Glencoe Mill Village is livable piece of history

by: Bob Buckley, Fox 8

(WGHP) — Just because something is gone doesn’t mean it should be forgotten.

“We won’t ever see this type of architecture again … especially with the mills themselves,” Historic Properties Superintendent with Alamance Parks and The Textile Heritage Museum John Guss said.

The museum is celebrating 20 years of keeping the story of textile mills alive.

“The importance of the mills to the South is impossible to overstate,” said Lynn Cowen, who worked for Preservation North Carolina and now lives in a restored home in the Glencoe Mill Village just north of Burlington on the Haw River.

The home Cowen and her husband restored hardly looked worth saving when they got it.

“But once you get the work done … you have a sense of history,” Cowen said. “In preservation, we often paraphrase John Ruskin, which is to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.”

And where the South was after the Civil War was in utter devastation.

“It’s hard for us to understand the post-Civil War era because of the devastation that was created in the South, and this was like a Godsend for the people of the South. After the war was over with, they had been devastated,” Guss said. “Lots of families broken up with loss, and they didn’t have … any means of trying to figure out how to get out of the economic depression they were in. And so when these mills came into the area, it was a fantastic opportunity.”

“The mills offered an opportunity that had never been. So when you work on the farm … income is not dependable. You could have a year where the crop gets ruined for whatever reason, and then you don’t get the income, so working in the mill was a steady, dependable income source, so it’s a different lifestyle,” said Sam Powell, who grew up near the village.

One blessing for Glencoe is how the families that owned it didn’t want to see it torn down or replaced after it was no longer viable as a textile mill.  So the village sat empty for 40 years. Over the last 30, it has been brought back to life. The mill itself is still a work in progress, but the homes have been refurbished.

“These houses effectively are new as of 20 years ago,” Cowen said. “They had footings, foundations. They had all-new mechanical systems. Most of them had never had plumbing. They had electric on (what was) Front Street but not on Back Street, and the company turned it on at 6 a.m. and off again at 9 p.m.”

Glencoe is a classic example of the mills of which there were too many to count. A century ago, they defined society in the South.

“The village and where you lived in the village reflected the hierarchy in the mill,” Cowen said. “Front Street was higher up than Back Street. Closer to the mill was better than up the hill.”

The mill closed in 1954, but that wasn’t the end of the area as it was in so many of the smaller towns.

“In some communities when industry would move out, it would become a ghost town. But here in this area in Alamance County, the industry left, but it transitioned into other opportunities,” Powell said.

See more on the Glencoe Mill Village in this edition of The Buckley Report.