Your first question might well be: “Rocky Mount, why?”
It’s a good one. Eastern North Carolina is not typically on a tourist’s radar. A Carolina beach town, sure. But Nowheresville in the middle of Nowhere?
Title image: the old cotton mill campus. You can just make out from the writing on the water tower that the mill opened in 1818. What you don’t see is that it shut down in 1996. And beginning in 2013 it came to life again as Rocky Mount Mills, a complex of restaurants and breweries. A sign of rebirth. And thus my reason for wanting to see the town while it’s still in incubation.
Why Rocky Mount?
At the moment, tourism, no. Industry with an eye to the future? Yes. This past summer the New York Times published a cheerleading article about the town.
A Second Chance for North Carolina’s Shuttered Factories, June 15, 2021
One upshot of the article: Location, location, location. Rocky Mount is a hour’s drive east of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Its three anchor points are Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, home to North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina, respectively.
Apple recently announced plans to build a $1 billion campus in the Research Triangle. And Google is opening a new cloud engineering hub in Durham. Given the recent surge of housing prices all over the Research Triangle, Rocky Mount has the promise of offering affordable housing for the newcomers. And less congestion.
Follow-up news in July:
This infrastructure shipping project will bring 1500 new jobs to the area.
Rocky Mount Today: The Cotton Mill
The buildings and the area around the historic cotton mill now bustle a bit. They sit alongside the Tar River, which I suspect was the source of the mill’s energy. Today the Power House is an event space for weddings and corporate events:
A close-up of the water tower:
Have a beer here:
The current owner of the Mills is Capitol Broadcasting Company, the same company behind the development of Durham’s American Tobacco Campus.
Rocky Mount Today: The Downtown
The railroad tracks run through the middle of downtown. In classic fashion, store fronts line both sides of the tracks.
All the storefronts are empty. Every single last one. And every single last one is the property of … Capitol Broadcasting Company. Clearly, they have made the bet that this town is ready for a come-back.
My photo-shoot of the downtown:
Here’s hoping I can return in a few years and offer After images to those above, which we can call Before.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen