Architecting Charlotte's future
A South Carolina native, Daniel A. Tompkins began his career working for the steel mills up North. He further sharpened his skills at a German iron works and a glass manufacturer in Missouri before returning to the Carolinas in 1883, this time settling in Charlotte. By then, this former Native American trading post had become connected by major railroads to key cities in the region and was on the verge of becoming a boom town. Tompkins quickly put his civil engineering degree and experience as a master machinist to work, taking advantage of the opportunities presented to help make Charlotte a hub for textile manufacturing.
In just a few short years, the D.A. Tompkins Company, formed in partnership with grain merchant R.M. Miller, began constructing manufacturing and power plants, starting with the Alpha, Ada, and Victor Mills, several of the city's first mills. Over the next two decades, the engineering firm developed hundreds more mills and plants across the South, along with many of the mill villages that surrounded them. This long list of projects included Atherton Mill and Highland Park Gingham Mill—now known as Optimist Hall.