Around Carolina: Henry River Cotton Mill Village
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Just west of Hickory, about a mile south of Interstate 40, is a place where the clock stopped almost a half century ago. It’s difficult to believe that most of what was once the Henry River Cotton Mill Village remains intact.
It’s a bona fide ghost town right in the middle of North Carolina.
“The outside porches are beginning to deteriorate pretty good. The inside of the houses are solid as a rock. They’re mostly heart pine and they’re solid. They’ll be here when houses built today are gone unless somebody tears them down,” said Wade Shepherd, who has owned the mill village for more than 35 years.
The village was once set up as a place where workers in the cotton mill lived with their families. By the mid-1970s, though, the mill was closed, the families had departed and a not-so-desirable element had arrived.
“Thursday afternoon they would start open poker games ... and by sunday morning they was all drunk and shooting,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd lived nearby with his family, which included young children.
“I was driving by through here every morning with my children and what was going on here. I didn’t want my children to see,” he said.
Once he purchased the property, Shepherd set out to clean it up.
“You name it. We had it going on but I just took a firm stand,” he said.
Some vowed that they would hang on and run off the new owner.
“I’m here and they’re gone,” he said.
Shepherd was in the hosiery business and, for a time, he thought the mill and the surrounding homes might work for him.
“I entertained moving part of that, putting that into the mill and using the electricity to operate my equipment with, but it burned before i got that far along,” said Shepherd.
For all the years since then, Shepherd has been owner and served as caretaker for the property. He did allow the film crews to come in and use the village for the hunger games. It serves as District 12, the home of the movie’s protagonist.
Henry River, though, is now for sale.
“Real estate, I guess, is my weakness, but at my age now, I’m doing estate planning, so I have this property now up for sale,” said Shepherd.
Whoever buys the village will be able to do as they please but Shepherd would like to see it preserved in some fashion.
“My preference is that it would be developed with something positive that would help to continue the history,” he said.