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 Mil, Gastonia, NC

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