Rocky Mount, NC's Old Textile Mill Village
When Rocky Mount Mills closed in 1996‚ the owners didn’t know what to do with the vast property overlooking the Tar River. Instead of managing a working textile mill‚ they found themselves with the task of selling a complex of empty industrial buildings and a village of 62 homes built between 1885 and 1940 as housing for workers.
Fortunately a buyer didn’t materialize‚ and today‚ the former rental houses within Rocky Mount Mills Historic Mill Village are part of a friendly neighborhood that is being transformed‚ as houses are being rehabilitated and lots sold for new homes.
“I always had an interest in preservation but never imagined being involved on this level‚” says John Mebane‚ a native of Rocky Mount and a sixth-generation manager of the mill‚ which was founded in 1818 as one of the first textile plants in the South.
The ongoing turnaround from sleepy village to active historic neighborhood is being led by a devoted group of people who believe in the area and are willing to invest in the historic houses that range from 850-1‚600 square feet.
“It’s like an old neighborhood was when I was growing up‚” says homeowner Mary Tharrington‚ who bought and rehabilitated a circa-1908 cottage with beautiful hardwood floors. “Here‚ everybody knows everybody.”
Tharrington is no stranger to the historic neighborhood – she grew up in the village‚ and her parents worked at the mill. Years later‚ she worked there‚ too. After her husband passed away‚ she found herself wanting to live closer to town.
Around the same time‚ the cottage where she now lives came on the market‚ and she “couldn’t wait to get it‚” she says‚ noting the ease of being near shopping and health care‚ and even being able to have pizza delivered. She was also able to move a lot of her beloved plants to her new garden.
“I’m very interested in old houses‚” says Tharrington‚ who adds that her neighbors range from young people to retired mill workers who are all drawn to the charming‚ historic homes. “I can see the potential‚ and it’s just remarkable.”
After the mill closed‚ the statewide group Preservation North Carolina saw the potential‚ too‚ and brought architects together for a charrette – or brainstorming session – to look at redeveloping the historic site rather than bulldozing it.
The charrette identified possibilities for conversion of the mill buildings for non industrial uses. The rehabilitation of the houses was a critical component of the plan.
A special aspect of Mill Village is its written covenants‚ which encourage proper preservation techniques and appropriate new construction on the empty lots. The idea came from the renovation of the Edenton Cotton Mill‚ which was led by Preservation North Carolina.
“We had continued to monitor the progress of the Edenton project and as we saw it working‚ we began to ask ‘why wouldn’t this work in Rocky Mount?’ ” Mebane says.
The protective covenants‚ which are typically only seen in upscale‚ new subdivisions‚ are proving successful in maintaining the character of Mill Village‚ which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
With 15 lots already sold‚ residents are looking forward to seeing new construction soon‚ and also to the completion of a nearby greenway‚ which will connect Mill Village with scenic walkways along the river extending from City Lake to MLK Park.
“We could never have succeeded without the help of our local preservationist friends as well as those on the state level‚” says Mebane‚ noting that the mill is located on the first area settled in Rocky Mount. “Our local history begins at this site.”
Find out more on neighborhoods in Rocky Mount.