Gibson Household: 205 Trenton Street

The Gibson family displays how industrialization powerfully transformed the lives and livelihoods of many southern whites in the early decades of the twentieth century. Milton and Laura Gibson came from a long line of farmers, but the better opportunities found in textile production lured the family away from agricultural labor. In the 1910s, the Gibsons moved from the western North Carolina mountains to the Loray Mill village, and no one in the family would ever again return to a life of farming.


Wages earned at the Loray Mill were the only sources of income for the entire Gibson family. In 1920, Milton and Laura Gibson lived at 205 South Trenton Street on the eastern outskirts of the Loray Mill village with their five children: George, Ivey, Mary, Carl, and Lloyd. Milton labored in the Loray Mill as a spinner, meaning he would have tended a machine that spun cotton fibers into yarn and wound the yarn onto bobbins. George and Ivey also worked in the mill as spoolers. They guided spun yarn onto cardboard spools, a task which required a high degree of dexterity and was often given to children. George was eighteen and likely accustomed to working full-time. His brother Ivey, however, had been in school during 1920 but likely quit because the family needed his income. The younger children did not work and instead attended school. Laura did not have a formal occupation according to the census, although her labor would have been essential to raising the five Gibson children.

Before 1920

Milton and Laura Gibson's 1896 application for a marriage license

Milton and Laura Gibson’s faded 1896 application for a marriage license

Like a significant number of Loray Mill village residents, the Gibson family came to Gastonia from North Carolina’s western counties. Milton Gibson was born on September 22, 1873, to George and Lou Gibson. He grew up on in McDowell County, North Carolina, where he worked as a farm hand and in the Marion Manufacturing Company for a short period of time. In 1896, Milton married Laura Ellen Mathis, another lifelong resident of McDowell County. She was born on November 3, 1875, in Marion, North Carolina, the daughter of Milas and Isabella Mathis. The young couple lived in McDowell County near Laura’s parents for the first few years of their marriage, and Milton worked on a rented farm. By 1900, their first daughter Isabella was born, and Milton and Laura had three more children over the next decade. By 1910, the Gibsons had moved east to Burke County, and with the help of his two oldest children, Milton continued to work a rented farm. Between 1914 and 1918, however, the family left agricultural labor behind and moved to the Loray Mill village in Gastonia. Milton immediately began to work as an employee at the mill. Laura and Milton’s oldest child, Louise Isabella, did not come with the family to Gastonia. She remained with her husband, who worked in McDowell County textile mills.

After 1920

Lloyd Gibson's 1940 draft card, showing him employed at Hanover Mills

Lloyd Gibson’s 1940 draft card, showing him employed at Hanover Mills

Mill work continued to shape the lives of the Gibson family after 1920. Over the next two decades, Milton worked in various textile mills in and around Gaston County, including Loray, Victory Yarns, and Ranlo-Rex-Smyre Mills. Milton even worked in a cotton mill in York County, South Carolina, in the late 1930s. The Gibson family moved depending on Milton’s job location. The Gibson children followed in their father’s footsteps and sought employment in cotton mills. After 1920, George worked as a carpenter for the Loray Mills, but after several years he moved on to Hanover and Pinckney Mills, where he was a foreman, and then to Textiles Inc. by 1958. Ivey, Carl, and Lloyd also worked in surrounding textile mills, and like their father and older brother, they changed jobs very frequently, searching for better pay or better working conditions. In fact, it was rare that any of the Gibsons would work in the same cotton mill or live in the same location for more than five years. Even their sister Mary worked in the textile industry before her 1935 marriage.