Paul Sams has fond memories of growing up in Revolution, one of the five Cone Mill villages that dot northeast Greensboro.
They are memories he’d like to live on even though the villages, as they once were, are gone.
Enter history graduate students from UNCG. Under the direction of Dr. Benjamin Filene, director of UNCG’s public history program, the students have launched a project to record the recollections of mill village residents.
Collected interviews will be archived at the Greensboro Historical Museum and in the UNCG University Archives, and the research will be turned into neighborhood tours to help current Triad residents understand the history of the mill villages.
Armed with a 6-by-7-foot map of northeast Greensboro called the “Memory Map,” students will canvass gathering spots in that section of town over the next two weeks, inviting all current and former residents to share their memories by marking the location of events directly onto the paper.
The map will be available at the following dates, times and locations:
- Saturday, Feb. 14, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., American Legion Post 386, 1206 American Legion St.
- Sunday, Feb. 22, 2 p.m.-4 p.m., Greensboro Historical Museum, 130 Summit Ave.
- Wednesday, Feb. 25, 10:30 a.m.-noon, McGirt Horton Branch Library, 2509 Phillips Ave.
- Saturday, Feb. 28, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Greensboro Central Public Library, 219 N. Church St.
The aim is to record a wide spectrum of memories about the neighborhoods, from first steps to final goodbyes.
“We want to hear about everyday life—who used to live where, where people used to hang out, visit their girlfriends or boyfriends, where they had their first kiss—not just work, eat, and sleep,” said Michelle Palmore, a student in the program.
Ashley Boycher, another student, echoed that sentiment. “The map shows down to the level of house lot, even the address and shape of the houses,” she said. “We want people to talk to us about the villages as they knew them. We’re really looking for first-hand sources and first-hand points of views.”
The Cone Mill Villages – Revolution, White Oak, East White Oak, Proximity and Proximity Print Works — were built by the Cone Corp. in the early 1900s to house thousands of mill employees. The company began selling off the worker housing in the late 1950s.
“We want village life remembered,” said Sams, 70, speaking for himself and his wife, Judith, who grew up in White Oak. “We were the last to live it.”
Both are part of the last generation to grow up in the mill villages when they were provided by the company. But to the Samses and thousands of others, the villages were not just company towns or sources of convenient labor for the textile factories. They were home.
“History isn’t just for the big important people,” said Palmore. “Everyone is making history in some fashion or is part of history. That’s what this project is about.”
The Memory Map has room for conflicting memories, too. “We’re looking for current, recent, and long-ago residents to participate,” Filene said. “As people add their recollections, we’ll have layers of memories on top of each other. The map will become a conversation across generations about what these places have meant to this city and to the lives of its people.”
The Memory Map project is one of a series of mill village-related events happening this spring. The Greensboro Historical Museum will host “Piece Work,” a play about mill life, Friday through Sunday, May 1-3, as part of the annual ArtBeat festival. In conjunction with the performance, photographer Lisa Scheer will mount an exhibit at the museum featuring historical and contemporary photographs of mill village residents.
Former resident Paul Sams is organizing a reunion of Proximity Junior High School students scheduled for Saturday, May 9, the same weekend Filene’s students will debut their neighborhood tours. Meanwhile, historic preservation classes taught by UNCG professors Jo Leimenstoll and Heather Fearnbach are documenting the condition and history of the Proximity Printworks factory, laying the groundwork for future rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of the building.
The project is made possible in part by the North Carolina Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; the UNCG Office of Leadership and Service-Learning; and the UNCG Department of History.
For more information or if you have a Cone Mill village story to share, contact Benjamin Filene at (336) 334-5645 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the Proximity School reunion, contact Paul Sams at (910) 949-3357.