Biberstein, Richard C. (1859-1931)
Fredricksburg, Texas, USA
- Charlotte, North Carolina
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Richard C. Biberstein (1859-1931), an engineer and mill architect from Texas who settled in Charlotte in 1887, was one of the most prolific designers of textile mills in North Carolina and the South. The full extent of his work and the status of his buildings have not yet been determined. Extensive records of his and his son’s firms, including many drawings, are held at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (see below).
Richard Biberstein was born in the German settlement of Fredricksburg, Texas, to German-born parents. His mother, Caroline, was from Hesse, and his father, Herman R. von Bieberstein (Biberstein by 1880), of Prussia, was a surveyor who went west in the mid-19th century and surveyed many of the Texas land lines that are still in use. Richard Biberstein studied mechanical engineering at the Worcester (Massachusetts) Polytechnic Institute from 1879 to 1882. He began his engineering career with the U. S. Electric Lighting Company of Newark, New Jersey, and the Atlas Engine Works in Indianapolis. He and his wife, Laura Eisfeld of Fredricksburg (a native of Germany), had at least four children.
According to family accounts, during a trip through the South, Biberstein made contact with Charlotte industrialist John Wilkes, and in 1887 began work as a draftsman and designer in Wilkes’s Mecklenburg Iron Works. According to William Huffman, “The story is told that one day a man came into the Iron Works and asked Biberstein where Col. Wilkes was. When he replied, ‘He’s over there,’ the man asked him to repeat it, and Biberstein had to shout directions, for which the man was obliged. When he was subsequently introduced, the stranger turned out to be Thomas A. Edison, who came to Charlotte to try and perfect his gold-separation process by means of electricity.”
After about ten years with Wilkes, who had made a regional reputation as a manufacturer of gold production machinery and was venturing into textile mill equipment, in 1897 Biberstein moved to the Charlotte Machine Company, operated by H. S. Chadwick, which specialized in mill machinery. The move was a wise one, for the Piedmont South was in the midst of its great mill-building campaign; in the decade 1900-1910 North Carolina added more than 1.8 million textile spindles, an increase of some 120 percent in one decade. Charlotte, centrally located near the border of North and South Carolina, flourished as the business center for the region’s textile industry: not only did Charlotte have several large textile mills, but the city became the home of the financial institutions and the equipment manufacturers that supported and grew with the rise in manufacturing region-wide. Charlotte was also home to some of the South’s premier mill designers including Biberstein, Stuart W. Cramer, Daniel A. Tompkins, and others.
In 1902 Biberstein took a position with Cramer, the Charlotte inventor, mill architect and builder (best known for developing and naming industrial “air conditioning”). By 1905 Biberstein went into business for himself as a mill architect and engineer with offices in downtown Charlotte, in the Piedmont Building on Tryon Street. In the late 1910s, his son Herman V. Biberstein (1893-1966) joined him, and after Richard’s death in 1931, took over the firm.
Richard Biberstein was a highly productive mill architect who designed dozens and perhaps hundreds of mills and mill additions. Records indicate that he was project captain for at least two dozen mills before he began his own firm, including facilities in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia, and also including the Lexington Cotton Mill in Lexington, North Carolina (1901). After he established his own firm, he (and his son) planned scores of projects in the 1900s, 1910s, and 1920s, including many in North Carolina. By 1910 he identified himself as an architect, and by 1920 both he and his son Herman (who was still living at home) were so listed in the census.
In North Carolina, Biberstein’s clients included many of the leading textile companies of his era. A frequent client was the Tanner family of Charlotte, for whom Biberstein planned Spencer Mills and Spindale Mills in Spindale, and the Cleghorn Mills in nearby Rutherfordton in the 1910s. Charles W. Johnston of Charlotte had Biberstein design or refit several of the “Johnston Group” mills during the 1920s, including facilities in North Charlotte, Huntersville, and Kings Mountain. In Gaston County, the Stowe family and their allied interests called on Biberstein frequently. His dozens of projects in Gaston County included the Chronicle Mills, Eagle, Stowe Family Mills, Belmont Processing, Hatch Hosier, Linford, Ragan, Melville, Morrowebb, and Dunn mills. In addition, he planned Imperial Yarn Mill, and National mills in Belmont and the Hudson and Dixon mills also in Gaston County. He also planned the Boger and Crawford Mill in Lincoln County, the Union Cotton Mill in Mount Holly, and the Mooresville Cotton Mill in Mooresville. In Rockingham in Richmond County, he worked on most of the principal mills, including the Hannah Pickett, PeeDee, and Roberdel Mills, which have been lost. Farther from Charlotte, he planned the Bellevue Mill at Hillsborough, North Carolina.
After Richard’s death in 1931, the firm continued as Biberstein, Bowles, Meacham, and Reid. The firm provided new designs and remodeling suggestions to early clients as well as attracting hundreds of new commissions for industrial buildings and a few schools in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois, including work at present North Carolina State University.
The Building List for Richard C. Biberstein includes building entries only for the works for which some location and status information has been obtained. The list of his projects is too extensive to cite them all here, nor is there reliable information on most of their conditions and status. For a complete job list, see the Biberstein, Bowles, Meacham and Reid Records, 1895-1960, Special Collections, J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte. For many items in his job list, the date of the project indicates an addition to an existing mill; many mills continued to expand and change over the years. The majority of the records in the collection date from after Richard Biberstein’s death, when the firm was operated by his son and successors.
With the ongoing destruction of scores of industrial complexes, especially textile mills, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the status of most of Biberstein’s work is unknown. We especially welcome updated information about his projects and their status. The Bibersteins—Richard and Herman and their firms—are of major importance to industrial development in North Carolina and the South; their papers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte can supply information for a much-needed study of their work.
