Even though decades ago Baxter/Liberty Mill in Clayton stopped producing textiles, to a local man named Jack Lee the area around the mill is a piece of history not to be forgotten. Jack’s father, Alder Milton Lee, worked at the mill and so did his mother. As a child growing up Jack Lee lived in one of the cottages that were built by the mill and sold to employees. Recently, a local genealogist named John McPhail was surprised to discover while working on the 1930 census data for the Johnston County Heritage Center, that Liberty Mills was a separate place within Clayton Township. Did you know that crossing Mulberry Street toward the west side of town would have meant at one point in time you were entering into a different unique community?
Liberty Mills and the Village Surrounding It
After more research Mr. McPhail learned that the mill opened in 1907, and the area around it was later called Cotton Mill Hill, which was even later named Bartex when the company changed the name. Mr. Lee looks back fondly to the days of his childhood that he spent growing up here and remembers it as,”It was like a little community within itself. Everybody knew everybody, and everybody knew everybody’s child.”
Mr. Lee himself may have had what now resembles an average childhood playing with friends growing up; however, his parents’ generation had it quite different. At the young age of seven, children were allowed to work at Liberty Mills, and Mr. Lee’s own father began work there at the age of nine. Working in the mill was dangerous with many unsafe conditions for both children and adults alike. McPhail is currently looking to see if Liberty Mills had any involvement in the creation of today’s Child Labor Laws.