“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Martinsville, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Martinsville's Early Textile Mills

— Uptown Spur Trail —

Martinsville's Early Textile Mills Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bernard Fisher, September 8, 2022
1. Martinsville's Early Textile Mills Marker
Inscription.  A Rich Heritage in Textiles Began Just Across the Street
The building directly across from you, now known as the Clocktower Building, was once home to one of Martinsville's early textile mills—Martinsville Cotton Mill. Rucker & Whitten Plug Tobacco built the building at the turn of the century and it was used in the tobacco industry before being converted into a textile mill.

The success of textiles in Henry County was due in large part to the assistance of the founding fathers of textiles in Martinsville—William L. Pannill and Robert L. Walker. Over the years, both Pannill and Walker acted as mentors to many, including Walker's son, Samuel Stanhope Walker, who would go on to found his own company. In 1909, Robert Walker moved to Martinsville and founded the Martinsville Cotton Mill.

Meanwhile, Samuel Walker went off to the North Carolina School of Textiles to learn the business and returned to work at the mill as a spinning room foreman. But a short time later, as the mill's office was being moved, the company safe fell on Walker's father and killed him. The family sold the business and Walker worked various
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jobs until 1928, when he decided to become a "mill man" after all.

In 1928, Samuel Walker started Virginia Underwear Corporation, which manufactured women's and boy's underwear, as well as children's sleepwear. He teamed with William Pannill on the venture, even locating his factory on Pannill Knitting Company property.

Walker had a reputation for successfully managing textile companies, and was called upon in 1941 to lend his skills to the fledgling Bassett Knitting Corporation, which was in need of experienced leadership. Bassett-Walker Knitting Company was the result, and it ultimately merged with Walker's Virginia Underwear Corporation (which in 1953 had been renamed Walker Knitting Company) in 1964, under the name Bassett-Walker, Inc. Expansions added hundreds of thousands of square feet of space to the company's factories and employment grew to over 7,000 people.

By 1968, the company enjoyed soaring sales of their sweatshirts, jackets, knit slacks and t-shirts. The company was sold to the VF Corporation in 1984 and ceased operation in 2002.

For more than seven decades in the 20th century, the area was home to some of America's most well-known textile manufacturing companies, renowned worldwide for their high-quality products. At the height of success, local textile companies employed a combined workforce of over 20,000.

Martinsville's Early Textile Mills Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bernard Fisher, September 8, 2022
2. Martinsville's Early Textile Mills Marker

To learn more about the area's rich textile history, visit the Textile Heritage Trail in Fieldale, which includes a walking trail and six interpretive trail signs that trace Martinsville and Henry County's beginnings in the textile industry and carry us through to modern day.

The Founding Fathers
Under the tutelage of these pioneenng men, who created the textile industry in the area, Martinsville and Henry County grew from rugged farmland into a modern and bustling community withhigh rates of employment and home ownership. Robert L. Walker and William L. Pannill were the original founding fathers.

The Walker family
1910 Robert L. Walker · Founded Martinsville Cotton Mill Company
1928 Samuel S. Walker · L. Dudley Walker · Founded Virginia Underwear Corporation

The Pannill family
1925 William L. Pannill · Founded Pannill Knitting Company
1937 Ernest Ashton Sale · William F. Franck · William G. Pannill · Founded Sale Knitting Company

Like Father, Like Son
In 1957, L. Dudley Walker became president of Walker Knitting Company, while his father was at the helm of Bassett-Walker Knitting Company. After his father's untimely death, he became president of Bassett-Walker Knitting Company as well and was responsible for merging the two companies in 1964. In the 1960s
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and 1970s the company continued to expand, building new plants and factories, and adding square footage to all the company's plants. In 1980, the company changed its name to Bassett-Walker Inc. after buying Johnston Mills Company, a yarn manufacturer. L. Dudley Walker credits William L. Pannill with offering tremendous assistance to Walker's father and serving as his mentor.

A layup machine at Bassett-Walker, as seen here in this 1979 photo, played a vital role in unrolling fabric before it was cut.
In the early 1900s, the developing textile industry helped offset the fading Martinsville and Henry County tobacco industry. This building became home to Martinsville Cotton Mill, the area's very first texttiel mill, in 1909. It was later used by Sale Knitting Company followed by Tultex as anufacturing facilities and is now The Clocktower at Commonwealth Center.
Bassett-Walker's office and fabric manufacturing facility.

Erected by City of Martinsville Department of Parks & Recreation.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommerceParks & Recreational Areas. A significant historical year for this entry is 1910.
Location. 36° 41.635′ N, 79° 52.301′ W. Marker is in Martinsville, Virginia. Marker can be reached from Franklin Street, 0.1 miles north of Depot Street, on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Martinsville VA 24112, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Henry County U.D.C. Monument (approx. 0.2 miles away); Brigadier General Joseph Martin (approx. 0.2 miles away); Henry County War Memorial (approx. 0.2 miles away); Martinsville (approx. 0.2 miles away); Near War's End (approx. 0.2 miles away); Traditions to Celebrate (approx. 0.2 miles away); Fayette Street (approx. ¼ mile away); DeShazo's "Silo" (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Martinsville.
Also see . . .  Uptown Spur Trail. TrailLink by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (Submitted on September 9, 2022.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on September 9, 2022. It was originally submitted on September 9, 2022, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia. This page has been viewed 316 times since then and 41 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on September 9, 2022, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.

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Feb. 29, 2024