- Biberstein, Bowles, Meacham and Reid Records, 1895-1960, Special Collections, J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
- Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
- Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Charlotte Observer, Sept. 13, 1931; June 21, 1966.
- William H. Huffman, “The Biberstein House: Survey and Research Report,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission (1984).
- The Journal, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Nov. 1931).
- Dates:1920sLocation:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:French Broad River, Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:IndustrialNote:The imposing mill, one of Asheville's major industrial buildings, burned in 1995.
- Dates:Ca. 1904Location:Hillsborough, Orange CountyStreet Address:Nash St. and W. King St., Hillsborough, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:Textile mill development came late to Hillsborough, but around the turn of the 20th century local men founded a few mills in what is now known as West Hillsborough. The Bellevue Mill was founded by Shepperd Strudwick and others north of the railroad tracks.
- Contributors:Richard C. Biberstein, architect and engineer (1926)Dates:1904; 1926Location:Belmont, Gaston CountyStreet Address:Chronicle St., Belmont, NCStatus:AlteredType:IndustrialNote:Built in 1904 by the Lineberger family, the Chronicle Mills was among the first to have an air conditioning system by air conditioning pioneer Willis Carrier, who inspected it in 1906. Biberstein's records indicate work at Chronicle in 1926, probably one of many additions to the facility.
- Contributors:Richard C. Biberstein, architect and engineer (1918)Dates:Late 19th century; early 20th centuryLocation:Rutherfordton, Rutherford CountyStreet Address:Rutherfordton, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:The Biberstein Collection cites drawings for the Cleghorn Mills done in 1918.
- Contributors:Richard C. Biberstein, architect and engineer (1915)Dates:1840s; 1886; 1915Location:Haw River, Alamance CountyStreet Address:Haw River, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:The Granite Cotton Mill, begun by John Trollinger, was owned and expanded by the Holt textile family from 1858 onward. Biberstein did several projects for the Holt family, and his project files included a 1915 project for the "Holt Granite Manufacturing Company (Haw River, N. C.)." It is not yet known which section he planned.
- Dates:1927-1940Location:Burlington, Alamance CountyStreet Address:534 S. Main St., Burlington, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:The centrally located May Hosiery Mill plant in Burlington, which encompasses many building stages, is a landmark of the industrially based town. The Biberstein Collection at UNC-Charlotte includes several drawings, photographs, and other documents from 1927-1940 including a hosiery mill and finishing plant. Some of the drawings were signed by H. V. Biberstein.
- Dates:1898Location:Eden, Rockingham CountyStreet Address:100 Morgan Rd. at Church St., Eden, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:The immense mill is the most striking of the large complex of textile factories that constitute the industrial district of Spray, one of the component communities of Eden. It is the only mill in Spray whose architect has been identified. The company was begun by the Duke family and associates. It is possible that other mills in Spray were also planned by Biberstein.
- Dates:1927; 1929Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:101 W. Worthington Ave., Charlotte, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:The Nebel Knitting Mill was the largest of Charlotte's hosiery knitting mills during the 1920s and later. The demand for "full-fashioned" women's hosiery rose as did women's hemlines. Like most of Charlotte's surviving industrial buildings, it has been repurposed for new uses. The large brick building was designed with broad windows to provide the best possible light for the workers making fine-gauge silk hosiery. In 1946, Richard's son Herman planned a modernist addition. The building is notable for its subtle, polychrome brickwork.
- Dates:Ca. 1910-1915Location:High Point, Guilford CountyStreet Address:Redding Dr., High Point, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialImages Puslished In:Benjamin Briggs, The Architecture of High Point, North Carolina: A History and Guide to the City's Houses, Churches and Public Buildings (2008).Note:Commissioned by industrialist F. M. Pickett, the large cotton mill was completed by 1916 when a promotional publication by J. J. Farriss reported, "the mill construction is of brick with reinforced concrete and iron. The copper guttering and pipe has lead splashings. These modern points of construction make the mill one of the best and safest in every way." Moreover, reported Farriss, "Every detail in the construction of the plant has been with a view to permanency and safety, insuring a system in its operation and a safeguard against accidents and fire unequaled in a majority of cotton mills." The mill was expanded and operated by the Pickett family into the late 20th century. A few associated mill houses also stand.
- Contributors:Richard C. Biberstein, probable architect and engineerDates:Ca. 1908-1910Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:Haynes St., Raleigh, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:The Biberstein collection includes several 1908 drawings for Pilot Mills, including a design sketch and blueprints. This was probably the building erected ca. 1910 near the original 1892 mill. Both the 1910 building and the older mill have been rehabilitated for new use after long neglect. The original mill was rebuilt within the old, damaged walls.
- Variant Name(s):Ross Cotton MillDates:Early 20th centuryLocation:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:1000 Seaboard St., Charlotte, NCStatus:AlteredType:IndustrialNote:The brick industrial building was built in 1904 as a cotton mill but was converted to make asbestos fabric in 1920 and expanded and changed over the years. The Biberstein firm worked on the plant at various times. At least one drawing is said to be signed by Richard Biberstein.
- Dates:1910sLocation:North Belmont, Gaston CountyStreet Address:SR 2040, North Belmont, NCStatus:UnknownType:IndustrialNote:North Belmont comprises one of the western Piedmont's most intact mill villages. These were built to house the workers at four spinning mills: Stowe, Acme, Perfection, and Linford. Biberstein records include work on Stowe and Linford and possibly others. The Stowe mills in North Belmont have been altered for continued operation over the years. Their current status is not certain.
- Dates:1926-1949Location:High Point, Guilford CountyStreet Address:High Point, NCStatus:UnknownType:IndustrialNote:Biberstein and later his son's firm did work on the immense and important furniture company facility over the years. The specific facilities done by Biberstein need to be determined.