Literature of Loray focuses on written works about textile mill

A presentation by Preservation North Carolina will be hosted at the Loray Mill on Thursday night. Local author Joe DePriest and local historian Lucy Penegar will be speaking about the stories that make up the history of the Loray Mill.

The history of the mill is something Penegar was keen to learn about, although she admits when she first started, she really didn’t know much.

“I went with Myrick (Howard, Preservation N.C. president) the first time he went to Firestone Mill,” she said. “They were moving out and gave the mill to Preservation N.C. I told him, ‘Myrick, I don’t know anything about this mill. I don’t know the story.’ He told me to ‘read whatever I could find.’ I started ordering off of Amazon and finding as much as I could.”

“I don’t have roots in the mill or anything, but I just jumped in with all four feet and have loved it ever since,” Penegar said.

After the building was given to Preservation N.C., construction began to turn the former textile mill into residential, retail and commercial space.

DePriest, who originally grew up in Shelby, learned a lot about the mill during his time in Cleveland County. Once a reporter at The Shelby Star, he fell in love with local history.

“Two icons of Shelby, O. Max Gardner and Clyde R. Hoey, were a part of the cast of the Loray Strike of 1929,” he said. “Gardner was governor and called in the National Guard. Hoey was a lawyer and was on the prosecution. I had a relative who sold Cleveland County livermush in the mill.”

DePriest and Penegar crossed paths in 1990 when DePriest came to Gastonia and a love of Loray and literature collided.

“This program – put on Preservation N.C. – is about the literature of Loray,” DePriest said. “We’ve interpreted that as fiction and nonfiction works. Lucy has compiled an all-inclusive list.”

The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will have DePriest and Penegar sharing some of their favorite stories about the good and the bad of Loray Mill.

“I think people are real curious about what happened (at the mill) before,” Penegar said. “We’re not telling all bad stories. I mean, the strike is a bad story. But the Firestone story is a wonderful story. They had a band, a swimming pool, a ball team that was fantastic, they had a camp up in the mountains they went to. A lot of people say, ‘I don’t want to hear the bad parts. I just want to hear the good parts.’”

“It’s all a part of the history,” she said. “You learn from all of it. I think it’s kind of neat people still want to know what happened here.”

Calling Penegar’s list of references would be an understatement. Made up of historical and social studies books, journals, radical novels, new fiction and more, there are 56 titles on the list. And it continues to grow.

“I couldn’t believe it. I found dramas and plays and music. I was blown away by the fact there were plays written in the 1930s. One of them (“Strike Song”) was done in 1931. That’s just two years after the strike,” she said. “There was a play in Massachusetts called ‘Strike’. And one called ‘Let Freedom Ring.’ It was produced on Broadway in 1931.

“The Charlotte Symphony produced a symphony about textile history and the closing of the mills. I saw people sitting there listening to that thing and crying. They went around and passed around pieces of fabric made in the mill. You would touch that as you listened to the music.”

The presentation will be happening in the Kessell History Center at Loray Mill, which will be undergoing renovations for a high-tech display about the history of the mill and the village surrounding it. While the project is still in the works, DePriest said programs like the Literature of Loray fit perfectly with the idea of learning from the past and looking toward the future.

“People will be able to come in and get on computers and explore the original Loray Mill Village house-by-house,” DePriest said. “As that transformation around the mill continues, the history is an integral part of the project.”

While the Loray Mill is looking toward the future as they begin Phase II of construction, Penegar and DePriest point out how the mill influenced us as a culture.

“There are so many things that have come out of the textile story,” Penegar said. “People came down from the mountains and sat on their porch playing music. And now (some people are) saying that’s how country music got its start.”

“I’ve picked up lots of stories about Loray over the years,” DePriest said. “It’s close to my heart.”

by Allison Drennan for the Gaston Gazette, 8/1/2016

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