An Old Cotton Mill and Village, Reused

One of the aspects of textile history that many people (especially if you are not from the textile producing areas of the US) don’t know about, is the mill village.  Mill villages were constructed by the mill owner as housing for the workers.  Because the mills were often constructed miles from the nearest town, or on the outskirts of a city where there was no pool of workers nearby, the mill owners often provided modest, low cost housing to attract workers.  They sometimes even provided a church and a company store.

As our textile industry began its decline in the 1970s, many textile mills were closed, and in many cases, the mill village connected with a closed mill would be abandoned or even demolished.  The South was in danger of losing this part of our historical record.  Fortunately, preservationists and former residents of the villages began seeing the possibilities in these old structures.

The video at the top shows how the  Edenton Cotton Mill has been converted to condos and the surrounding village has been revitalized as a viable community.  The mill closed in 1995, and the owner gave the entire complex to Preservation North Carolina.  The houses were sold and renovated for modern living.  As one woman points out, this is not a museum.  There is however, a small museum in the former cotton mill office building.

To contrast with the community in Edenton, the next video shows an unrestored village, Henry River Mill Village.  You may have seen this village, as it was used in The Hunger Games as the setting of the coal mining region, District 12.  If you are interested in restoring this  little ghost village, it is for sale for $1.4 million.

I have a few villages and village museums on my radar, and will be paying them visits in the not too distant future, so stay tuned for more textile history.

On a bit of a personal note, I grew up in Canton, NC, which was home to Champion Pulp and Paper.  Before the mill was built in 1906, Canton was a small settlement of 230 people.  The building of the mill brought more jobs than there were workers, and soon the influx of new residents led to a housing shortage.  The owners of Champion began construction of a village, modeled on the textile mill villages of the region.  In all, about 60 mill houses were built in a new area of town which was named Fiberville.  On the hill above the company built thirteen larger houses which were to be provided to the mill’s management.

In 1949 many of the smaller houses were destroyed when the Pigeon River flooded.  The company sold the remaining houses, some of which were moved to higher ground.  What was left of the original village was destroyed in 2004 when Hurricanes Frances and Ivan caused more flooding.  Interestingly, all the management houses are still high and dry on the hill above.

12 Comments

Filed under North Carolina, Textiles

12 responses to “An Old Cotton Mill and Village, Reused

  1. Lizzie, I have vivid memories of going to Canton with my mom in the 1950s – she purchased paper-making felt from Champion to make braided rugs. Children were not allowed in the mills, so my sister and I would have to wait in the car for her. The smell was something else!! I was told that If I lived in Canton, I wouldn’t think anything about the smell because I’d get used to it!

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    • Karen, how interesting! I actually have 2 rugs made from that felt, as my mother took a class in the early 1970s. I can assure you that living there did not lessen the smell, though I lived south of town and the prevailing westerly winds pretty much kept it out of our neighborhood. People in Canton were fond of saying that they didn’t mind the odor because it smelled like money to them.

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  2. Hi Lizzie,
    Thanks for the history on these textile mill villages – they remind me so much of the coal ‘company towns’ that sprung up around western Pennsylvania. Some of the houses are still standing and occupied, but more often they are abandoned, like the one used in the “Hunger Games.” Your blog too is educating me on the once-thriving textile industry in North Carolina, which before I knew little about. I’m looking forward to future posts about its history.

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  3. Such an interesting post tday! I grew up in Canton, Ohio and am learning about many other Cantons in America. I also remember when there was no polyester! Ugh. Clothing became so ugly then. Cotton and other natural fibers can never take back seats to the unfortunate blight on fashion that polyesters bacame.

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  4. Pingback: Henry River Mill Village | The Vintage Traveler

  5. Bill Rolland

    Lizzie,
    I enjoyed your post very much.
    I too grew up in Canton, in Fiberville to be more exact. That was from 1931 to 1949 and I am trying to get in touch with as may old Fiberville river rats as I can. It is my plan to write a book about Fiberville and if anyone contacts you regarding the place I’d very much appreciate it if you would put them in contact with me either by email, snailmail or telephone.
    Thanks.
    Bill

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    • mike burnette

      hi bill i grew up in fiberville also lived a great childhood there loved the river even tho it was full of acid was ever summer getting steel out from the big 40 s flood would sell to presslys scrap ,was always something going on left in 56 for usmc now in pa but sister lives on fiberville hill still
      like to hear from any people from rat ville
      mike burnette

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  6. Pingback: Currently Reading: A Fabric of Defeat | The Vintage Traveler

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