“Oh, to be home again! Under the apple-boughs, down by the mill!” James Thomas Fields
Sitting outside at the Mill today was DE-vine. The sky was Carolina blue and the temperature heavenly. I love Books and Beans, a beautiful restoration of the old Canteen. With a dear friend, an egg and cheese sandwich on GF toast, and sweet tea, you feel that you could live forever. I would like this October weather to last until Spring, wouldn’t you? The once upon a time story of the Mill lingers in the air, the buildings that were on life support now hail and hearty once again. The energy and new purposes of the Mill seem to radiate from the brick, the windows gleaming with sunlight, and renewed energy that looks out upon a preservationist’s delight. Here is a premier example of revitalization that has brought revenue, people, more private investment to Rocky Mount. The immeasurable contribution of how to do things right is a lesson in a win-win attitude, where everyone benefits. Thankful for a few hours at the Mill on a beautiful day spent admiring the scene. Thank you for providing this sense of place that is vital to Rocky Mount’s story; instrumental to creating its future.
“The sound of water escaping from mill dams, etc., willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork, I love such things.” – John Constable
From the back seat of my car, a 3-1/2-year-old child reacts to a familiar place. “Grammy!!! there is Barley and Burger where Daddy and I have our date nights. They have french fries!” Spoken by a decerning french fry expert. Annaclaire has recently put together that there are four places in Rocky Mount where you can eat french fries. She will tell you: Sonic, Central Cafe, The Club, and Barley and Burger. There is a lot to love about Barley and Burger besides the menu and date night and waffle fries. It signifies something important to the community.
Located at 2921 Zebulon Road, it offers the atmosphere of a drop-in neighborhood restaurant where everyone knows your name. I can stop by on my own and feel comfortable sitting on a barstool, talking to those behind the counter.
The owners, Travis and Kristi Ellis, Brandon Clarke, and Etaf Rum are important players in Rocky Mount’s revitalization story. Ellis and his wife, Kristi, also own the Goat Island Bottle Shop at the Rocky Mount Mills. Author, Etaf Rum and Brandon Clarke have just opened Books and Beans, the restored and repurposed Mill Canteen. Only Brandon is from Rocky Mount, but in combination, these dynamic duo couples are helping to change the face of Rocky Mount. Young, incredibly hard-working, friendly and smart, they believe!
Rather than parking spaces reserved with their names, or being carried around on a silver platter as they deserve, Rocky Mount investors often have one heck of a time with a system that seems deliberately intent on discouraging their efforts to repurpose a building and open a business. Unlike the people running Rocky Mount Mills, who move heaven and earth to help you with your plans, the City Council and management seem to thwart investors. Look how quickly the world out at the Mill has come together with the will, leadership, and common purpose. Yet there is a struggle for every inch we gain on Main Street. The May Gorham building was going to open as an old fashion soda shop, interior intact, but the investors grew discouraged and backed off. The Carlton House is back on the market. It always comes back to the merry band of brothers and sisters with their self-interests. I’d like to think before the rapture comes, something will change. Knocked off their donkeys on the road to Main Street, the councilmen who are paying back taxes on empty buildings with an eye to taking them over, structures they own outright, plus the inner circle of friends who get special favors, will actually do something right and save these buildings.
In my active imagination, I see Rocky Mount as a stagecoach, and the passengers, the taxpayers, being ambushed by robbers. I see a newly elected sheriff Roberson and new posse members galloping over the rise. In my fantasy, they surround the bandits who are responsible for the deliberate foot-dragging that is catamount to sabotage and lock them up. If you haven’t already, add to your list of concerns, the treatment of these investors that have serious consequences. I believe Travis and Kristi, Brandon, and Etaf, Ben Braddock, Andrew Clarke and Jesse Gerstl have Rocky Mount’s best interests at heart. Thank you! They are the future in our midst now.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Stepheny, who had a playhouse filled with children who came to play. They had so much fun together, and they all lived happily ever after. The end.” This was my dream as a little girl…to have a playhouse.
Dreams are coming true in Rocky Mount. And so are Tiny Homes! When I think of the Rocky Mount Mills team, I picture them sitting together dreaming. What is possible? How can we preserve the story yet move into the future? Can we add to a positive experience of the Mills and Rocky Mount by offering new tiny house accommodations?
