ROCKINGHAM — A historic mill site is now in the hands of the Rockingham Downtown Corporation.
The only question is: What will be done with it?
Walter Parsons’ donation of the Great Falls Mill to the nonprofit corporation was finalized early Monday, following an acceptance vote at the RDC’s last meeting.
John Hutchinson, a member of the group, said the RDC wanted to make sure the deed was in-hand before making a formal announcement.
Hutchinson said Parsons made the donation from the Gore family. Parsons’ grandfather, Claude Gore, was the last operator of the mill in the 1930s.
“Walter wanted this to be a tribute to that family,” he said.
The property off U.S. 74 Business, on the west side of downtown, is a site of historic significance to the area.
The original mill on the property was burned in March of 1865 during Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s Carolinas campaign near the end of the Civil War. The remaining ruins are that of a subsequent mill built in the late 1860s.
In the 1990s, rock band Hootie and the Blowfish shot a music video for the song “Old Man and Me (When I Get to Heaven)” at the site. The video shows the band performing in front of what was left of the mill at the time, and features a shot of the nearby waterfall.
“We all realize the historic and natural potential,” said RDC President Susan Kelly. “Hopefully it can be developed.”
Hutchinson said attorney Ric Buckner and historian Neal Cadieu were instrumental in securing the site and “deserve a lot of credit.”
“Ric had a real desire to see that site preserved as much as possible,” he said, adding Buckner began expressing interest last fall.
He said Buckner’s thought was: “Wouldn’t it be nice to preserve this textile history that we have, with Civil War history on top of that?”
Hutchinson said “a lot of good ideas” on what to do with the site have been tossed around, including making a recreational and educational walking trail, with historical information on the textile industry; making an access point to Hitchcock Creek or building picnic shelters.
He added that one thought was to use some of the salvaged brick for a textile museum, which had been discussed before the mill burned in the 1970s.
“We have to do some engineering work to figure out what’s there and some planning work to figure out what we can salvage and how to make it safe,” he said. “We want the community to be able to use that site.
Hutchinson said it’s possible that a separate organization may be formed just to redevelop the site.
However, he added that one major obstacle is the fact that the property is prone to flooding, which limits what can be built.
“We want to work through the right process to make this a great community asset,” he said. “It’s certainly a landmark and we’re excited to preserve as much as what’s left as we can.”
William R. Toler is a reporter for the Richmond County Daily Journal. Reach him at 910-817-2675 or @William_r_Toler.