Past as prologue?
The Highland Cotton Mills Village in southwest High Point is a historian’s dream.
The 170 buildings, mostly mill village houses, along with two well-preserved mills that produced knitting yarn used to make hosiery through most of the 20th century, provide a window into a way of life from a bygone era.
But it’s not just the history of such places that’s on the minds of a group of volunteers trying to revitalize the area.
The Southwest Renewal Foundation has teamed up with city planners and local preservationists to perform an inventory of historic industrial properties throughout the 11-square-mile core city area of High Point.
The inventory could serve as a means of getting National Register Historic District status for the properties, which would make them eligible for tax credits for developers interested in restoring them.
“The first step is an inventory,” said Bob Robbins, the city’s development services administrator. “The city is pleased to help with the preservation of its industrial history, especially since this inventory can be used as an economic development tool for inner city revitalization.”
The city is contributing $9,000 and the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office $6,000 for the inventory, which will be done by Laura Phillips, an architectural historian from Winston-Salem.
The inventory is expected to take about six months to complete.
Phillips recently completed a National Register Historic District nomination for the Highland Mills village. She also has been involved in efforts to preserve the historic Hedgecock farmstead in northwest High Point.
Dorothy Darr, co-chairwoman of the Southwest Renewal Foundation, estimates there are 20 to 25 properties that will be part of the inventory.
The southwest quadrant alone — a 2-square-mile area between English Road, S. Main Street and W. Market Center Drive — has nine historic factories and mills that were built before 1950, she said.
The inventory needs to be business-friendly to encourage rehabilitation of the buildings, Darr said.
The tax credit provisions that come with historic status, which allow for federal and state income tax breaks up to 40 percent, could be a powerful incentive for a developer who wants to do something with a property, Darr said.
A past example of this is the Market Square furniture showroom complex, she said.
“Just walk through Market Square to see how well-built and adaptable these structures are,” she said. “They are made from old-growth lumber, which makes them incalculably strong and adaptable to modern uses. Examples of successful rehabilitations exist throughout the state. Modern uses vary from offices and showrooms, to artist lofts and business incubators, including niche manufacturing. The possibilities are endless.”
Generating development interest in High Point’s shuttered industrial sites is a tall order, though there have been some hopeful signs of late.
One involves the former Pickett Cotton Mill on Redding Drive, where a Belgian furniture company is considering establishing its U.S. manufacturing operations.