River & Twine will feature 20 unique, brand new tiny homes adjacent to all of Rocky Mount Mills’ amenities, that include breweries, restaurants, and music. To develop this riverfront destination, Rocky Mount Mills contracted with two builders: Modern Tiny Living and Free Spirit Tiny Homes, nationally renowned for their work on small living spaces. Each home ranges in size from 188 to 244 sq ft, different in style, private, while being part of a cohesive family-friendly environment.
Each tiny home will feature modern amenities including full-size glass door showers, microwaves, fridges and coffee makers in all homes. Complimentary high-speed internet and smart TVs. Heating and air conditioning. The tiny home hotel community will share amenities by pod groupings of five homes, which will include fire pits, grilling stations, outdoor games and children’s play areas.
“River & Twine will offer a one-of-a-kind experience for all visitors to Rocky Mount,” says Tim Rogers, Rocky Mount Mills/Capitol Broadcasting Company. “Whether you’re here for work, sports, recreation or simply to chill, River & Twine will be your go-to spot for a unique get away.” As a little girl who always wanted a playhouse, the Tiny Home movement making its debut in Rocky Mount has my architectural heart fluttering. If you read in the paper that a little girl was found sleeping in baby bears bed after trying out the chairs and eating the porridge, you’ll know what it’s about…..Stepheny was playing in the Tiny Homes while the three bears were out having a beer and eating at one of the Mill Restaurants. And you know what, on this trajectory, we’re all living in a place happily ever after.
On Pinterest: Random Tiny Homes – Rocky Mount will soon have their own version THANKS to Rocky Mount Mills
Episcopalians, of which I am one, set great store by the community of saints. It may startle you that I reference them when writing about the Mill history sweep on February 25th at the Braswell Library. This image came to me while I watched a digitalized black and white movie where Mill families and friends, toddler children, pals with an arm slung around a shoulder, all stood for the camera, with a wave, a grin. The mill women on the film were wearing their better afternoon dresses and clunky shoes. One of them could have been my mother, or yours, dressed as they were. I wiped a tear away while no one was paying any attention because I was moved by this gathering of saints that were being remembered.
I looked over the shoulder of a woman who brought a cardboard box filled with photographs, clippings, even love letters. Wandering around, I felt surrounded by this particular Community of Saints that are the Rocky Mount Mills family: mill parents and grandparents, childhood friends, co-workers, gathered together, remembered by name, and through their stories. If that wasn’t enough, this amazing thing happened to convince me that this special opportunity, hosted by The UNC Community Histories Workshop and Braswell Library, was something special.
I can hear you asking, “Stepheny, aren’t you making too much of things?” I suppose I am, BUT… did you see the movie, Field of Dreams? Do you remember the scene when out of the cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the seven players banned, as a result of the 1919 White Sox baseball scandal, return to the field to play ball? I want you to imagine those attending the history sweep scattered around the room, heads down, busy looking at film, digitized photographs and talking with each other, when out of the blue, Milton Bullock from The Platters, is introduced. Everyone stops what they’re doing as Milton sings acapella not one, but two love songs that surely the Mill Grandparents were singing when they were young and fell in love. At the last line of Only You, Mr.Bullock invited everyone to sing along. For a few minutes from offstage somewhere, out of the cornfield, if you will, the community of saints showed up. I could hear them singing too.
By Corey Davis
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Local people are being encouraged to attend an event hosted by a group of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty members this weekend at Braswell Memorial Library to share recordings, memorabilia, and stories relating to the history of the Rocky Mount Mills. The UNC Community Histories Workshop, which brings together faculty, students and staff with local partners to preserve and share community histories will be hosting a “History Harvest” from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the library.
UNC American Studies Professor Robert Allen, who is one of the faculty leaders of the Community Histories Workshop, said the History Harvest is a collaborative, community-based digital project and learning initiative that aims to emulate history. He added the Rocky Mount Mills History Harvest is a collaboration between the UNC Community Histories Workshop, Braswell Library, the Department of American Studies at UNC and A/V Geeks, a Raleigh-based collector and digitization company.
Allen said people are urged to come to the History Harvest to help the UNC Community Histories Workshop identify places and people in historical photos of the Rocky Mount Mills, share memories in oral history booths and have experts digitize 10 to 15 photographs, 10 to 15 documents, and home movie films or videos from such things as VHS tapes or DVDs.
