When you walk into Chuck Horne’s office at Hornwood, what stands out is a framed photograph of Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees swinging at a pitch in 1941 — the year he achieved a 56-game hitting streak, a record that still stands today.
Horne, the company’s president, is proud that Hornwood creates the finished fabric for sports teams, including the Yankees uniforms with pin stripes. Over the years, the company has hit several economic home runs to reach its current status.
The company buys yarn and converts it to finished fabrics, which can be used for a variety of purposes. Hornwood has collaborated with Game Time Fabrics and ultimately purchased them to create fabrics for uniforms in the athletic market. This includes more than 70 different styles. Customers include the Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders in the NFL, plus six major league baseball teams. National Basketball Association teams will be added next year. The volume for athletic business, however, is with high school and Pee Wee teams.
Water filtration also uses the company’s fabrics for reverse osmosis, separating water from other forms — such as changing seawater to fresh water and creating concentrated orange juice. The fabrics are used for headliners and pillars in Chrysler 300s, Dodge Chargers, and Honda CRVs and for exhibition trade shows — such as tablecloths, curtains, and banners. And every current member of the U.S. armed forces wears combat boots with Hornwood fabric on the inside.
The company started in 1946 as Hornwood Warp Knitting Corporation (now Hornwood, Inc.) in Wadesboro by Kenneth (Ken) Walter Horne (1915-1997) and Fred D. Wood. Though Horne grew up in southern Montgomery County, he graduated from Ansonville High School in 1931 (along with classmate Preston Burns), then from N. C. State in 1935 with a major in textiles. A few years later, he and Wood, a native of South Carolina, were both working for a textile mill in Pennsylvania. They developed the vision for a company that would create tricot knitting for outerwear clothes, though that type of knitting was then used for women’s lingerie. Bryan Moore, owner of Moore’s Department stores, and Hall Little from Little Cotton Mill, were the major investors. Moore was chairman of the company’s board of directors for several years.
By the early 1970s, when Fred Wood retired, both sons of Kenneth and Miriam Horne —Kenneth (Kenny) Horne Jr. and Charles (Chuck) Horne — were working at Hornwood. The company’s emphasis on fabrics for a variety of career apparel uniforms was growing — and the company began producing fabrics for automobiles. In 1975, Chuck was transferred to New York City for four years to handle national sales and expand the company’s athletic markets.
In 1983, Kenneth Horne Sr. retired and Chuck Horne, at age 32, was appointed president. His brother, Kenny, became vice president and later executive vice president. In the mid-1980s, General Motors made a decision to have fewer suppliers and consequently cancelled its contract with Hornwood, which represented one-third of Hornwood’s volume. The board of directors recommended that the company be sold. Chuck and Kenny searched for a way to preserve the business in Anson County. They met with several banks, but with no luck. Finally, Old Stone Commercial Bank, based in Rhode Island, lent them enough funds to buy out the investors and to fund expansion for Hornwood. The company was able to purchase a tenter frame (oven) for $1 million that could accommodate fabric wider than eight feet. According to an Uwharrie Capital Corporation 2011 annual report, “Hornwood underwent a transformation that would position it to not only survive in the last decades of the 20th century, but look to the future by carving out niches through product and process diversification.”
The next step for the company was to contract with Ernst & Young, an accounting company with a strong planning component, to help Hornwood plan for a new future. The recommendations were that the company diversify its products and emphasize team-building with employees. Hornwood hired Lynn Horton, an English teacher in the Anson County school system, to facilitate the transition of the new mindset of Manufacturing Excellence. This program focused on quality, inventory control, and the development of team-building to train, educate and create a problem-solving environment for every employee. At the core of everything was a shared commitment to education for both the plant’s employees and community.
From 2000 to the present, Hornwood has discovered more ways to utilize finished fabrics. While continuing to grow the uniform and automotive areas, it established new programs for water filtration, exhibitions, and military footwear. The company now has 350 employees in a building of 300,000 square feet. In late 2016, Hornwood and King Charles Industries of Taiwan announced a joint venture to build a new building on the Hornwood property that will employ 100 workers in the next three years.
Another leadership transition has started. Chuck’s and Diane’s oldest son, Wesley Horne, 35, is becoming the new president as Chuck anticipates retirement. The family tradition continues as Hornwood faces the future with confidence.
Walter R. Turner, the author of three books about transportation history, is editor of the Anson County Historical Society’s newsletter.