Category Archives: Historic Preservation

The Power of Local History

SEABROOK SAYS: Our article writer today is Amanda Holland, the new director for the Kessell History Center located in the Loray Mill.   I know you will find her article an enjoyable read.  In a minute or two, you will learn a lot about the folks and organizations that created success at the Loray.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In 1929, all eyes were on Gastonia, North Carolina. As the “Spindle City” was on strike, the country, and many parts of the world, watched to see how the strikers and officials worked things out. Once again, all eyes are on Gastonia, North Carolina, this fall. A community has come together to celebrate its history that has for so long not been shared or discussed. I am, of course, talking about the Loray Mill and mill village renovations, and the opening of the Alfred C. Kessell History Center at Loray Mill.

The History Center displays a permanent exhibit on the history of the mill, including the 1929 and 1934 strikes, Firestone’s long and impressive legacy, and the community that rallied together to save the mill from demolition. Today, the History Center and renovated mill represent revitalization of an area of town long forgotten. History isn’t always pretty, neat and tied with a bow. But there is beauty in that. Being able to learn where we as a society have come is crucial to understanding where we are heading. Many locals are unaware of Loray Mill’s story in entirety. It’s time to change that and celebrate our local history. For some who walk in the History Center doors, they are reliving their working years, not to mention having their experiences validated by having it preserved. Some are learning what it was like for their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents to work at the mill. The Loray/Firestone Mill represents so much for so many people. From a community feeling at work to a neighborhood full of people who looked out for one another, it is rare when I hear something negative about the mill, company, or co-workers. Many thank me, yet it’s important to note that this has been a tremendous group effort.

If it weren’t for Firestone deciding to donate the mill to Preservation North Carolina in the mid-1990s, if it weren’t for Lucy Penegar and Jennie Stultz rallying volunteers or educating the community on the importance of the mill, if it weren’t for Rick Kessell wanting to honor his father and grandfather who each had long legacies working at the mill, if it weren’t for UNC Chapel Hill working tirelessly on research, exhibit design, and “Digital Loray”… then the History Center and the spotlight on the mill’s history wouldn’t be the full brightness it is today.  Such a group effort is a testament to the power of local history. These are all locals striving to preserve, present and celebrate local history. It isn’t always glamorous, but it does not have to be. What it does have to be, however, is explanatory, educational and validating for those impacted. Gastonia, North Carolina is historically important, and should be celebrated as such.

There is no other time than now to research, engage, and celebrate our collective history and narratives. The Alfred C. Kessell History Center’s role is to help people better understand the history of Loray/Firestone Mill. My hope is that people will repeatedly visit, learn something new each time, and feel good about the community in which they live.

Amanda Holland
Director, Kessell History Center
Loray Mill, Gastonia, NC

Loray Mill Update

Seabrook Says: Occasionally, we are surprised and very pleased about how well things turn out. Lucy Penegar shares with us much of the Loray Mill story. Read it and be impressed! 

Would you be surprised to know that the apartments at Loray Mill are renting so well that all Phase I three-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments are filled? As Phase I of the project is now complete, that means all amenities for the renters are complete, outside and inside. The outdoor area includes a pool and pool house, dog park, fire pits and grills, tables and lounge chairs, a bocci court and outdoor movie screen. The indoor area includes a pool table, foozeball table, game stations, kitchen facilities, sofas, chairs, and tables.

Two model apartments, located on the main floor, are furnished to show off the look of loft space living. They contain high quality stainless kitchen appliances, stone counter tops, ceiling fans, and window shades. The majority of the apartments are on the upper floors. All are in private areas accessed by a code pad. Construction on Phase 2 will begin soon and will provide 110 more apartments, bringing the total to over 300.

The commercial space includes 100,000 square feet of glass front stores on two levels, with floor cut outs that makes the space resemble a two story mall. In a multi-use facility, the commercial spaces fill up after the apartments are full, insuring a customer base. There are several businesses talking with the developers and the Loray Athletic Center is opening soon.

This community area includes a large rental space with a 40 foot high ceiling that can seat 300 in an auditorium setting, or become a large dance venue. It has already been used for wedding receptions, reunions, and large gatherings.

The Kessell History Center is expecting a spring opening. The UNC Chapel Hill Digital Innovation Lab staff and director Bobby Allen (from Gastonia) are designing this high tech, interactive exhibit. Archivist and designer Julie Davis has been on site several months working on the center. This type of exhibit is the first of its kind and is being studied by other similar projects.

The neighborhood is also getting some much needed help. UNC Greensboro supplied a class of interior architecture students to redesign some of the early historic workers’ houses for today’s use. The students drew plans for “millennials” and the downsizing “baby boomers”. Preservation/NC has received a major loan and is looking for additional grant money. They will open a couple of model homes and look for sensitive buyers who are interested in the national “smaller house movement”. The houses will sell with protective covenants and require owner occupancy, which helps stabilize neighborhoods.

So come to the Loray Mill, especially if you were one of the skeptics, and see how this project is changing west Gastonia. If you have been a supporter, come confirm your positive “can do” attitude. It is open daily and there are special events, like Loray Live, that will help you see how fantastic this project really is!

Lucy Penegar
Founding Member
Gaston County Historic Preservation Committee