I’ve been driving by these mills just about every day for 10 years, as long as I’ve lived in the White Oak neighborhood of Greensboro.
I moved to this northeast quadrant almost completely ignorant of the history of the mills that anchored this community for almost a hundred years. I can forgive myself by remembering that Revolution Mills had been hibernating for decades before the space was recently activated. I only ever noticed the White Oak facility when I got a whiff of the wastewater treatment plant on my daily drive up Summit Avenue.
And the Proximity Printworks building was just another derelict to me, another relic from the city’s manufacturing past turning into a kudzu ghost before my eyes.
But even the Proximity is in play, these days — the Triad Business Journal’s Catherine Carlock reported last month that the property’s owner is considering taking the first steps toward saving the structure and reclaiming what was once the anchor in a chain of industry.
I don’t know though… you should see it in there. I’m not saying I have seen it, just that you should. There’s a garbage field along the creek side, and an elevated railroad spur with full trees growing between the crossties. In an outbuilding with scabrous plumbing overhead and broken glass underfoot, the ancient machinery of gauges, chains and pulleys bides its time.
But I’ve got faith in the old building, just as I’ve got faith that my neighborhood will eventually see better days. The Revolution Mills project is as transformative as any greenway or rezoning. And the fact that White Oak has pulled out the old machines to make the same high-quality denim our grandfathers wore makes me swell with a vague sense of pride.
I’m gonna need a pair of those jeans made from that good, raw Greensboro denim, the kind that you wear for six months before breaking with the washing machine and eventually become as personalized to your body’s shape as a catcher’s mitt or a good pair of shoes.
The city’s history is woven into a pair of those jeans. It’s in those old mills, too. They also hold important seeds for the city’s future.