Rural Living in a Restored Cotton Mill
"I drove by three times and I just thought it was a factory," is usually the first thing that visitors tell me. On first impressions, the building that I live in does look like factory. That's because it used to be one. A cotton mill circa the early 1900's, now restored and converted into apartments and townhouses.
I was lucky enough to grab one of the few townhouses, complete with a two-story high ceiling anchored with steel beams, exposed brick walls, and gigantic casement windows. A former self-professed city gal, there's been a few potholes on the road to rural living, but all said it has been a good enough experience to make a country convert of me.
Rural vs. Urban Living
I've always lived in a city, with the exception of a few small-ish towns at least ten times the size of the unincorporated community I now live in. I moved here on a whim from the more urbanized northeast, sight unseen, after a chance craiglist ad caught my fancy. I told myself that it would be like a retreat, where I could focus on finishing my thesis and concentrate on my writing. In the weeks leading up to move, I wrestled nightly with the question, "what have I gotten myself into?" I am happy to report, however, that within just a few short weeks I was a quick convert to rural living.
This is not to say that there weren't some (a lot) of things I had to get used to,including:
- No mail delivery - yep, that's right, my address is now a P.O. Box. Not only that, I have to leave the house to check the mail!
- No pizza delivery. Or Chinese, Mexican, sandwiches, pasta, or any of the other urban delicacies I'd been accustomed to arriving at my door after a quick one-minute phone call.
- No cell phone service in my apartment. Remember that brick and steel beam combo I was raving about? Turns out they effectively block all cell reception.
- No neighborhood pub/watering hole/ hotspot. Easily averted by claiming the patio space as the new Saturday night hangout spot. Many neighbors also followed suit.
- No yard in which to sunbathe. Also easily averted by said patio area, and nicely complimented by riverside walking trails.
- Every possible species and variety of bug, frog, toad, spider and snake who unfortunately also decided that the patio space and area in front of my front door was an excellent locale.
- A half-an-hour drive to go out to eat, shopping, see a movie, play, etc. My fiancee and I play a lot of Parcheesi as a result.
The Benefits of Living in Nowhere, USA
There's also a lot of benefits to be had. Some things do take a little bit of getting used to, but eventually the positives begin to outweigh the little annoyances. (And trust me, you find those everywhere).
- In general, its a more relaxed way of life out here. My stress level has decreased measurably.
there's a lot of driving, but its somewhat negligible when I compare it
to time spent at stoplights or traffic jams before.
- If I want to walk my dog in my pj's, no one bats an eye, and chances are I'm likely to run into at least one or two other pajama-clad dog owners.
- My front yard is a river.
- If I don't feel like answering or returning a call, I can legitimately say that the cell service out here sucks.
- Daily sightings of bullfrogs, foot-long turtles, herons, fireflies, bluebirds, just to name a few.
- The milky way. Where I came from there was usually no more than ten stars visible in the sky.
- Fresh unpolluted air. I only noticed this after a recent trip back to New York. After finally getting off the interstate, I cracked the window and was amazed to notice the delicious fragrance of flowers and cut grass wafting in.
- Closer reliance on friends and family members. Living in a city before, I never knew any of my neighbors, though I at times lived literally on top of them. Here I have a great network of fellow mill residents, and the emotional closeness you develop with your partner after being stuck out in the middle of nowhere with them for a while is second-to-none.
It's been almost a year now, and I'm happy to report that I've never felt more at home anywhere in my life. It's like going somewhere on vacation, and never coming back. I tell people that I'm currently in my early retirement, and it honestly feels that way. And in case anyone is wondering, I did eventually get that thesis written!
The mill history is actually pretty interesting, so I've detailed it below if anyone cares to take a quick peek.
My Little Corner of Domestic Bliss
The mill was built in the early 1900's, and was a prime producer of cotton textiles. Many of the mill workers lived in nearby cottages rented from the family that owned the mill, and a small village grew up around the facility. The history of the area includes a legacy of child labor, union conflict, and other somewhat unsavory details, though industrial accidents were infrequent and the safety record remained high during the entire operation of the mill.
Though at one point in time the largest producer of corduroy textiles, profit margins began to fall in the later portion of the twentieth-century, and the mill was sold by the family who owned it to a larger company. One of the sons of this family went to college to study architecture, and submitted a design of the mill as a site for apartments and condominiums as his senior project. In the mid-nineties, a tornado struck the mill, causing some damage and blowing off the roof of one of the structures. Faced with extensive repair costs on top of a business that was growing increasingly unprofitable, the company that owned it sold the buildings and property back to the original family.
The former student of architecture went to work, and within six years had restored the building into spacious and one-of-a-kind living spaces. Complete with terraced courtyards, antique wood flooring, koi ponds and walking trails, the former industrial space was transformed into a peaceful, modern, yet historic work of art. A revitalization of the former mill community ensued, and before long the sleepy post-industrial town became home to a general store offering five-star, organic and locally grown dining options, a charter high school with an environmental and sustainable focus, a canoe and kayak company, puppet theatre, post office, gas station, hair salon, and fitness studio. Added to the local wineries, farms, and antique stores, the area quickly developed into a rural gem, arguably the best kept secret of North Carolina!