The Loray Mills renovation project in Gastonia, NC began in 2013, when the 600,000 sq/ft building was 110 years old. Many Gastonians remember working in the mill factory when it served as a tire mill for Firestone. In 1929, it was the site of an iconic labor strike.
An Iconic Tire Mill Holds Its History
Preservation North Carolina and Loray Redevelopment LLC worked together to uncover the history of the building, reveal its unique architectural details, and breathe new life into the space. Tenants and residents have moved into commercial space and loft-style apartments.
Preserving the Artifacts
The Alfred C. Kessel History Center is located in the center of the mill, in memory of Mr. Kessel, who worked for Firestone for 37 years. Design Dimension, Inc. was brought on board to create an exhibit that highlights the work in the mill, as well as to tell the stories of the mill workers. The UNC Digital Innovation Lab collected 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 peek into life in the mill—the good times and the 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 workers. 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 arrester.