Traci Thompson, local history librarian at Braswell Memorial Library, also will help collect materials reflecting the history of Rocky Mount and the surrounding areas. Documents, photos and moving images harvested from the event will be used in future digital exhibits created by UNC Community Histories Workshop. “What we want to do is use new technologies or digital technologies to help people select their favorite photographs that reflect the history of the Rocky Mount Mills and the Mill Village,” Allen said. “Each participant will go home with digital copies of their own photographs, film or documents.” Elijah Gaddis, who also is a co-founder of the UNC Community Histories Workshop, is leading the history harvest. Allen said it’s important the UNC Community Histories Workshop reaches out to the black community because of the many ancestors who worked at the mill and the first use of slaves in a North Carolina cotton mill was at the Rocky Mount Mills. Allen said there hasn’t been much written in the past about the period of slavery at the Rocky Mount Mills, which is something the UNC Community Histories Workshop plans to dig further into. “People think historians are only interested in the lives of famous people, but public historians want to preserve and share stories and recollections of everyday life, whether it was hard times as well as good times.”
“The rehabilitation of Rocky Mount Mills by Capitol Broadcasting Co. is a perfect opportunity for us,” he said. “We have the archives of the mill and of the Battle family of Rocky Mount, who owned the mill for 200 years in our Southern Historical Collection. Through activities such as the history harvest, we can create a community archive of shared images, memories and stories.”
A “history harvest” -Braswell library- February 25. 12:00 – 4:00
You are invited to bring pictures, documents, home movies or memorabilia related to working at the mill or living in the village. Help identify people and places in historic photos of Rocky Mount Mills, share your memories and stories in oral history recording booths. Experts will digitize your photographs, documents, and home video formats (8mm, Super8, 16mm) and videos/DVD (VHS, Hi-8,) to add to the digital collection being built with Braswell Library. PLEASE share this information with everyone you know on social media so it reaches those who need to be there. Thank you! And thank you to Elijah Gaddis, Project Manager with Communityhistories.org. and Capital Broadcasting, our heroes in this history harvest.
“My father used to say that stories are part of the most precious heritage of mankind.”
Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams
The first thing you need to know about giving an oral history is that you DO NOT have to know or talk about the larger story that surrounds the time period. Oral histories are about personal memories.
Milton & Cora West were the first Mill Family I wrote about on this blog, as told through the eyes of Jackie Howell Wall, oldest of their 18 grandchildren. Click here to read about Milton & Cora. The second Mill Family was Annie & Jim Casey, remembered by their daughter ‘Maggie,”Mary Casey Langrehr. Click here to read about Annie & Jim Casey. Both stories were greeted with great interest and appreciation, because in some sense, they were everyone’s story that grew up in the Mill Village, or worked at the Mill. It triggered many precious stories.
Here is all you need to do. Gather several friends, or relatives, and sit together REMEMBERING. It’s easier to tell family stories among your peers with everyone jumping in to add their version of the memory. Of course, you are welcome to give an oral history by yourself if you prefer. Set aside about 45 minutes. E-mail Elijah Gaddis and arrange a time for your gathering or individual spot. The Community History Program from UNC will come to you. That’s it! Please share this post with your Mill network. Help get the word out about this opportunity.
In Part One of this series, I introduced you to Elijah Gaddis, Project Manager with Communityhistories.org, He and his associates have started a series of conversations with former RMM workers, their families, and other community members. Once they have recorded these stories and memories, they will use them to make digital exhibits where you can hear, read, see, and learn more about the history of Rocky Mount Mills. This will insure that those connected with the Mill will live on. I am convinced all of us wonder what will be remembered of us when we are gone. Help with this noble undertaking of archiving memories of RMM so that its history will not be lost. Your family stories will be shared widely with school children, college students, libraries, and future exhibits. These stories of all these good folks can serve as a moral compass for those who are building a future for the RMM, and who live in the Village. Don’t miss this opportunity to insure that something of you and yours are remembered and treasured into the future.
As part of some research I’m doing for a new novel, I am in love again! or should I say, as usual. This time it is a man named Chris Rose who once worked for the Times Picayune in New Orleans. He wrote a series of columns in 2005-06 recounting the aftermath of Katrina, and published them in a book, 1 Dead in Attic. Rose is out of the “Studs” Terkel tradition who is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans, and for hosting a radio show in Chicago. Rose is that good! One of the many Katrina stories Rose tells is about a man that started collecting magnets off the ruined refrigerators that had been hauled to the curb for pick up. Rose wrote …there is also something noble about archiving the personal details of our citizenry, particularly when those details were otherwise bound for the dump.
You ask, what does this have to do with Elijah Gaddis? He may not be collecting magnets, but he collects stories, and is a young man with a noble calling. He is from rural Cabarrus County, NC in the heart of textile country. Growing up, he heard little about the surrounding mills nor did his schooling provide any education on the matter. Yet today, his imagination and heart are captivated by the history and stories connected with the Rocky Mount Mills. He is Projects Manager for gathering your information.
