A different kind of book review

mill2As planned, I picked up The Cat, The Mill and the Murder shortly after it was released in early May.  I’ve read Leanne Sweeney‘s mystery books before, and this one didn’t disappoint.  Not only was it a satisfying read with a great mystery and an unexpected last sentence, but the backdrop was a subject near and dear to me, textile mills and textile history. Normally, I would buy an e-book edition of what I’m reading, but seeing that this involved a textile mill, I bought a paperback version so I could add it to my textile library. So rather than review the book for its story, I’m going to review it in regards to the mill.  I don’t want to give anything away about the plot – just take it from me, it’s good!

The Cats in Trouble series takes place in the fictitious town of Mercy, South Carolina, located within an hour of the Greenville/Spartanburg area and in the center of what had once been a major hub of the textile industry.  The story opens in the Lorraine Stanley Textile Mill, a three story building that had fallen into hard times with the loss of the textile industry.  Our heroine, Jillian Hart, is involved because investors had been found that were interested in repurposing the mill, though it’s up in the air whether it’ll be condos or shops.  Jillian is here for two reasons – she has studied textile history and knows about the mills, and to help humanely trap and relocate a clowder of feral cats living in the building.  What else they find in the building sets off the mystery.

Since I started the hobby of photographing textile mills, I’ve been allowed inside several of them and  Leanne’s description of an abandoned mill is spot on.  Besides the overwhelming  darkness  from closed doors and sealed windows, there is the powerful smell of decay and rot, clouds of particles from asbestos and flakes of paint on the floor. I’ve been in some areas where it feels like a sensory deprivation chamber: dark and silent. It’s musty and damp from molds and mildew.  A lot of flooring is still intact, but areas where leaking pipes or animal droppings have rotted the boards so you have to be careful where you step as they can’t support weight anymore.  Having been in these types of mills, I felt the same thing with Jillian’s description of what she saw and felt.  I was also glad to see that Jillian and I share the thrill of being in these old abandoned giants and remembering the activity in it, and the history it had been a part of.  I can almost imagine the deafening hum of the looms, the floors covered in lint and thread, and the people hard at work.

Which brings me to another enjoyable part of the book:  the mill village!  Every mill I’ve come across has one,  provided to the workers by the mill owners.  It allowed them to have homes close to their employment, and also included schools, shops and churches provided by the mill owners so that the mill village was  a town unto itself.  Leanne notes in the story the bigotry between the classes as many folks considered the Lintheads (mill workers) as  poor white trash.  She also showed the fierce pride of the mill workers through one of the characters, Jeannie.

Overall, this was a very satisfying read.  The story was great and the backdrop was well researched and made it even more enjoyable for a mill enthusiast like myself.  For that matter, I’d love to pick the brain of some of Leanne’s friends who helped her with the research – I’m always on the lookout for new mills to photograph!  And one last thing… where can I go to take courses in textile history?

 

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Off and Running!

In August 2012, I wrote a blog post called “Green Light! Go!” which was news about the Loray Mills redevelopment project receiving funding for the project to happen. About once a month, I check the Charlotte Observer and Gaston Gazette for news on the status of the mill and was tickled pink to discover that the project is actually underway.  The money is available, plans are made and the kickoff happened on Tuesday,  April 9, 2013.  Plans include retail space, restaurant space, a textile museum and 190 lofts/apartments.

Gaston Gazette article

Charlotte Observer article

There were already some changes being made to the building when Ted and I went by there in February 2013.  The old guard house in front of the tower entrance had been torn down and just that little bit of work did wonders for the look of the building.  We also had snow the day before and some of it still hadn’t melted from the yard, so I finally had some snow pictures of a mill.

Loray Mill entrance 10/2006

Loray Mill entrance 10/2006

This is the front of the mill with the old guard house in front, taken in 2006.  Below is the front of the mill now with the guard house torn down.

Loray Mill tower entrance, 2013

Loray Mill tower entrance, 2013

During the photo shoot back in January 2006, the one place I couldn’t get to see were the front doors of the building itself.  I had to brace the camera lens through the chain link fence to photograph the front door.

entrance2006In the above shot, you can see the sign for the Franklin Mill Development sales office.  A developer had tried a year or so before then to redevelop the Loray into loft apartments.  Ted and I had gone to see the apartment model and it was gorgeous!  Sadly, it didn’t happen.  Below, is the front door through the tower entrance without the guard house.

entrance2013I’m so glad to see this old mill being given a chance to be re-purposed.  I’ve been inside this building and though there is a lot of work that needs to be done, a lot of it is structurally sound, right down to the beams.  They literally don’t make buildings like this anymore.  It’s survived a century and if given a chance, it will last another century beyond this, and will help give a fresh start to the mill village around it.  I’ll be visiting the site again to photograph her during the renovations.  I can’t wait to see what she’ll look like when they’re done!

