- November 17, 2021
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Mark Muldrow and Carter Ladendorff, 3, at Potts Barber Shop / Photos by Jason Benavides
HISTORY IN OUR MIDST | By Dave Vieser
Nov. 12. Potts Barber Shop has been a friendly community gathering hub since it opened at its current location in 1960. So much that at one time, residents were actually able to pay their electric bills there.
Its unofficial status as an important place became official in October when it received designation as an historical landmark from the Cornelius Town Board. Their unanimous vote followed similar approval from the Charlotte/Mecklenburg County Historic Landmarks Commission.
“We are so very thankful and appreciative of this designation. Our thoughts on this day go back to our dad Wilson who actually started doing haircuts in 1926 in another spot,” said his son Ron Potts, representing the Potts family.
Ron’s brother, Gerald “Mickey” Potts, still cuts hair at the shop their father opened in 1960. Gerald’s late wife Nannie Potts is another important piece of Cornelius history. She was the first and only African-American mayor of Cornelius.
According to Deputy Town Manager Wayne Herron, the buildings which house Potts Barber Shop consist of two separately constructed brick storefronts joined by a common party wall and façade. The west-side storefront was constructed by the Stough-Cornelius Co., whose original shareholders included town founder R.J. Stough and town namesake J.B. Cornelius.
Potts Barber Shop
The Stough-Cornelius Cotton Mill, started in 1891, provided the impetus for the settlement and incorporation of Cornelius, Herron said, explaining that the former Stough-Cornelius Building is the last structure representing that company.
Aside from its association with the founding of the town, the former Stough-Cornelius Building also was the headquarters of the Cornelius Electric Membership Corp., an electric cooperative formed in 1940 through the federal government’s Rural Electric Administration.
In addition to being a headquarters for haircuts, the elder Potts helped bring integration to Cornelius. It was long customary that barbers who were black did not cut black customers’ hair. This kind of segregation in Cornelius ended quietly in 1972 when a Black man entered the shop and asked for a haircut.
Wilson Potts decided to go ahead, do the haircut, and then the new customer quietly left. From that day on, hair cutting in Cornelius was integrated.
“The Potts Barber Shop is an important cultural and historic property for the Town of Cornelius and very worthy of the historic landmark designation,” said historic preservation advocate Abigail Jennings. “The Potts family’s contributions to our region should be preserved and shared with future generations. They have touched many lives over the years and this is a well-earned accomplishment.”
The Potts family has touched the lives of countless residents, including natives and those who have moved here from other parts of the country.
Anne McAuliffe and her late husband Bob moved to a condo in Cornelius from New York in 2002. “One of the first things Bob did was to try and find a barber shop,” said Anne. “Well, he came home after the first day of looking and said he had found this great little shop downtown where everyone was so friendly…and that’s where he received every haircut for the rest of his life.“
Mark Muldrow has been with Potts Barber Shop for 23 years.
• Current plans are to coordinate the historic preservation plaque dedication with local programs during Black History Month in February.