The Village Historic District – The Mill Houses #1

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I love the Rocky Mount Mills, and the Village Historic District. We are fortunate that there is wonderful information on the subject. To capture your imagination, however, it takes more than googling the subject. Stand quietly with me on the side of the road here on Carr Street and imagine life as it once was in the Mill Village. This is a place where people fell in love, married and raised their children, lived into old age. Can you hear the echo of children’s laughter and the sound of Katydids in the trees? Nothing could be more suitable for the purpose of this blog than honoring the past of the Mills and historic district; they are pearls of great price. We must help support the future that is being created there today.

The “Mill Village,” as it is still called remains one of the most intact mill villages in the Coastal Plains of North Carolina. It illustrates the social and industrial history of a locally owned Southern cotton mill and village with antebellum roots. Originally established in 1818 by local investors who wanted to establish the cotton textile industry in North Carolina, the village grew up after the Civil War when a permanent labor force became attached to the mill. The mill village contains one-hundred-thirty-six well-preserved industrial and residential resources dating from 1835 to the early 1940s.

Much of the mill housing along Elm Street and Falls Road was erected between 1888 and 1892. No record of a contractor or source of design for the mill houses was found. As with most mill villages, the houses were most likely designed and built by local carpenters, some of whom might have been employed by the mill. By 1889, twenty-five one-story frame houses, generally about 16 feet by 32 feet with a rear addition, had been built along East and West Elm Street and along the 1000 block of Falls Road. Three years later, twenty-eight mill houses of the same size were erected on West Elm Street, Falls Road, and Cedar Street.

In 1893 Rocky Mount Mills took formal action to obtain a charter from the legislature incorporating the growing mill village inhabited by its employees as the independent town of Rocky Mount Mills. Before Part Two of this post is published in a few days, get in your cars, take the children, and drive through the streets of the village. Use your imagination, see the past, and what is underway now. The young people have an expression, way cool. The village is really way cool!

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About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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17 Responses to The Village Historic District – The Mill Houses #1

  1. Terri Baines Fieldman says:

    My grandparents raised 5 children in a two bedroom mill house near the top of River Drive. I lived there for a brief time as a child, and visited often throughout my life. My grandmother lived there until her death at 96 years old. The mill never increased her rent above what they knew she could afford. Both of my grandparents and many of my grandfather’s family members worked for the mill. My favorite memories are running in the yard playing chase, catching lightening bugs, and just sitting on the porch in rocking chairs visiting with family and neighbors. There were decades of beans from the garden outback hulled and snapped into old porcelain coated metal bowls on that front porch. I can still here each bean as it hits the bottom of the bowl. Thank you for keeping our memories alive.

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    • Thank you Terri for taking the time to write this lovely remembrance. I would like to write a further post or two about your grandparents and your time there. Let’s make a date and you can tell me more. Let me know if you would be agreeable. I hope so. You have a heart to tell this story, and if you would rather, you write and I will publish it on Main Street as my guest.

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    • warren adams says:

      Terri I also lived on River Dr. grew up there until I was a young teenager 3 houses down from your grandfather I knew him well he used to have a big garden every year I can still see him sitting on the front porch in his rocking chair reading his bible, he would often read a scripture to us kids. I live in Texas now but when I go home I always make it point to drive down River Dr. usually with my friends that I grew up with.

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  2. To add more…..Check out this facebook post from 3/18/13 from Hilarie Vetere
    Untapped GEM in Rocky Mount: The Mill Houses – I heard from an out-of-town realtor on Sunday that someone moves into Raleigh every 6 minutes. So eventually the urban sprawl may work its way to Rocky Mount. To be ready now, this wonderful Historic Neighborhood should be marketed to the max! Obviously, decisions regarding these homes are solely up to the owner. Hopefully, with a little persuasion from local real estate folks or others, it may start a revitalization of a wonderful historic neighborhood. In today’s economy it is nearly impossible to realize immediate ROI (return on investment) when one has to invest so much in renovations, and then try to rent or sale in an economy that is particularly sluggish in Rocky Mount. This scope of investment requires patient money from the investor. At least property values would go up immediately, and a new vibrant neighborhood could evolve. There is a segment of home seekers that are drawn to 1) historic properties, 2) smaller homes, 3) unique styles, 4) and even challenges. The March 2013 Southern Living Magazine has an article: “On The Market – Bungalows”, which highlights classic cottages for sale. “Built from the turn of the 20th Century through the 1930’s Craftsman bungalows feature low-pitched roofs, deep front porches with square or tapered columns, and detailed stonework and woodwork. Small in size but big in amenities, restored bungalows are widely popular today. “Our Mill Houses are not Craftsman bungalows, but they can be in a class of their own! With the right type of marketing and incentives some buyers may want to do their own renovations. How many people have read a real estate ad where the first sentence is “needs work”, or “needs TLC”? You arrive at the property and it requires a major renovation! Some folks take on these challenges. And for those that want a turn-key ready home, the owner’s organization can renovate one or two spec models. For those who want to live in RM and commute to Raleigh, a small affordable Mill House would be perfect. The size and uniqueness of the Mill Houses could fit the needs of many home buyers. Perhaps this Facebook post will reach and intrigue the owner and his investors. – Hilarie

