Christmas time by Yahoo and has received national and international acclaim. The first light occurred in the form of
the Yule Log Parade, which began in 1949. Children still pull the ceremonial log on a sled through the town, accompanied by
townspeople and a brass band playing Christmas carols, to deliver it to an open fireplace in Legacy Park
where it is lit to add to the warmth of the season.
McAdenville, NC at Christmas time
In the Company of Neighbors:
Nothing demonstrates the
special connection between residents, people working at Pharr Yarns and Pharr Yarns’ officials than when producers of the
hit CBS television reality show, Undercover Boss, called to suggest that Pharr Yarns’ CEO, Bip Carstarphen, go
“undercover” within one of Pharr’s manufacturing plants. It was difficult to convince the producers that
everyone in the company, whether working in McAdenville or in more distant plants, not only knew Bip, but also considered him a
friend and a part of their workplace “family.”
A Special Place:
Yes, McAdenville has a special place in
history for countless reasons, but it is its place in the present and its promise for the future that shines brightest of all.