Two Centuries of Textiles
How one sock carries with it the history of textile manufacturing in the South.
There’s a Farm to Feet sock called the Cedar Falls, an extra-thermal, over-the-calf wader sock. This sock has more history embedded into every stitch of wool than you can possibly imagine.
The origin of the sock’s name comes from a place called Cedar Falls, North Carolina, which is the home of Sapona Mills, one of the oldest textile manufacturers in the state. The mill was originally established by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1829, becoming one of the pioneering cotton mills along North Carolina’s Deep River, once a hub for textile manufacturing.
In 1836, Jonathan Worth, who would later become governor of North Carolina, and several others opened what was then called the Cedar Falls Mills in a building just down the Deep River from today’s mill. Back then, the mill produced cotton for uniforms in the Civil War on machines that were powered by a water wheel on the river.
When the cotton weaving industry started to show signs of distress, a women’s hosiery company in nearby Asheboro took over the Cedar Falls Mill. The mill eventually was renamed to Sapona, after a local Native American tribe, and focused on producing silk hosiery. The current mill that stands today was constructed in part in the 1920s, almost 100 years ago.
When nylon was invented in the late 1930s, Sapona started producing yarn for nylon as well, which was in high demand during World War II for use in parachutes, ropes, and other wartime necessities.
The mill continued to evolve over the years, responding to modern textile needs. “We’ve had a lot of different expansions,” says Pete McMichael, Sapona’s current general manager. “The mill has migrated—from cotton to silk to nylon to spandex. It’s adapted to the age that it’s in and the equipment has changed alongside that.”
Nowadays, Sapona Mills’ product line is large and varied: some 15 percent of their yarn goes to women’s hosiery, 40 percent to socks, 40 percent to apparel, and the rest to smaller markets like dental floss and medical garments. They have some 270 employees, over 200 diverse customers, and they ship about 425,000 pounds of yarn a week.
And yes, some of that yarn, produced right here in the U.S. by a company that’s been churning thread for generations, goes to a little merino sock called the Cedar Falls.