Trained as an oral historian, his academic background has prepared him for the work that brings him to us through a program Capital Broadcasting has initiated at RMM. With a degree in English, a MA in Folklore and soon a PhD in American studies, both from UNC, he has worked as a public historian for the last ten years. His work connects communities to their own histories and helps them share this valuable information with broader publics. Some of you have already had the pleasure of meeting with Elijah to share your Mill memories. Here is the link to an earlier post about this story gathering.
Coming tomorrow -Part 2: What Are Oral Histories All About?
I don’t have a problem visualizing what a space can look like if edited, even if the walls are painted in two conflicting colors and filled with over-scaled furniture. I’m lucky that way. If you are having trouble “seeing” the revitalization of Rocky Mount, I have an idea for you. Plan an outing ASAP to the American Tobacco Campus 318 Blackwell St (at W.Pettigrew St) Durham, NC. It is a must destination that will help you envision the backdrop for an exciting play that Capital Broadcasting has in production at Rocky Mount Mills in Rocky Mount, NC. where on stage, the sets are being designed and built, and there is a large casting call for principal actors, actresses, and walk-ons like myself that will be a part of the crowd scenes.
The buildings on the Tobacco Campus may look different than those at the Mills, but are equally beautiful. What I want you to add to your ‘seeing’ of Rocky Mount Mills are PEOPLE everywhere. They are walking into their offices, into restaurants, walking a dog on a leash, having a meeting around a table with their lap tops open. There is energy and laughter, yes, an annoying motorcycle reeving up in the parking garage, but even this is part of the movement of this unique setting and reclaimed usage of a historic area that is just plain fabulous fun.
You have to let yourself go when it comes to this “seeing” business. Put your hand on the gorgeous salmon colored brick at ATC, embrace the pine pillar at the Mill, wave at the train when it goes through downtown, forget plain old ice tea and go straight for sweet tea at the Smokehouse, look for ghost signs, celebrate a vision of success. It is the best fun!
In 2004, the previously abandoned American Tobacco Campus (ATC) reopened as a complex of offices, shops, and restaurants. Developed by Capitol Broadcasting and reopened as the American Tobacco Historic District, phase 1 consisted of the Fowler, Crowe, Strickland, Reed, and Washington Buildings, and included the construction of two new parking garages and a waterfall feature through the center of the campus.
Phase 2, consisting of the remaining buildings and expansion of the water feature at the north end of the site, was under construction as of late 2006. Many office spaces in the ATC are now used by Duke University. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 as the American Tobacco Company Manufacturing Plant. The nearby Watts and Yuille Warehouses were listed in 1984 and the Smith Warehouse in 1985.
“..what the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we lived. In the end, it’s the family stories that are worth the storage.” ― Ellen Goodman
The waterlogged app on my I-phone (used on the photo above) reflects the emotional blur through which I viewed things on Saturday afternoon at the event created for a gathering of special people. Connected to the Mill, they came to tell their stories, enjoy the music, and have a tour. The progress that has been made in the large spaces is amazing. The clean up and restoration of the ceiling and support beams are nothing short of beautiful. John Mebane, in his usual great form, led the group through the Mill providing a running historical commentary about what we were seeing. This was a privilege not usually available and one to cherish. I dare you to tell me you wouldn’t have been teary too when Evan Chavez, Development Manager, Capitol Broadcasting Company, added some magic by showing off the timberous bell in the tower that has now been automated, no longer needing a rope pull. The bell will be used to remember the shift changes of yesteryear. Listening to the bell ring on a perfect October day was a moment to remember.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t asked themselves at some point in life, what will be remembered of me? There was one gentleman who helped lead the tour who has spent his career insuring that he will be remembered for the incredible preservation work he does. “Eddie” Belk by name. Belk Architecture has been the key firm in the adaptive reuse of the majority of Durham’s early 20th industrial architecture. It is he, who over the last twenty years, has reimagined the adaptive reuse of the Mill. Listening to Mr. Belk describe the plans for the spaces, which include the preservation of the historical details of the buildings, is watching a creative force in action.
The importance of this place, and collecting the oral histories of those forever linked to the Mill, are a powerful, moving and, yes, an emotional experience that Capital Broadcasting has made possible. We owe everybody involved an Episcopal bow of reverence….lean from the waist, folks, while saying THANK YOU.