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Rural Living in a Restored Cotton Mill

Updated on October 19, 2011
The mill in its current version.
The mill in its current version.

"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.

This friendly "little" guy dropped by my entry-way to say hello
This friendly "little" guy dropped by my entry-way to say hello
Close up of my potentially-death-inducing visitor
Close up of my potentially-death-inducing visitor

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. No yard in which to sunbathe. Also easily averted by said patio area, and nicely complimented by riverside walking trails.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Those beams might look neat, but just try to use your cellphone, I dare you!
Those beams might look neat, but just try to use your cellphone, I dare you!
Back Yard
Back Yard
Front Yard
Front Yard
Giant turtle on a Sunny Day
Giant turtle on a Sunny Day
Terraced Patio and Koi Pond
Terraced Patio and Koi Pond

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).

  1. In general, its a more relaxed way of life out here. My stress level has decreased measurably.
  2. Yes, there's a lot of driving, but its somewhat negligible when I compare it to time spent at stoplights or traffic jams before.
  3. 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.
  4. My front yard is a river.
  5. If I don't feel like answering or returning a call, I can legitimately say that the cell service out here sucks.
  6. Daily sightings of bullfrogs, foot-long turtles, herons, fireflies, bluebirds, just to name a few.
  7. The milky way. Where I came from there was usually no more than ten stars visible in the sky.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 kitchen, as seen from living area. I have since acquired a table.
The kitchen, as seen from living area. I have since acquired a table.


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!

The Best Perk...No More Mowing!

Yup, that's how we do it around here!
Yup, that's how we do it around here!


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    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 

      6 years ago from trailer in the country

      Beautiful hub and beautiful photos.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Harry! Nice to meet you here, what a small world! It's funny how much Saxy has changed in the last two years since I wrote this hub...A lot of great changes, but some days I do miss how much quieter things were when I first moved here.

    • profile image


      6 years ago from north carolina

      i live 10 minutes from you but my address is haw river,nc. you live in a neat place with very friendly folks. i stop at the store from time to time and me and my wife have tried out the restaurant up top of ramp.great to know i have a hub neighbor.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Hey now! Parcheesi is the most excellent invention of mankind! Though I must confess its been replaced by Backgammon...

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 

      6 years ago from Iowa

      Fabulous! You are living the dream!...except for the deadly snakes...and the Parcheesi.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 

      6 years ago from Michigan

      Wow, it seems like such a neat place to live! (But do my eyes deceive me, or was that a snake climbing a wall?!) But being able to see the Milky Way - that makes it all worth it.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks camsolivia :) The NYC area is amazing for its sheer energy, an easy addiction for many-- but for some of us, it seems nothing compares to critters and the sense of solitude away from the urban mecca. Nice to hear from another convert!

      It's surprisingly been almost two years now for me, time does move differently in the country I think. When I look back on the person I was before, I realized how much I've changed, for better, since embracing a more relaxed lifestyle and finding myself a part of a community for the first time in my life! Funny, I moved I don't know how many states away, to a completely unfamiliar environment and way of life, and now finally feel at home for the first time in my life. Cheers! Anaya

    • camsolivia profile image

      Camille Olivia Strate 

      7 years ago from Planet Earth

      You've painted a stunning picture, Dear Anaya. I appreciate your eloquence (with your words!), your sense of humor and your new-found perspectives. Wonderful stuff! I've lived rurally since '92 (grew up just outside of NYC) and cannot imagine ever going back to the city. I love being amongst the coyotes, red tailed hawks and assorted other critters that inhabit the area. Wouldn't trade it for anything! Bravo on a piece well done! (and on your courage to brave the unknown!) Hugs ~

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks all! Today we actually had a bald eagle sighting on the river! Definitely the coolest thing I've seen so time to snap a picture though:(

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow, I was packing my bags and ready to move in. Then I went back through to look at the pictures again and saw the snake. That's all you! I've lived rural, and the hardest part is packing ice cream in a cooler so that it doesn't melt before you get home. Plenty of time for self discovery, and avoiding snakes though :)

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      It all looks pretty nice to me. Less stress is a big plus. Thanks for sharing.

    • ahorseback profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful, Anaya , love the building , I dont know where the Kaw river is, used to live in Carolina though.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      I'm definitely a much more positive and calm person now! I think the old saying that "wherever you go, you take yourself with you" is not true at all. I was a much different person when I lived in freezing cold upstate New York and was always stressed about work/school/family/friends/life...I think I like the new me much better!

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Really great Anaya, you are living out one of my dreams. I got my BFA in a small town in central Wisconsin and got some of what you have...but not to the degree, the mill house sounds really picturesque.

    • FloBe profile image

      Flo Belanger 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The rural laid-back lifestyle is the best, that's for sure. I lived on an Island for many years where the people cared more about people than just getting things done. It was more relaxing. I've done the opposite of you and am now living in the city but hope to go back one day.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a gorgeous part of the country! I have an aunt and uncle that live on Lake Denver, the largest inland lake in North Carolina.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      I'm in central Carolina. The closest city to me is Chapel Hill, but Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro are not far away. It is part of the Piedmont Plateau, so the scenery includes a lot of pretty rolling hills and rivers.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      How interesting! So glad you included a photo of the interior. What a great kitchen! You certainly are surrounded by some wonderful scenery. I would like everything save that visiting snake! In what part of North Carolina is this?


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