Early History of Nash County & Rocky Mount
First came aboriginal hunters, armed with crude bows and arrows. They would discover the “Rocky Mound.” Warring Tuscarora Indians, who sought the region’s rich land, fish and game, would follow them.
Colonization by white settlers began in the late 17th century, but it wasn’t until 1712-1713, following years of bloody battles, that the Tuscaroras were defeated and settlement of the area took place.
By the mid-1700’s, sufficient settlement existed to support a church and a gristmill…and a “city” was born.
The county of Nash was formed in 1777 and derived its name from war hero General Francis Nash. In 1816, the term “Rocky Mount” was used for the first time to designate the location of the area’s first post office.
Area’s First Industry is Born
Located at the “Falls of the Tar,” the post office would soon be joined by the area’s first industry, Battle’s Mill, later named Rocky Mount Mills. Originally a gristmill, the site became home for our state’s second oldest cotton mill. When the mill ceased operation in 1996, it was the oldest operating textile mill in the Southeast. Today, Rocky Mount Mills is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains a local landmark for residents and tourists alike.
Railroads, War, and a New Beginning
The mill attracted the region’s first railroad line – The Wilmington to Weldon. At the time of its completion in 1840, it was the longest continuous railroad in the world.
The Civil War did not spare Rocky Mount. Federal troops in a one-day raid in July 1863, destroyed the cotton mill, the railroad bridge and surrounding buildings.
It took several years to rebuild, but by 1867, a growing village of 300 residents was incorporated and a new era had begun!
The Turn of the Century
The “New South” was emerging, and Rocky Mount was ready. Tobacco and “King Cotton” were staples of a booming economy, and a Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1904.
In fact, by 1960, Rocky Mount boasted about its ranking as the world’s largest bright leaf tobacco market. It was also during this time that the area’s economy diversified for the first time, spawning new industry and new job opportunities.
Nothing impacted the area more than the founding of Hardee’s Food Systems in 1961. Rocky Mount natives Jim Gardner and Leonard Rawls formed Hardee’s and the company grew to become a giant in the fast-food business.
Today, Rocky Mount is home to a number of major companies, including:
Honeywell, Cummins, Hospira, Pfizer, Boddie-Noell Enterprises, McLane Company, The Cheesecake Factory, Braswell Foods, PNC Bank, CenturyLink, Alorica (formerly West Corp.), and Nash UNC Health Care.
This region offers the business resources successful companies are seeking – an abundance of property, a plentiful workforce, low operating expenses, good work ethic, excellent educational and training facilities, good quality of life and proximity to East Coast markets.
(Circa 1830) Bennett Bunn, builder of Stonewall Manor, was a wealthy plantation owner and businessman. He was a central figure in the business and social activities of the local area until his death in 1849.
In addition to his large land holdings in Nash and Edgecombe counties, he owned many of the buildings in the little village at the Great Falls of the Tar River, which had recently become known as Rocky Mount. One such building was a general store called Big Falls that was operated by his nephew, Redmun Bunn, and Benjamin F. Knight. Serving all of what was then known as Rocky Mount, the ledger from Big Falls remains inside Stonewall Manor and can be viewed today in its original form.
With cotton as one of the main crops on Stonewall’s plantation, Bunn also had direct dealings with Battle & Co (Rocky Mount Mills), one of the first cotton mills in the South. His property bordered the mill. Along with these business dealings, Bennett Bunn also owned stock in the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad. Originally planned to connect Wilmington to Raleigh, the company instead decided in the late 1830’s to connect to Weldon, with the tracks pointed towards Petersburg, Virginia, and the industrial North. This railroad was essential for Rocky Mount and crossed much of Bennett’s land immediately north of the Tar River.