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.
In 1906 J.W. Cannon purchased the land that later became Kannapolis, and acquired 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 the new textile mill, Cannon Manufacturing. Cannon Manufacturing began production in 1908. In 1914 Cannon Manufacturing became known as the world’s largest producer of sheets and towels. Shortly after, Mr. Cannon opened plants in Rowan County, Concord and in South Carolina totaling 20,000 workers. Mill founder J.W. Cannon’s youngest son, Charles A. Cannon, consolidated all the separate mills into the giant Cannon Mills Company in 1928.
Many of Kannapolis’ facilities and amenities like 1,600 homes, a YMCA and civic center, movie theater, daycare center, a temporary hospital were constructed by Cannon Mills for the mill employees. All aspects of life, from housing to road infrastructure to recreation and services, centered around mill operations. By 1984, when Kannapolis incorporated, an estimated 30,000 people were employees of Cannon Mills.
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.
North Carolina Research Campus
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.
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. 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 offers Biotechnology Associate’s Degree classes on the research campus, as well as other certification programs. The Cabarrus Health Alliance, General Mills, Sensory Spectrum, Carolinas Medical Center-Kannapolis, Standard Process, and other nutrition, healthcare, and food technology organizations have joined the Kannapolis business community.
The Campus is helping revitalize downtown Kannapolis as an increasingly diverse community of educators, researchers, and healthcare professionals relocate to Kannapolis. Kannapolis is buying the downtown shopping district and revitalization plans include a farmer’s market, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly improvements, and building renovation.
First named Town Park, this site was built by the Cannon Mills Company along Lake Shore Drive near the mill’s main gate. During World War II, Kannapolis residents came here to pay tribute to our servicemen and women at a memorial called Little Mt. Vernon, built in 1943 and named after its likeness to George Washington’s home in Virginia.
Names of over 6,000 men who had been drafted from Kannapolis were listed on the wooden memorial. That structure was replaced in the 1970s with this pavilion, and our unique sundial, to create an event space in the park. Veterans Park has continued to be a community gathering place for special occasions. The names of those 6,000 service men and women were lost until the daughter of a former YMCA employee brought a pamphlet to the Kannapolis History Associates. That pamphlet listed the names in the order that they appeared on the original memorial.
On Memorial Day 2000, the former Town Park at was renamed Veterans Park in honor of those who have served in the armed forces in the defense and protection of our country. Located adjacent to the Core Lab Building of the NC Research Campus, the park has traditionally offered a scenic and peaceful environment to play or relax.
Hundreds of bricks and benches in the park have been purchased in memory of those who have served.
Kannapolis Cemetery, located near 700 West C Street, is registered as an historic landmark. One of the earliest markers found in the cemetery dates back to 1746, making the cemetery an important part of Kannapolis history and a connection for many people to generations of their family.
The Parks and Recreation Department is working to catalog and map all of the plots in the cemetery. When this project is complete, information will be available from the Parks and Recreation Department and online. If you have information to contribute to the project, please call 704-920-4343.
The Kannapolis Cemetery is divided into five sections (A – E). There are 554 designated lots in Kannapolis Cemetery. Each lot has approximately six plots.
It is estimated that the cemetery has approximately 150 ‘free plots.’ These were plots given to families who could not afford an entire lot. Mostly infants and children are buried in these lots in section A and B. There are approximately 3,474 plots total.
It is estimated there are approximately 300 unmarked graves, of which the department has discovered information on about 125, leaving around 175 unmarked and unknown burials in the cemetery.
John (b. 1745 and d. 1816) and Sarah Baker are some of the earliest known settlers in this area. The Bakers purchased land, then a part of Mecklenburg County and now known now as Cabarrus and Rowan counties, in the early 1770’s through a land grant from King George III in 1773.
Upon Baker’s monument, one of the oldest in Kannapolis Cemetery, are written these words: “In memory of John Baker. Born October 12, 1745 and died January 18, 1816, Aged 71 years and 4 months. Remember man as you pass by, you are now so once was I. As I am now, so you must be, Prepare for death to follow me.”
In 2009, thanks to a grant from the Cannon Foundation, the City published Kannapolis: A Pictorial History which documents 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 City Hall. The cost is still $32.75 and is a great value for a hardcover book containing 300 pages and 500+ images. You may pay by check, cash or credit card.