COOLEEMEE -- Community leaders in the tiny Davie County town of Cooleemee have a grand vision to redevelop the town's once-thriving cotton mill. They hope to transform the old mill into a new town center and, at the same time, preserve the centerpiece of local history.
The Cooleemee Cotton Mill opened in 1901 and employed 1,800 people at its peak. But it went the way of many mills in the state as its owners ceased operations in 1969.
"They decided that this was not a mill that they needed so they, even though it had brand new machinery in it, it was shut down," said Mayor Lynn Rumley.
With a handful of former employees looking on, town leaders announced plans for the mill's future.
"We're going to redevelop and re-use our cotton mill,” said Rumley. “That's our largest physical, man-made asset left in Cooleemee and it's going to become a new economic engine and a new town center."
Grants of $200,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts, along with state and local money, will fund a structural analysis and design.
"We know we want apartments, both high end and moderate and everything that we had at the town square,” Rumley said. “A movie theater, entertainment, retail stores."
Former mill workers said they never dreamed the transformation Rumley spoke of would have been possible.
"It has caught me by surprise, but I am thrilled to my toes to know what it can be," said Mary Alice Miller Hasty.
People in this town of 978 take great pride in their history and they see the revitalization of the mill as a symbol of hope for the future.
"It's going to mean a lot to the people and their children and their grandchildren,” said John Spellman, a former employee of the mill. “It's been a wonderful trip. It really has. And I think there's a lot of trip left for someone else to take."