Up In Flames

Gastonia, North Carolina, is a small city that is rich in textile history and a favorite place for me to go searching for textile mills to photograph. Sadly, there’s one I didn’t know of and thus never had a chance to look for and add to my files. While checking for articles on the progress with the Loray Mill, I came across the headlines…

Firefighters battle blaze, Gaston Gazette

Charlotte Observer article

I’ve researched it as being referred to as both the Mutual Mill and the Hanes Brands Mill, and according to the Gastona Gazette article, it was built approximately 1917, primarily used for spinning yarn and closed down in 2008 according to the article.  The second article I posted from the Charlotte Observer gives much more detail on the building’s history.  Curious as to what it looked like before, I did a Google Map search and was  able to get an idea.  It’s a one-story warehouse building with no unusual features to it, not even a smoke stack.  I did notice there were a number of small mill village houses across the street from it and I hope the people living there are doing okay.

EDIT:  The fire continued into Sunday and they hope to have it contained by Sunday afternoon.  The Gaston Gazette had additional articles on the damage.  The good news is no one was injured and the surrounding homes are okay.

Additional information on mill fire

Greenville Textile Heritage Society

Greenville Textile Heritage Society emblem

As many of the people who worked in textile mills passes away, much of the history and culture goes with them.  Fortunately, there are organizations dedicated to help preserve this history such as the Greenville Textile Heritage Society in Greenville, South Carolina.  Thanks to the people who are a part of GTHS, those of us interested in textile history have a contact to obtain information.  They also sponsor the Textile Heritage Week and the Textile Heritage Festival in October, the God and Country Rally for the Fourth of July, and more.  They have quarterly meetings and seminars as well.

They preserve not just the textile history, but the activities that were a part of mill village life.  Sports was a major recreation, and mill villages had their own teams for baseball and basketball.  The Society also has a band that performs in the area (and are very very good) and a Choral Society.  The Company Store offers books, art prints and music.

The GTHS is an excellent source of information, with a listing of mills, videos, links and more, and they’re always happy to answer questions.  The membership is open to any interested persons who would like to join the Society for a $20 annual fee, which includes a quarterly newsletter.  The proceeds go to various fundraising efforts such as the Textile Heritage Park.  Which reminds me… my membership for 2013 is due.  I’d better take care of it!

Green Light! Go!!

In 1999, we were trying to convince my mother to move from Florida and up to North Carolina where she’d be closer to us, and during one of her visits, we toured various small towns around the Charlotte area.  We took her to Gastonia, and while driving around looking at houses, we found ourselves in the west side of Gastonia and could see a large red  brick building off of Highway 74.  Sometime later, we came back to check out the building, the Loray Mill, also known as the Firestone Mill.  This was the building that sparked my interest in photography, architecture, mills and textile history.  I was even one of the lucky photographers that was given access to the building and explored several of its floors.

Loray Mill, Gastonia, NC, October 2006

For years, Preservation North Carolina, Gaston County Historic  Preservation Commission and various folks interested in saving the mill have been trying to get the funding to begin renovations, transforming the abandoned structure into a combination of lofts and shops while preserving its history. As of the end of June, 2012, they received the good news that the renovation had a green light to start (http://www.gastongazette.com/articles/mill-72596-federal-loray.html). I couldn’t believe what I was reading!  Oh yes, I was excited to hear of this   🙂

I’ll post more about the Loray Mill in a future blog, but I didn’t want to let this news linger for too long.  Ted and I will periodically head over to Gastonia to see and photograph the progress as we can; I, for one, am anxious to see the project  happen and this grand old mill restored.  Congratulations to Lucy, Preservation NC and all the others working behind the scenes to save this historical building.  I’m sure if mills could speak, it would thank you.

Textile Heritage Festival 2012

About two years ago, I discovered and exhibited my textile mill photography in Greenville, South Carolina at the Textile Heritage Festival. Though I wanted to go back and exhibit again, various factors got in my way and it didn’t happen.  This year, Ted and I are making plans to attend the festival but this time as visitors.  When exhibiting, your time is limited to check out the other displays and visit with others who share the love of textile history.  Also, Ted didn’t see anything, as he stayed with our table while I did a quick look around.  This time, we’ll both get to see it.

The festival is held at the Upcountry History Museum, and includes music, song and information about life in the mill villages.  The folks of the Textile Heritage Society put a lot of time and effort to keep alive the mill village culture for future generations, and have been a source for me in locating the mills for my photography.  For additional information or any questions you might have, you can find them on Facebook.  Can’t wait to be there!!