Gastonia, North Carolina
An iconic tire mill holds its history
The Loray Mills renovation project in Gastonia, North Carolina has been in the works since 2013. The 600,000 sq/ft building is 110 years old; once an old tire mill for Firestone, many Gastonians remember working in the mill factory. In 1929 it was the site of an iconic labor strike.
Preservation North Carolina and Loray Redevelopment LLC have worked together to uncover the history of the building, reveal its unique architectural details, and breathe new life in the space. Tenants and residents have moved into commercial space and loft style apartments.
Preserving the artifacts
The Alfred C. Kessel History Center (http://www.kessellhistorycenter.org/) is located in the center of the mill, in memory of Mr. Kessel who worked for Firestone for 37 years. Design Dimension was brought on board to create an exhibit to highlight the work in the mill, but also to tell the stories of the mill workers. The UNC Digital Innovation Lab began by collecting photos, interviews, and articles in an online format. We teamed up with public historian, Julie Davis, to develop the exhibit, identify artifacts, and give visitors a peak into life in the mill—good times and bad. Julie directed the development of the Kessell History Center for the Digital Innovation Lab at UNC Chapel Hill. The Digital Loray website has more information about the story, supporting the exhibit.
The exhibit uses large scale imagery, rustic artifacts, and personal stories to show working conditions and camaraderie among the employees. Artifacts on display include original bricks, anniversary pens for employees, hard hats, tire cord, and some preserved architectural elements like the fire door weight and a copper lightning arrestor.