Industrial Expansion (1.5.2)
The rapid expansion of Elizabeth City's industry after the arrival of the railroad was concentrated in the continued exploitation of the region's bountiful forests as the lumber industry strengthened its leadership in the town's economy. By 1891 the Kramer company, still the city's largest, consisted of the four sons of Daniel S. Kramer--Charles E. (1857-1923), John A. (1859-1916), Allen K. (1861-1923), and Joseph P. (1867-1924)--and industrialist R. O. Preyer. Between 1891 and 1896 the company purchased the sawmill of N. Underwood and Son located along Charles Creek at the comer of Shepard Street and Factory (now Southern) Avenue, an area now known as "Dog Corner" (see Map 7). Here they built a larger and more modern saw mill, with the mill on Poindexter Creek serving as a planing mill and door, sash, and blind workshop. By 1896 a thriving local and export market for finished lumber resulted in the construction of a second Kramer sawmill, this one along the Pasquotank River in what is now the 900 block of Riverside Avenue. All of these mills were demolished before 1931. A larger planing mill along Pennsylvania Street (now North Poindexter Street) was built between 1914 and 1923 near Knobbs Creek; it was demolished in the 1970s (Sanborn maps, 1885, 1891, 1896, 1914, 1923, 1931).
The prosperity of the Kramer mills attracted other lumber entrepreneurs to Elizabeth City. One of these, William Blades and Brothers, a New Bern sawmill firm whose principals were originally from Maryland, in 1888 erected a planing mill on a site at the mouth of Knobbs Creek that was served by both rail and water. The Bladeses sent all the rough lumber from their various sawmill operations in eastern North Carolina to the Elizabeth City mill for manufacture into finished building products. In 1893 brothers James B. Blades, of New Bern, and Lemuel S. Blades, Sr., of Elizabeth City, organized the Elizabeth City Lumber Company with their brothers-in-law Clay Foreman (originally from Illinois) and G. Frank Derrickson; this company then built a sawmill along Knobbs Creek. The location of both Blades family mills along rail and water was particularly advantageous since all of the output was shipped to northern markets (Vieke 1950; Sanborn maps 1891, 1896).
Several smaller lumber and shingle mills operated during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, each adding to the prosperity of the local lumber industry. The saw (and grist) mill of W. W. Griffin, which had begun in the late 1860s, continued in operation along the waterfront (near the foot of present Ehringhaus Street) until at least 1896 (see Map 7). H. C. Godfrey, who had come to Elizabeth City from Perquimans County in 1867, operated a small saw, planing, and door, sash, and blind company in the 200 block of North Poindexter Street in the mid 1880s, and by 1890 was operating the Elizabeth City Cedar Works there, making cedar pails. During the 1890s sawmills were operated by T. A. Commander and Son, the G. H. Toadvine Lumber Company, Albemarle Lumber Company, Jones and Company, and James Y. Old and Sons. B. J. Wilkins and J. D. Lathrop were the proprietors of shingle mills. Each of these was located either along the riverfront or in the Charles Creek area. (Sanborn maps 1885, 1891, 1896; Branson 1890, 509; 1896, 479).
While lumber was the mainstay of the rapid industrialization of Elizabeth City, a number of other industries began in the 1890s. These included the Elizabeth City [Cotton] Oil Mills (1895), Elizabeth City Cotton Mill (1895), Elizabeth City Net and Twine Company (1895), the buggy and wagon factory of Noah Garrett (1897), the Elizabeth City Buggy Factory (1899), and the Elizabeth City Milling Company (1900) (Incorporation Book 1, pp. 53, 100, 4). During this decade the Branson business directories list the shops of numerous blacksmiths and wheelwrights, a brewery, a bottling works, brickmakers, cabinet builders, a whiskey distillery, a saddlery, and three mattress factories. A number of cotton gins are also listed, most of which were probably in the rural sections around the city. The city had a brief but flourishing oyster canning business at the turn of the century. Beginning with Hemmeway's Oyster House in 1891 at the mouth of Poindexter Creek, as many as five houses operated along the city's riverfront at one time during Elizabeth City's brief flirt with oyster canning; all were closed by 1908 (Sanborn map 1891, 1896, 1902. 1908; Butchko 1989, 335 n. 89; Branson 1890, 517; 1896, 478-479).