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  3. Chester Gupton says:

    My Grandparents mr and mrs E Boswell lived at 10 River Dr. from about 1935 until 1992 when my Grandmother passed away. her name was Beatrice she, I Heard she worked at the mill up into her 70’s it was said the she worked at the mill longer than anyone though it was part time toward the end. she and her husband, who also worked there. raised 4 kids there. grandkids loved the visits. Great times, gardens, Pig cookings I a grandchild miss those times so much
    .

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    • I appreciate your adding this bit of info to the post. I would love to talk further with you. I’ll be in touch.

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    • Thankful for wonderful people like yourself that have added this brief, but important info to this post. A time in people’s lives that was hard, yet filled with simple events that have made lasting memories for so many. I hope you will tell me more of your stories. I’ll be in touch.

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    • Nancy Mackow says:

      Chester Gupton, I hope you don’t mind, but with the info you provided I was able to search the 1940 US Census and indeed your grandparents Elija (is that correct?) (age 37) and Beatrice (age 34) Boswell are listed as renting & living at 10 River Dr., Rocky Mount, NC and, yes, the 4 children are listed as William age 15, Ellen age 12, Earl age 9, & Thomas age 6. Elija is listed as a “slubber hand” (you can Google search was that is) and Beatrice a “spooler” – both in the “Cotton Mill”. His salary was $700 and hers $600. The reason I found this page is because I Googled Rocky Mount mill & then I searched the census because my daughter just moved into the renovated 17 River Drive and I was trying to find out who had once lived there. Unless the house numbers have been changed, unfortunately 17 is not listed in the 1940 Census – just 9, 11, 13, 15, and then 27, but no 17.

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  4. Kim Weaver says:

    Both of my parents grew up at the Falls. My greatgrandfather was superintendent of the mill in th early 1940s. My father grew up on Elm St and worked at the mill as a child and had Sunday dinner in one of the houses that is becoming a tap room. We are so happy to see the revitaization of the mill and the village. My aunt is still living and knows all the history.

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  5. Mary langrehr says:

    My parents Jim and Annie Pearl Casey lived at 17and 19 Carr St I was bornin1949.when they lived at17Carr st.My father had an 8removing camera He took pictures outside at our house and other places around the mill village.Some of them are fuzzy or jumpy but they’re not bad .some of that film icons 65yrs. old It is priceless.Pardon the writing I’m on my Kindle and it is MESSED up

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  6. Ginger Barnhill Guy says:

    The little pink house on Falls Road holds special memories for me. My mom and her older sister were born there…younger sis was born at Park View Hospital. Both of my grandparents and my aunt worked at the mill at times, but my aunt was the only one who worked there long enough to retire from the mill. They lived in the pink house until sometime in the late 60’s. While my family was living in Louisburg (till I turned 6), my brother and I spent a lot of our summers at grandma’s house. We spent every Christmas there…my mom, my dad, me and my two siblings would pile into the one-bedroom house…how grandma made the room, I’ll never know. I just know that there was a lot of love there. Every time I ride down Falls Road I look at that little house with fondness and remember all of the fun I had there. By the way, all three of the “Odom sisters” are still alive and well; 89, 85 and 75! Grandma lived to 99!! Something to be said for clean living and hard work!

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  7. Shirley Spain Parker says:

    My name is Shirley (Spain) Parker. I was born while my parent’s Arthur and Carrie Spain were living on Carr Street. We moved to 6 West Elm Street when I was 6 years old. My mother and father met while working at the mill. Most of my mothers people lived on the mill hill, so I had lots of cousins and their last name was (Taylor). My father worked at the mill for 48 years until he had a heart attack while working at the mill and had to retire. I remember taking his lunch to the mill along with iced tea in a mason jar. If he wasn’t at the entrance, I would just go into the mill and find him, Then we would sit on the wall outside until he finished eating and then take his plate and jar back home. After I left home to get married, I worked at the mill myself two different times, first as a winder tender in the old section and then in the new poly plant. My memories of growing up there will always be a part of who I am. Everything happing there is so great and I know that both of my parents would appreciate it also.

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    • Thank you, Shirley for leaving this additional information on the Mill Village. I would LOVE to talk further with you about these memories. Are you local enough that I could meet up with you? I’ll keep my fingers crossed, or we could talk by phone if distance is a factor It is amazing that after years of sitting silent, life has returned to the Mills and Mill Village. Great people involved. Hope to hear from you. Thanks again for this note.

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