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BLANKET TOWN: THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN MILL TOWN



Glencoe Mills



I can’t resist a good mill village and someone told me about Glencoe Mills, so I had to check it out. Glencoe Mills opened in 1882,  three miles north of Burlington, NC, producing plaid flannels until the fifties. 



Typical of small southern mill towns, Glencoe Mills was a self contained mill village with company provided mill housing, a barber shop, and company store. It was however a much smaller operation than the Beacon mill, with 200 workers at it’s peak. After the mill closed, all of the buildings, including the houses, were abandoned.




The site was listed as a historic district in 1979 and all of the buildings were bought by Preservation NC in 1997. The mill houses were later sold to private owners who restored them and the company store was turned into the Textile Heritage Museum. The brick mill buildings are currently being developed into a mixed used site. 









Can You Play That Thing?

Photo courtesy of the Swannanoa Valley Museum

                                        

 
April 1st was Gob Martin’s birthday. Gob, whose birth name was Wade E. Martin, was a master woodcarver who worked at Beacon Manufacturing and played for the mill’s championship baseball team, The Beacon Blanketeers. One of five boys born to fiddler Marcus Martin and his wife, four of the boys and their father moved to Swannanoa from Gastonia in 1929, after Marcus got a job at the mill. How he got that job is a story in itself. According to Gob, his father hopped a freight train from Gastonia in the midst of the Great Depression because he heard that they were hiring at Beacon. Gastonia in the late 1920’s had been an epicenter of labor unrest culminating in the murder of Police Chief Orville Aderholt and mill worker/ union organizer Ella Mae Wiggins.


Gob told me that when his father arrived in Swannanoa he stood with his fiddle tucked under his arm in a long line of men hoping to get hired at the mill. George Young, the hiring manager, asked Marcus if he could play. Marcus sawed off a tune and was hired right on the spot. The idea was that it would be good for morale to have someone living in the village who could play a mean fiddle. And that is how he got his job.


That's kind of a common theme I've heard about Beacon in the early days- that their hiring practices had as much to do with what you could offer the community as any work experience you might have. Everyone said that  if you were a good baseball player they would find you a job doing something. In fact all of the Martin brothers worked at Beacon at some time or another and played on the mill’s baseball team.  Later, Gob was in charge of Beacon’s children's recreation program which included Little League and basketball teams, and a putt putt golf course - all open to anyone who lived in the mill village. 


Other hiring practices I’ve heard about included a policy to ensure that at least one family member was working if people were laid off,  including during periods of the Great Depression. Unlike today’s more automated mills, textile work in the twentieth century required many hands. There was an incentive to train and hire lots of people- including whole families. Today’s mills require considerably less people to create the same amount of product. It’s probably safe to say as well, that the days of relying on your baseball or musical skills to get you a job, are also a thing of the past.

 

Beacon Linens. New Life for a Beloved Brand?

Check out this article about Beacon Linens in last month's edition of Capital at Play. Some familiar faces and names build on the Beacon legacy. You can read the full article, written by Jennifer Fitzgerald, by following the link below.

Photo by Capital At Play

Relighting a Local Beacon

Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald


Beacon Linens is on the cusp of something big—and looks to bring new jobs to Swannanoa in the future. (As a bonus, read an abbreviated history of Beacon Blankets following the main text.)


The roots of manufacturing run deep through Western North Carolina—perhaps nowhere as deep as the Swannanoa Valley, where Beacon Manufacturing Company, founded by textile industry visionary Charles D. Owen II, was the lifeblood of the community. The decline of the textile industry brought the end of the Beacon plant in Swannanoa, but now, rising from those ashes, is Beacon Linens, a company that is delivering new and exciting products. 
 See Full Article