Notes on the Built Environment: Cliffside, NC

In 1851, Raleigh Rutherford (R.R.) Haynes was born in Ferry, Rutherford County.  When he was 20 years old, he moved to Union County, South Carolina, with his younger brother to work in the cotton fields.  Two years later, around 1870, he returned to Rutherford County and invested the money he made in a general store and a sawmill.   By reinvesting his money, Haynes was able to become a wealthy landowner and successful industrialist.

In 1885, Haynes opened the first successful textile industry in Rutherford County in Henrietta.  Over time, he built several more very successful textile mills along the Second Broad River.

One of these was Cliffside, which Haynes began work on in 1900.  It was to be a mill and company town located on the Second Broad River, like Haynes’ other mills.  In North Carolina Architecture, Catherine Bishir writes that when it was built, Cliffside was one of the last (and largest) water-powered textile mills (p. 432).

Cliffside was likely named for the extremely steep and rocky hills all over the area.  The company town was home to around 900 employees, who all lived white cottages.  The company town featured a downtown with a main street that featured many services and entertainment opportunities.

Before he died in 1917, R. R. Haynes had planned to build a community center for the mill town of Cliffside.  It was designed to have a wide variety of services and leisure activities including  a library, movie theater, gymnasium, beauty shops, banquet hall, barbershops, baths, and a cafe.  The community center was completed in 1922 and named the “R. R. Haynes Memorial Building,” in his honor.

Below are two postcards depicting the R.R. Haynes Memorial Building and two postcards of other aspects of town life in Cliffside.


Exterior of the R. R. Haynes Memorial Building in Cliffside.  The entrance at the right is also the entrance for the movie theater.  Movie posters are visible near the entrance.


Interior view of the lobby in the Haynes Memorial Building.  Although it’s difficult to tell from the postcard, the table tops were inlaid with checker boards!


View of the Cliffside United Methodist Church, built in 1912.  A typical Cliffside house can be seen behind and to the right of the church.  Haynes built several schools and churches for the towns’ residents.


Interior view of the Lakeview Dairy farm, which provided milk for the town until the 1950s.  The dairy farm was located across from the mill.

The R. R. Haynes Memorial Building and many millworkers’ houses were torn down in the 1960s and 1970s, but the building’s  clock tower was turned into a monument and placed on Cliffside’s Main Street, where it still stands today.

7 thoughts on “Notes on the Built Environment: Cliffside, NC”

  1. The remembercliffside site IS remarkable. It is largely the creation of UNC Radio, Television, Motion Picture alum, Reno Bailey who was a longtime mainstay at WBT radio and tv in Charlotte. Reno grew up in Cliffside and his wife grew up across the road from my mama in Denver, NC.

  2. Reno Bailey has also created the great site dedicated to WBT memories:

    I hope somebody figures out a way to preserve this site . . .

  3. “In North Carolina Architecture, Catherine Bishir writes that when it was built, Cliffside was one of the last (and largest) water-powered textile mills (p. 432).”

    1900 is a remarkably late date for the construction of a water-powered textile mill, although that statement should be qualified a bit. For example, on the Haw River in Alamance County, the last new water-powered textile mill was Glencoe, built in 1880. There were later waterpower plants that were built on the Haw, but not as part and parcel of a mill.

    For example, in 1913 Robert L Holt built the Latonia Power Company dam just north of Burlington at the site of the old Ireland Gristmill on the Haw (about 1.5 miles upstream of Glencoe). The electricity was used to power Lakeside Mills in Burlington and to supplement Glencoe Mills. Likewise, Virginia Mills built a supplemental water-power plant about 1.5 miles below Swepsonville in 1905. Additionally, replacement water-power dams were built on the Haw as late as the 1950’s.

  4. The postcard of the Methodist Church is actually mislabeled. The church pictured was actually the Presbyterian Church.

  5. Jim,
    Thanks for letting us know about the postcard publisher’s mislabeling of the church. We’ll double check our records and note the mislabeling on the postcard’s web page in the coming days.

    John Blythe
    North Carolina Collection

  6. Another point about the “Methodist” Church postcard. The house behind the church was far from “typical” for Cliffside. There were only a handful of houses like this one, which were built on or near N. Main St. for officials and members of the Haynes family. This one was built as a residence for unmarried female teachers, then later housed the family of one of R. R. Haynes’ sons.

    The typical house in Cliffside was a three- or four-room, uninsulated, unadorned structure, with likely one fireplace for heat. But they were well maintained by the Company, by a full-time complement of painters and carpenters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *