Our Heritage

A Beacon of Prosperity. A Legacy of Lights.

McAdenville NC - Our Heritage; Photo by Steve RankinSituated within 1.5 square miles of historic charm, McAdenville is proof that the best things really do come in small packages. McAdenville is a village with a heritage of tenacity and faith in what it was, is and can be. Our town represents what can happen when the willpower of hard working people, the vision of enlightened collaborations, the leadership of corporate stewards, and a compassionate caring community of co-workers, families, friends and neighbors all come together for the betterment of a community.


A Farmer & Fisherman with Presidential Ties:

Initially known as Springs Shoals, the land on which McAdenville is located was originally owned by Adam Alexander Springs, a land baron, cotton farmer, broker and avid fisherman on the South Fork River shoals. Born in 1776, Springs was well educated, notable as being in the first graduating class at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Adam Springs was a colorful individual. His dying request in 1840, was that he be buried standing up with a musket in hand to protect his fishing traps in perpetuity. Local legend has it that Adam Springs was the true biological father of Abraham Lincoln, whose mother Nancy Hanks was Springs’s housekeeper - until she abruptly moved away because of her relationship with Springs and evidence that she would soon be bearing a child. While this is considered folklore, the resemblance of Adam’s son, Gratton Springs, to Lincoln is uncanny.

A Textile Village Springs to Life:

McAdenville was destined to become a vibrant textile manufacturing center with its flowing rivers and acres of cotton all around. It just took the pioneering vision of Rufus Y. McAden to make this a reality. With the Atlanta-Charlotte Railroad laying tracks in 1873, McAden purchased the land along the South Fork of the Catawba River in 1880 and then chartered the Springs Shoals Manufacturing Company in 1881. The town was planned around the cotton mill with houses built to attract workers from the mountains and surrounding area. A company mercantile was established along with wheat and corn mills, a town library and phone lines to enhance the quality of life of the workers. In 1883, the town was incorporated as McAdenville and the company became known as McAden Mills.

The Bell Tower of the majestic McAden Mill, situated at the center of town,
still rings today, and is considered a symbol of the town’s unrelenting,
hard-working spirit.

Electrifying Connections & Innovation:

McAden Mills was a pioneering cotton factory considered to be the first truly modern textile mill of its time. It grew to be the largest in Gaston County through its innovative approach to operations. In 1883, Thomas Edison was hired to build a hydroelectric generator, No. 31 known as a dynamo, to power the lighting in the mill and mill houses. The mill’s textile innovations resulted in its woven fabrics being exported to as far as the West Indies, South America and the Philippines. Other innovations included a finishing department to dye fabric with bright colors.

The Thomas Edison No. 31 generator, known as a dynamo,
is on loan at the Gaston County Museum of Art and History.




A Mill Town that Will Town:

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, McAden Mills felt its devastating impact with machinery becoming outdated and orders for production dramatically slowing, which resulted in the mill’s closure in 1935. While the mill was gone, many of the people stayed with a strong faith and belief in the town and its potential. William J. Pharr saw its potential too and took action that would endear the people of McAdenville to the Pharr family and their commitment to McAdenville for decades to come. The first order of business was the purchase of the three closed plants, 450 acres of land and 250 village houses. Pharr, in partnership with his father-in-law, Robert L. Stowe, and brother-in-law, Daniel J. Stowe, invested monies into the property with the understanding that the newly established Stowe Mills was Pharr’s full responsibility. The second demonstration of Pharr’s commitment was when he, his wife, Catherine, and young children moved to McAdenville to make it their home from the very beginning as the manufacturing operation was being brought back to life.

Mr. Pharr


Innovation Returns With Global Significance:

Under Pharr’s leadership, McAdenville’s textile innovation resurged with yarns being introduced by the mill as demand increased during World War II. Pharr’s product diversification enabled the company to be among the first to convert to spinning synthetic yarns, which could only occur in a plant which had equipment to spin wool. Pharr Yarns was such a high-performing division within the company that it resulted in the company’s name being changed. Pharr Yarns continued as a global innovator of synthetic yarns through its legacy of strong family leadership as J.M. “Bip” Carstarphen carried forward the family’s hands-on, caring approach after W.J. Pharr passed away in 1981. Today, Pharr’s grandson, Bill Carstarphen, serves as President of Pharr Yarns and continues the company’s global leadership.

Inside Pharr Yarns


An Open-Door Community Spirit:

What made the community experience different compared to before Pharr was leading the mill was the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Pharr made it a point to move to McAdenville and become active residents of this vibrant community. The family’s daily involvement in the community coupled with their open-door policy in the company built a trust and admiration among town residents and co-workers alike. Mr. and Mrs. Pharr’s love and commitment to the town was continually demonstrated through their philanthropic generosity and involvement. The development of the McAdenville Community Center, now the Pharr Family YMCA, is a shining first example, and the custom of lighting trees throughout the town, which has grown to be known as Christmas Town USA today, is yet another illustration of the family’s legacy-building impact on the community.

Pharr Family YMCA, originally the McAdenville Community Center


Generations of Sharing & Caring:

The preservation of McAdenville, a town cherished by so many people through the years for its unique mix of innovations to secure its future and traditions to respect the past, is attributed to Mr. and Mrs. Pharr’s legacy of caring and sharing within the community. Their deep love for the town and its people was most clearly exemplified when Pharr Yarns celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1989 with the theme “For the People.” The Pharr’s dedication to McAdenville inspired their future generations to keep this strong sense of community and family values close at heart. Today, the Carstarphen family continues to be visible and supportive members of the town and its treasured traditions while remaining committed to the continued success of their family-owned and operated business, Pharr Yarns.

Pharr Yarns & McAdenville Elementary School


A Tapestry of Firsts:

McAdenville boasts a tapestry of firsts that reflect the thinking that has secured a unique place for our town in the history of the region. In addition to McAden Mills’ numerous firsts in textile manufacturing, it has been reported to be the first electrically lighted textile mill in the world. In 1883, McAdenville became the first community in North Carolina with electric lights. The town built the first library and installed the first locally-owned telephone system in Gaston County. The first formal public kindergarten program in the state of North Carolina was launched at McAdenville Elementary School in the 1960s. The late Thomas Kinkade, an American painter, added to McAdenville’s legacy of “firsts” when he selected McAdenville as his first and only town in North Carolina to be captured in his glowing brush strokes. It was fitting that this world-renowned “painter of lights” would immortalize McAdenville’s Christmas-time magic through his illuminating technique.

The painting, “The Lights of Christmastown,” was completed in 2007 with the original work now residing in a vault in California. Other North Carolina Kinkade works include Cape Hattaras and the Biltmore Estate.

A Legacy of Lights:

It's fitting that the town that drew neighbors from counties throughout the region to admire its electric lights in the 1880’s would be the town that draws more than 600,000 visitors worldwide for its holiday lights today. Branded Christmas Town USA in 1993, McAdenville’s 26 days of holiday splendor was inspired by the McAdenville Men’s Club when Bip Carstarphen and fellow members decorated nine trees around the McAdenville Community Center in 1956. With each holiday season, through the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Pharr, the lights continued to shine in traditional holiday colors of twinkling red, green, and white on more trees. As members of the community decorated their homes, the company strung lights on all the trees and added displays of holiday merriment. Festivities were added to the holiday tradition with the Tree Lighting Ceremony kicking off Christmas Town USA in 2000. In 2011, Christmas Town USA was named one of the Top 10 places to visit at Christmas time by Yahoo and has received national and international acclaim. The first light occurred in the form of the Yule Log Parade, which began in 1949. Children still pull the ceremonial log on a sled through the town, accompanied by townspeople and a brass band playing Christmas carols, to deliver it to an open fireplace in Legacy Park where it is lit to add to the warmth of the season.

McAdenville, NC at Christmas time

In the Company of Neighbors:

Nothing demonstrates the special connection between residents, people working at Pharr Yarns and Pharr Yarns’ officials than when producers of the hit CBS television reality show, Undercover Boss, called to suggest that Pharr Yarns’ CEO, Bip Carstarphen, go “undercover” within one of Pharr’s manufacturing plants. It was difficult to convince the producers that everyone in the company, whether working in McAdenville or in more distant plants, not only knew Bip, but also considered him a friend and a part of their workplace “family.”

A Special Place:

Yes, McAdenville has a special place in history for countless reasons, but it is its place in the present and its promise for the future that shines brightest of all.