NAME: Henry River
COUNTY: Burke County
CLIMATE: (Snow in Winter? Warm Summer)
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Spring to fall
COMMENTS: For sale!
REMAINS: Mostly Undisturbed

The link below the following paragraphs has some information about the abandoned mill hill of Henry River – literally built at the turn of the 20th century on a hillside south of what is now I-40 at Exit 119 in the North Carolina foothills.  Several years ago, I had a non-traditional student in one of my classes whose grandfather owned the mill.  She said her grandfather’s workers were paid half in script (“squgglies”) redeemable only at the village store and half in currency.  The village store also served as a post office and, on a second floor, a school.  Most mill hill schools at the turn of the 20th century existed to babysit future workers until they aged out of child labor restrictions without teaching them anything beyond the most rudimentary skills. 

Casual observation of the village layout suggests that few, if any of the workers owned automobiles.  As someone familiar with the wage scale pointed out about the attitude of mill and factory ownership of a period when child labor in the region was rampant: “[Workers] didn’t need anything more than a pair of brogans, overalls, and a lunch pail.”  As with schoolteachers, preachers of the era were hired to perpetuation the notion of diminished expectations for employees.  Rewards in the hereafter were predicated on obedience toward “those who have the rule over you” in this life.  Like many Southern mill towns, Henry River’s decline probably began as many returning veterans from World War II realized there was more to the world than the mill village in which they grew up.

I understand from a lifelong resident of Hildebran (the small town on the north side of I-40 at Exit 119) that the mill owner lived on a hill just south of the intersection of Main Avenue (old NC 10) and South Center Street, and north of the current Bojangles (a local fast food chain based out of Charlotte [located near the North Carolina and South Carolina border at the intersection of I-77 and I-85]).  As I write, the hill top is still a vacant lot.  The only evidence of former habitation are concrete steps on the slope leading to South Center Street.

The former mill overseers’ house is a large still inhabited two-story structure on the right at the top of the hill before beginning the descent into the former village on Henry River Road (the same roadway as South Center Street, but south of I-40).

My understanding is that the original mill was burned by disgruntled neighbors after a purchaser reneged on his promise to restore the village.  In the 35 years I have lived in the area, the old mill houses have deteriorated beyond reasonable repair.  As I write, the old village property is again for sale. 

More on Henry River may be gleaned from: