The Carolina Piedmont was central in the development of America’s textile industry. Corporate names such as Cone, Burlington, and Wrangler/ Blue Bell resonate within our community. Fortunately, our region still has a great deal of history to show for the industry that defined our region for over a century. If you enjoy learning about our region’s historic textile mills and their history, consider yourself lucky. Three events are planned over the next two weeks to celebrate North Carolina’s textile mill history.
On May 6th, Preservation Greensboro has organized a walking tour of the sprawling Revolution Mill.
The complex was erected by Cone Corporation in three major periods of expansion, ranging from 1900 and ending in 1915. Construction methods and floor plans of the mill are typical of textile mills built during the period, incorporating large floor plates, numerous windows allowing natural light, and “slow-burning construction” methods that used heavy “over engineered” timbers that would support their weight for some time into a major fire.
The entire complex was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 based on its associations with early industrial development in Greensboro, and today the complex is enjoying renewal as the Revolution Mill Studios. The mixed-use project has created office space for dozens of companies as well as a special events center, and promises to grow even larger with future expansion.
The free tour is scheduled for Wednesday, May 6th, at 7:00 pm. Please meet at the Revolution Mill leasing office entrance at 1160 Revolution Mill Drive. That is the building to the right of the tall red water tower.
On May 9th, students from UNCG will provide tours of Cone Corporation’s surrounding mill villages.
Nine graduate students have explored mill history by documenting interviews with former mill villagers in and around Revolution Mill. Their discoveries will be the focus of free van tours of the former Cone Mills mill villages held this Saturday, May 9th. Tours will depart from Revolution Mill Studios, 1200 Revolution Mill Drive, between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tours will depart every 15 minutes and will last 45 minutes.
Tours will focus on the mill villages that were home to thousands of mill-work families who made their lives in the Cone Corporation’s mills – including Revolution, as well as the White Oak plant, the East White Oak plant, Proximity Mill, and Proximity Print Works. Students conducted twenty interviews with villagers for the Museum Studies class taught by Dr. Benjamin Filene, UNCG’s Director of Public History.
Many of the interviews show a surprisingly rural life in mid-twentieth century Greensboro—cows grazing on the Revolution ballfield, chicken coops in Proximity, hogs butchered in East White Oak. Earlier this spring, the students toured across town with a 7-by-7-foot map of northeast Greensboro—a “Memory Map” on which participants were invited to share their recollections of what happened to them at different locations in the villages. The stories that the students learned through interviews and the Memory Map sessions will be showcased in the van tours.
In addition to the van tours, students will host other mill village-related activities including “mystery” photographs of the villages; a screening of a 1930s-era film of the White Oak factory; and a “story swap” session for former mill villagers.
On Saturday, May 16th, mill history buffs can explore the Glencoe Mill Village north of Burlington.
In contrast to Cone Corporation’s twentieth-century mill villages in Greensboro, the Glencoe Village represents a rural mill community of the late nineteenth century. Large lots for gardens, a company store, and rural surrounding characterize Glencoe, a community almost lost to the bulldozer in the mid-1990s. Preservation North Carolina (PNC) spearheaded efforts to preserve the village that has been transformed into a vibrant community of colorful cottages.
The “open village” tour includes a special presentation by PNC’s Executive Director Myrick Howard entitled “The Rebirth of Glencoe” held at 11:30 at the historic Providence Christian Church in Graham. Houses within the Glencoe community will be opened for tours between 1:00–4:30 p.m. Admission for the “open village” is $25 per person (advanced tickets can be purchased for $20). Children under 12 are free.
Mill history is alive and well in the Piedmont of North Carolina!