Everybody knows that Julian Shakespeare Carr was the namesake of the town of Carrboro, although we are not exactly sure why. Everybody also knows that Julian Carr was the man who bought the old mill in downtown Carrboro. What most people don’t know is what Julian Carr did outside of Carrboro.
Julian was born about 1845 in Orange County. His father, John Wesley Carr, was a well-to-do merchant in downtown Chapel Hill. Julian was a student at UNC when the Civil War broke out. Like many UNC students, he left school to join the Confederate Army.
After the War was over, Julian returned to Orange County. He had heard of the popularity of southern tobacco products among the Union troops that had occupied the South after the War. His father loaned him some money to buy into the budding tobacco manufacturing business that was just taking hold in the area where Durham now stands. Julian didn’t care much for Durham, then just a stop on the railroad, but he took a chance. He went into partnership with W. T. Blackwell in 1870. By 1883, they owned the world’s largest factory and employed over 900 workers. Carr was made president.
Carr created the Golden Belt Manufacturing Company that made cloth bags for tobacco, grain and such. Carr also created the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Company that later became the Durham Hosiery Mills. At one time, this company was the largest textile producer in the world.
In the late 1800s, Carr was also a trustee for tiny Trinity College in Randolph County, NC. The college was in danger of closing due to financial problems associated with Reconstruction. Carr worked to get the entire college dismantled and moved to Durham to property that he donated. He gave the college a $10,000 endowment in 1887. This little college later became known as Duke University. Unfortunately, the Duke family poured more money into the school than Carr and bought themselves a legacy.
Carr believed greatly in education. He gave money generously to UNC and also to other local schools such as Wake Forest College, Elon College, Davidson College, St. Mary’s and Greensboro College.
Carr had a reputation for being a staunch segregationist. He was a proud sponsor of the Confederate Veterans group after the Civil War. He advocated for Confederate causes, and even spoke at the unveiling of “Silent Sam” on the UNC campus.
Yet he was also a champion for the black community, particularly in Durham. He helped John Merrick acquire and grow an insurance company in Durham that later was known as North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company. By 1910, this company held more assets that any other black-owned company in North America. Carr helped W. G. Pearson go to college and graduate from Shaw University; Pearson later became Durham superintendent of Negro schools. Pearson has been quoted as saying that Carr meant more to the black populace in Durham than any other person in the city.
Carr also was friends with James E. Shepard of Durham and provided financial support to help found the North Carolina College for Negroes in 1910. This school is now called North Carolina Central University.
Another of Carr’s ventures was the Durham Hosiery Mills. This is the company that bought Alberta Mill in Carrboro in 1909 from Thomas Lloyd. He renamed the mill as “Mill #4” because he already had three mills in Durham and Alamance County. Julian Carr also acquired another Lloyd mill on Roberson Street in Carrboro from the Lloyd family in 1914 and renamed it “Mill #7”.
Carr was known as an innovator in the hosiery mill industry. He established an employee Senate to deal with employees’ needs and concerns. He paid school teachers in Carrboro an extra wage for teaching children in evening classes. Many of these children worked on shifts where they could not attend the regular school day.
Carr was also known for taking his mill employees to his farm, Occoneechee Farm, outside Hillsborough off what is now US70 Business. The only things left of his farm are the stone entrance gates, shown below. He is reported to have taken Carrboro mill workers by train and then provided them with food and festivities. Carr had a horse race track on his farm. This track location later became the Occoneechee Speedway. This was one of the first official NASCAR tracks to open in 1948. But that is yet another story…