Curious about the place that became District 12 from The Hunger Games?
In honor of today's film release of Mockingjay part 2, learn about Henry River Mill Village in Burke County, NC through Images of America: Henry River Mill Village.
Huddled in the foothills of North Carolina, there lies a near ghost town named Henry River Mill Village. The abandoned homes and Company Store are always eerie, but there is something in the light of dusk that makes them even more so; gap-toothed windows sprout trees, and slack doors open to couches that have not been sat on in years.
Just after the turn of the 20th century, a cotton business opened in Henry River Milll Village. When the mill began operations, it had about 100 employees, including children as young as nine years old. At the mill's height, 12,000 spindles produced more than 15,000 pounds of fine combed yarn each week. Near the mill, a housing development was built to accomodate the employees of the company. There were no notable landmarks and most of the 35 workers' cottages were nearly identical. What matters most about Henry River is not its structures but its people: how they lived and died, what they ate and longed for, and prayed for, what they sacrificed, and what those sacrifices yielded.
Henry River Mill Village was a completely sustaining town in its time, operating under its own currency, generating its own electricity, and churning its own moonshine.Villagers played poker and baseball, they made quilts and blackberry dumplings, they spent their evenings playing music on the front porch, and they worked.
The citizens of Henry River Mill Village worked hard. Longtime resident Bud Rudisill told of how he made only eight and a third cents an hour in his early days at the mill. Low wages meant scarce resources. Even worse during the Depression, meals were somtimes "nothing but tomatoes and sweet potatoes" given by someone with a little extra to spare. The 12 hour shifts often proved backbreaking for workers. By the time the mill slowed to a halt in the late 1960s, many workers had hoboed out of town looking for higher wages and shorter shifts.
If you listen carefully to some of the stories, people wanted nothing more than to get off the hill, and yet even in those stories, there is a reverence and an abiding love for village life. For every tale of hardship and heartache, there are at least a dozen of joy and community. The prizewinning Moon-and-Star watermelons, the cooking up of cooters, and the fishing, drinking and card playing - all of these came together to create joy in a place that might have otherwise been bleak, and threaded through that joy is a deep abiding love for the community.
Over 100 years have passed since the founders first looked out at Henry River and saw within its moving current the potential it held. In those years, curtains have been hung and taken down, lives have been birthed and lost; hearts have been healed and broken and healed again. It does not take much to imagine sliding a coin across the counter at the Company Store or siting on the front porch shaking salt onto a slice of Moon-and-Star watermelon. While the future of Henry River Mill Village may be unknown, the past is quite certain. It serves not only as a rich account of the North Carolina textile industry but also as a true testiment to a community that flourished even in hardship.