UNC Chapel Hill Team Aims To Preserve Rocky Mount Mills History

By Brian Shrader, WRAL anchor/reporter

Rocky Mount MillsCapitol Broadcasting bought more than just an abandoned textile mill when the company purchased Rocky Mount Mills four years ago.

The firm, which is also the parent company of WRAL TV, bought an iconic site near the Tar River that has loomed large and played a big role in the Triangle’s history.

In 1939, Rocky Mount Mills was home to a thriving textile industry. An old home movie captured the tower in black-and-white glory.

When the textile business collapsed in the U.S., Rocky Mount Mills closed in 1996.

But the site, which is located in Rocky Mount, is getting a new lease on life with a renovation that aims to turn the abandoned property into a thriving office and living space.

Robert Allen, who works with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Community Histories, is trying to preserve the mill’s past. He and his team work on sites like Rocky Mount Mills to as a way to tell the stories of the people who lived and worked there.

Allen met recently with an architect to review the site and think of ways to to display these stories.

“Our work here is recovering the long, rich, complex, and in some ways, contested history of this site,” he said.

One of the biggest facets of Rocky Mount Mills’ history is its links to slavery.

UNC-Chapel Hill researchers are working on a slave genealogy to identify the people who worked at the site in the early 19th century.

That story maybe tough to tell, but many other parts of the Rocky Mount Mills story will be easier to bring to life.

“We were lucky to have so much information archived at UNC and also the information here,” said Evan Covington Chavez, a development manager at Rocky Mount Mills. “And we still have people around that can still tell the story of when they worked here.”

Allen said it is important to preserve those stories before they fade from memory.

“It rises to the level of a moral obligation,” he said. “For us at the University of North Carolina, this is the work we ought to be doing.”

The UNC team is actively seeking stories about the mill from people with connections to the site. The team is also posting several material in a digital archive full of photos.

Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Brian Shrader & WRAL.com’s Alfred Charles for this capcom story & photo.

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