Edenton - Homegrown Tools

Edenton, NC

Updated: 2018

Elected officials in Edenton partner with an historic preservation non-profit organization to turn the dilapidated Edenton Cotton Mill into a new economic asset for the community.

Median Household Income2020$40,711
Poverty Rate 202040.3%
Proximity to Urban Center 70 miles to Norfolk, VA
Proximity to Interstate Highway 80 miles
Case Study Time Frame 1995-2006
Municipal Budget 2017-201821.3 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
View Complete Case StudyUpdated: Edenton, 2018

Edenton’s strategy is to preserve its historic assets in order to create conditions for private sector investments in the community. Working together, the Town of Edenton and Preservation North Carolina trans- formed the old Edenton Cotton Mill Village – the historic living quarters for mill workers and their families – from dilapidated shacks to modern village residences. By 1999, after improving the village’s infrastructure and initiating an intense marketing campaign, Preservation North Carolina sold all 48 of the village residences. With the aid of incentives, each residence was completely renovated in the ensuing years. The transformation was sufficiently impressive as to land the village on the pages of Southern Living Magazine. In addition to the increased publicity, Edenton has seen property values in the village increase nearly 20 times and the mill houses have attracted artisans and entrepreneurs to town.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Historic preservation is an economic development strategy. Edenton demonstrates that strategic historic preservation, done with the goal of stimulating private investment, can increase both tourism spending and local property values. In addition, local investments in historic preservation create local jobs. Preservation North Carolina estimates that every $1 million invested in building rehabilitation creates 41 jobs, whereas an equal investment in new construction creates 36 jobs.76 Edenton’s story also demonstrates that historic properties have the potential to attract creative entrepreneurs to the community.


Through public-private partnership, an economic development liability can be turned into an economic development asset. The Edenton Cotton Mill was a potential liability for the community. Town officials and the nonprofit Preservation North Carolina partnered to market the village, establish covenants and ownership agreements, and upgrade the village infrastructure, creating a market for the rural mill village. This partnership allowed them to reduce investment risk and create a secure vision of what the mill village could look like, enticing significant investment from outside the region.