Public, meet the new Loray Mill village

In its early 20th century heyday, the Loray Mill village was a vibrant hub of Gastonia, filled with hard-working people and a communal spirit.

This fall, a nonprofit working to revitalize the historic neighborhood will aim to conjure up those same vibes with a block party and home tour. Preservation North Carolina’s Loray Open Village will celebrate what’s been achieved and what more is coming.

“We decided to have this block party to introduce the neighborhood to the public,” said Jennie Stultz, the incoming vice chairwoman of Preservation N.C., and a former mayor of Gastonia.

The Open Village will serve as a weekend celebration and fundraiser for Preservation N.C. on Oct. 15 and 16. That 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 barbecue, beer and wine while listening to music, speakers and 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.

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. Residents of Vance Street will be invited to attend the entire event at no cost, Stultz said.

In addition, a free program will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. that Sunday in the Loray Mill Event Center. 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, with the overall presentationsponsored by the Glenn Foundation.

Spotlight on the village

Since last year, Preservation N.C. has worked 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.

Stultz said organizers decided to have the October outdoor party on Vance Street because it had become the most downtrodden block in the neighborhood. That began to change a couple of years ago with the development of a new city park, as well as Preservation N.C.’s rehab efforts.

“We wanted to show off the houses in the Vance Street area to let people know what they look like,” said Stultz. “They’re anywhere from 800 to 1,200 square feet. We’ll have some of the homes either partially or completely renovated so people can come in and see them.”

The event is being timed to coincide with the opening of the mill’s new Alfred Kessell History Center that weekend, Stultz said. Gastonia native Robert Allen, a UNC-Chapel Hill history professor, has had a leading role in creating that digital history project, which will provide interactive information on the heritage of the mill and surrounding village.

Jack Kiser, a project director for Preservation N.C., said the goal is to bring attention to what is going on throughout the village.

“All of this is part of our marketing efforts to change the real estate dynamic in that neighborhood,” he said.

by Michael Barrett for the Gaston Gazette, 8/14/2016