Loray Open Village to showcase historic community’s rebirth this weekend

The snazzy, eye-catching redevelopment of the Loray Mill has grabbed all the headlines in the last three years.

But this weekend, the historic village of homes that serves as the nest for that former foundry will finally get a chance to shine.

“We’ve been working in the Loray Mill village for a long time,” said Lauren Werner, spokeswoman for Preservation North Carolina. “We’re very excited for people to have their first look this weekend at the model houses and other homes that are available there.”

Preservation N.C.’s special Open Village event will celebrate what’s been achieved in restoring residences around the Loray Mill, as well as what’s coming. The two-day celebration and fundraiser will feature a block party Saturday, and a tour of homes both Saturday and Sunday throughout the village.

The gathering will aim to reassert the neighborhood’s reputation during its mid-20th century heyday, when it was filled with hard-working people and a communal spirit that made it a vibrant hub of the city. And it will coincide with the grand opening of the new Alfred Kessell History Center inside the mill.

On Saturday, a Hog & Hops Block Party will be held from noon to 5 p.m. along South Vance Street, in the shadow of the redeveloped Loray Mill Loft Apartments between Second and Fourth avenues. For $35 per person, attendants will get to enjoy barbecue, beer and wine while listening to music from local favorites Darin and Brooke Aldridge, speakers and experiencing other entertainment. They’ll also have access to a tour of renovated homes for sale on Vance Street, Second Avenue and elsewhere throughout the one-time mill village.

Preservation N.C.’s fully renovated and staged model home will be featured during the tour, as will six other houses that are in various stages of being restored and put back on the market.

Those who would like access only to the tour of homes can pay $15 per person to experience it from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The Sunday tour will also include a visit to the Separk Mansion on Second Avenue, where participants will be treated to a scoop of Tony’s Ice Cream.

In addition, a free program will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday in the Loray Mill Event Hall. Speaker Thomas Hanchett, a historian and former director of the Levine Museum, will discuss “The Roots of Country Music in the Piedmont South.” Music will be provided by the WBT Briarhoppers, whose original members met at the Loray Mill. The overall presentation will be sponsored by the Glenn Foundation.

Unlimited tickets for the Sunday tour will be sold at the door, but seating for the free Loray Talks event will be capped at 350. Ticket sales and will call for those who have pre-registered will be in the main entrance of the mill.

For information on ordering tickets, call 919-832-3652.

Preservation N.C. has been working earnestly since last year to obtain homes and properties in the shadow of the mill. The nonprofit bought some of the property, while other pieces were foreclosed, bank-owned homes that were acquired by the city of Gastonia, then sold to the organization.

Preservation N.C. currently owns more than a dozen mill village homes and one vacant lot. It plans to redevelop several of them in ways that both show off their historic architectural features and provide key modern amenities. That’s necessary to get the historic tax credits that will make the projects possible.

Proceeds from the Loray Open Village fundraiser will go back into supporting the acquisition and redevelopment of homes, using a revolving loan fund.

Werner said they expect several hundred people to attend the events over both days, and they hope it will help propel the restoration of the village to another level.

“We’d like this to serve as a springboard for people to learn about all the wonderful rehabs that can happen in a community like the Loray Mill village,” she said. “The trend of people buying smaller houses for smaller households is happening all across America. Housing stock like this provides a great opportunity for first-time homebuyers, as well as empty-nesters.

You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826 or on Twitter @GazetteMike.

This article ran in the Gaston Gazette, 10/11/2016.