Community Gardens in the past - Mecklenburg Mill in NoDa - Charlotte
Community gardening and community gardens are hardly a new concept. Though the trend all but died out in the past century, it was a widely used practice just a couple generations ago. While researching our home I ran across some really interesting records of the community garden concept that was present in our neighborhood in the early 1900's.
We live in NoDa, a neighborhood about 4 miles outside the Uptown core of Charlotte. The area was once known as "North Charlotte" and was home to three large textile mills - Highland Mill, Mecklenburg Mill & Johnston Mill. These cotton mills were typical of industry in this area in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The Mill was built and a "village" of identical homes owned by the company was built around it to house the workers. Small commercial districts were constructed to serve the them.
Workers were not paid much more than it cost them to survive, so along with providing housing the mill owners created an environment where their employees could also provide much of their food needs on their own.
This is detailed in an article I found in the "Southern Textile Bulletin" from December 25, 1919, titled "Mecklenburg Manufacturing Company". While much of the article describes the mill, it's construction, productivity and surroudings, part of it describes the community that the mill owners constructed for their workers and their push for self-sufficiency in terms of food production.
"There are 53 neat, attractive cottages in the village and these homes have been put into the best repair, repainted, etc...The ownes are greatly interested in the welfare of their workers and do much to encourage the operatives in ways of thrift and help them to reduce the high cost of living. Each cottage has a large space for a vegetable garden and many fine vegetables are raised both in summer and winter, also a good quantity of beans, peas, corn, etc., are canned in the summer. There is a piggery where the mill community keep their hogs in a segregated spot, and many hundreds of pounds of pork is raised each year. Of course there are some chickens in the village but these are not encouraged for they are always liable to get out and do damage in the gardens. There are quite a number of cows that furnish plenty of milk and butter, and these are kept in perfectly sanitary stables away from the houses."
While NoDa doesn't currently have a "piggery" or any cows that I'm aware of, a quick walk down the very same streets from the article above will reveal gardens in many yards. There is a small community garden underway behind the Johnston Presbyterian Church just 2 blocks from the Mecklenburg Mill, our home (and garden) is across the street, and contrary to the practices in the past many homes now have coops for chickens...running the risk of "damage to the gardens"!