I have spent the past four weeks at the High Point Museum as a summer collections intern working to process an exciting community collection. The museum recently received a collection from residents of Highland Mill Village, which contains material collected as a way of remembering their history.
Highland Mills, founded in 1913, was started by the Adams-Millis company to supply their hosiery mills. The mill spun cotton into yarn and wound the yarn onto cones for use in the local hosiery mills. Highland Yarn Mill employed hundreds of people at any one time. These mill workers and their families lived in the surrounding neighborhood, now called Highland Cotton Mill Village. The mill village was one of the first planned neighborhoods in High Point and supplied housing for workers. The Highland Mill company built the utilitarian homes south and west of the mill between the mid-1910s and the late 1920s.
Map showing the Highland Cotton Mill Village plat, located between West Green Drive, West Market Center Drive, and South Elm Street.
High Point Enterprise article from August 1995, after the Highland Mill closed. Marse Grant, a High Point native, grew up in the mill village.
From the 1910s through the 1970s, Highland grew into a vibrant neighborhood. Residents recall a strong sense of community where they felt like everyone was family. The neighborhood had its own sports teams that competed with other mill-sponsored teams in baseball and basketball. The Cloverdale School was built for the children of the community and was attended by many current residents. For many Highlanders, this history is what they want to make sure is remembered.
Recently, Highlanders have made substantial efforts to make sure their community stays tight-knit through the work of their neighborhood association. The Highland Mill Neighborhood Association has sponsored community events and activities such as neighborhood clean-ups, a partnership with Operation Inasmuch, a reunion, and a history center. It has also been very involved in making sure that their local history is being recorded and told.
The closing of the mill changed the community forever. Now residents work to make sure that they remember their roots, recalling with pride the hard work many of them and their parents put into the mill and the neighborhood. Because of their work to promote the cultural and historic significance of the mill and the neighborhood, the neighborhood association has received recognition from the surrounding community and preservationists.
Historic Preservationist Laura Phillips wrote a book on Highland, The Industrial Legacy of High Point N.C. and Highland Cotton Mills Village. It is available for purchase at the High Point Museum. The neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and is now marked with an official historical marker by the City of High Point. One of the street sign blades is included with the objects, photographs, and other materials donated to the Museum by the neighborhood association. The National Register nomination form can be found online: https://www.highpointnc.gov/2119/Historic-Districts-Properties
The collection of the Highland Mill Village Neighborhood History Room was donated to the High Point Museum last year, and it was the focus of my summer internship. As a graduate student at UNC Greensboro, I have learned a lot about the importance of community-led history projects. The people who have direct connections to their history should be the ones who get to decide how their story is told. It is one thing to read about a subject or discuss in a class, but it was different to get to participate in community-led history in a hands-on way. We had the wonderful opportunity to invite members of the Highland Mill Village community to come to the Museum and go through the collection with us. Seeing their excitement as they helped us identify photos of people they had grown up with or as they told us about the history of their own families, really demonstrated to me why community-led history is so important.
Neighbors from Highland Cotton Mill Village recently came to the High Point Museum to talk with Erica and identify people and events shown in the photographs and scrapbooks donated as part of their history center collection.
As I processed the collection, I realized that having the opportunity to speak with stakeholders in this history had shaped the way that I understood the items I was working with and made the history come alive. I gained a sense of reverence for the individuals involved in the collection – something historians want to do, but that can be difficult when you don’t have a living link to the part of the past you are studying. Looking through photos, labeling them, and putting them neatly away, I was acutely aware of the great importance of ordinary people like “Dad” Anderson, a mill supervisor whose son became a professional baseball player; Mrs. Pearl Pierce, who left the mill after more than 30 years to become a hairdresser; and (pictured below) Mrs. Josephine Moffit, affectionately recalled as “Ms. Moffit” by all, who was a pillar of her community, a Sunday school teacher and a long-term volunteer at the local hospital.
I’m honored to have had a hand in making sure that these stories are protected here at the Museum, so that future generations can learn about the history of Highland Cotton Mill and the Mill Village. If you have the chance, I really encourage you to take a look at some of the wonderful pieces of history the Highlanders have collected. View the Highland Mill Village History Room Collection through the Museum’s online catalog: Check out the Highland Collection by clicking here
Mrs. Pierce 13th from left
Erica Ragan is a Master’s student at UNC Greensboro pursuing a degree in Public History with a focus in museum studies. She recently completed a paid internship at the High Point Museum supported by the High Point Historical Society. Erica worked with Museum Registrar Corinne Midgett to process the Highland Mill Village History Room Collection. She is originally from Florida where she graduated from the University of Tampa and assisted with a number of art museum exhibits. While at UNC Greensboro, Erica was an interviewer for the Unsung Heroes oral history project, preserving stories of those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. She was interested in working with the Highland Mills collection in part because she could interact with mill village residents.