When developers try to employ history and heritage as a marketing tool, they often get it very wrong. This is the case with the former Loray Mill now being repurposed into lofts in the town of Gastonia, North Carolina, just west of Charlotte. Alex Cummings, who grew up there, offers his own personal history with the town as well as poignant reminders of Gastonia’s economic and labor struggles.
My family moved to North Carolina in the late 1980s, having left a stagnant and hopeless West Virginia in search of greater economic opportunities. My mom and grandparents and I first tried Indiana for a few years, but eventually left for the greener shores of the Sunbelt. We came to Gastonia, a modest-sized former textile town (it once boasted of having “more looms and spindles within its hundred-mile radius than… any other southern city”) in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area. An aunt and uncle had already paved the way for us, in a sort of internal chain-migration, leaving WV for NC several years before. I once asked my mom why Suzy and Jim had settled on Gastonia as a place to live, and I’ll never forget her answer:
It’s about as far as you can get from Charleston on a tank of gas.
Gastonia became our home—wild, shabby, shambling…
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