A city with a rich southern textile heritage, Kannapolis is honoring its past while embracing its future as a center for nutrition, health, and agriculture research along the Charlotte to Raleigh biotechnology corridor.
In 1905 J.W. Cannon began exercising options on land that became Kannapolis, completing his land purchasing in1906, after acquiring a total of 1008 acres in Cabarrus and Rowan Counties. Approximately 808 of those acres of farmland purchased along the historic wagon road between Salisbury and Charlotte became the location of a new textile mill, Cannon Manufacturing, that began production in 1908. Along with the Kannapolis mill, Mr. Cannon also opened plants in Rowan County, Concord and in South Carolina that eventually employ 20,000 workers. (At the time of the Kannapolis’ incorporation on December 11, 1984, an estimated 30,000 people were employees of Cannon Mills.) In Kannapolis Mr. Cannon constructed or created amenities and services for the mill employees. This included 1,600 homes, a YMCA and civic center, movie theater, daycare center, a temporary hospital. All aspects of life, from housing to road infrastructure to recreation and services, centered around mill operations. In 1914 Cannon Manufacturing became known as the world’s largest producer of sheets and towels. Mill founder J.W. Cannon’s youngest son, Charles A. Cannon, consolidated all the separate mills into the giant Cannon Mills Company in 1928.
Cannon Mills was purchased by Pacific Holding Company and David H. Murdock in 1982. A $20 million renovation of downtown included the development of the Cannon Village shopping district. Residents voted to incorporate the city in 1984.
The years 1986 to 2000 were a period of transition in the textile industry and in Kannapolis. Cannon Mills was sold to Fieldcrest Mills of Eden, NC in 1986. The new company consolidated as Fieldcrest Cannon, resulting in layoffs, primarily among executive and administrative staff.
In 1997, Fieldcrest Cannon was sold to Pillowtex Corporation. Pillowtex filed for bankruptcy protection in 2000. Globalization and the export of textile jobs overseas brought on the July 2003 closing of Pillowtex. In Kannapolis, 4,340 lost their jobs in the largest one-day layoff in North Carolina history.
In 2004, billionaire and sole owner of Dole Food Company David Murdock returned to Kannapolis to purchase the mill at auction. In a ceremony in front of the one-time world’s largest manufacturer of household textiles, Murdock announced plans for a $1.5 billion scientific and economic revitalization project called the North Carolina Research Campus. Those attending include U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole, U.S. Senator Richard Burr, U.S. Congressman (and great-grandson of Kannapolis’ founder, J.W. Cannon) Robin Hayes, and University of North Carolina President Molly Corbett Broad, as well as many other political and academic leaders from the state of North Carolina
The North Carolina Research Campus is emerging as an internationally-recognized research hub where collaborative science is leading to ground-breaking discoveries in nutrition, disease prevention, and agriculture. The future development includes 3.2 million square feet of office, lab, and civic space providing jobs for approximately 5,000 people, making Kannapolis home to one of the largest urban redevelopment projects on record in the United States.
Today, the NC Research Campus is home to eight universities, including Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, UNC Charlotte, Appalachian State, NC A & T, NC Central, and UNC Greensboro. Rowan Cabarrus Community College’s Biotechnology training center provides degree and certification programs. The Cabarrus Health Alliance, General Mills, Sensory Spectrum, Carolinas Medical Center-Kannapolis, Ei Solutions, and other nutrition, healthcare, and food technology organizations have joined the Kannapolis business community.
Mill housing surrounding the Campus is redeveloping downtown as an increasingly diverse community of educators, researchers, and healthcare professionals relocate to Kannapolis. Center city revitalization plans include a farmer’s market, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly improvements, and development to reinvigorate the Cannon Village shopping district. The Cannon Memorial YMCA, Village Park, and Veterans Park and other historical landmarks remain for residents and visitor enjoyment.
In 2009, thanks to a grant from the Cannon Foundation, the City published the Kannapolis: A Pictorial History book, documenting the history of Kannapolis from its founding by J.W. Cannon in 1906 to the beginning of the NC Research Campus in 2008. The history book received the Willie Parker Peace History Book Award. Presented by the North Carolina Society of Historians, the award recognizes a work of excellence in the publication of a history of a North Carolina county, institution or individual.
The book is available for purchase at the Customer Service Center at 234 Dale Earnhardt Boulevard, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The cost is still $30.00 and is a great value for a hardcover book containing 300 pages and 500+ images. You may pay by check, cash or credit card. Credit card sales will be charged a processing fee of $2.75. For additional information, contact the Customer Service Center at (704) 920-4399.