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.