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Grey Mill, symbol of city's 'industrial might,' seeks landmark designation

Built in 1915, the Grey Hosiery Mill is being renovated for loft apartments. [LIGHTNING FILE PHOTO] Built in 1915, the Grey Hosiery Mill is being renovated for loft apartments. [LIGHTNING FILE PHOTO]

The Hendersonville City Council will be asked on Thursday to designate the Grey Hosiery Mill a local historic landmark, just the fourth local landmark in the city.

Previously designated local historic landmarks are two Erle Stillwell designed homes, at 1300 Pinebrook St. and 541 Blythe St., and the Brookland House, 299 Balsam Road.
The mill, first constructed in 1915 and expanded in 1919-20, 1926 and 1947, is significant architecturally and for its contributions to the city's industrial, cultural and social history, a consultant said. The current mill owner, Grey Mill Ventures, hired a consultant to prepare an application for the landmark designation, which the city Historic Preservation Commission endorsed in September. To maintain the landmark designation, the owner would need Historic Preservation Commission review of any change in design, materials or appearance. The local landmark designation also gives the property owner a 50 percent reduction in city and county property taxes as long as the building retains its historic character. Although the industrial building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Oct. 6, 2000, that designation does not qualify the property for the local tax break.
Historic properties specialist Belmont Sayre of Carrboro is renovating the building for 35 loft-style apartments, which are scheduled to be available in early 2020.

James P. Grey Jr. builds a mill

The founding of the mill coincided with the rapid growth of Hendersonville after the first railroad line reached the city in 1879. The city saw population and commerce grow in the early 1900s but “never grew to more than a one-street downtown, far overshadowed by nearby Asheville,” said the historic designation application, completed by MacRostie Historic Advisors. “As the town grew, industry did not. Some mills had popped up in the area but not enough to support all the town’s citizens.”
The town was frustrated over the lack of jobs that citizens turned to Capt. James P. Grey and his son, James P. Grey Jr., and handed over $500 (or $600) to build a textile mill after plans for a flour mill had fallen through. A successful businessman in Louisville, Kentucky, Grey Sr. had also gone into the textile business in Johnson City, Tennessee, where his son worked in the business. A graduate of Davidson College, James Grey Jr. bought a lot on Fourth Avenue East and Grove Street and set out to built the brick factory with “the most up-to-date machinery for the manufacture of hosiery.” Grey soon met his goal of producing 2,500 pairs of seamless hose per day; the factory floor had been designed for growth, of up to 12,000 pairs per day. By 1919, the mill had outgrown its floor space and expanded to the east, with an addition creating an L-shape. By the late 1920s or early ‘30s, the mill was running day and night and employed 75 workers. In 1926, the mill added the dye house and finishing room. A final addition in 1946 added 7,700 square feet north of the knitting room to accommodate new knitting machinery that increased production to the mill’s highest level ever. The addition drove up production to 66,000 pairs of hose a week; employment peaked at around 250. A progressive manufacturer still led by Grey, the mill provided health insurance, a nurse on duty and even child care in addition to community involvement. The Grey mill often fielded a team in the industrial baseball and basketball leagues common in the era, and the Grey mill women’s basketball team captured the B League title in 1941.

Testament to city's 'industrial might'

The mill is significant, the study said, as the only surviving example of early 20th century mill design with details like exposed rafter tails, large steel and glass windows and a clerestory roof that provided natural light for the factory floor. Although production tailed off from its peak, the mill continued operating under the Grey family leadership until 1965, when it was sold to Holt Hosiery Mills Inc. Holt managed to keep it going for only two years, and from then the property changed hands and fell into disrepair. The city owned the mill for years before selling it to Belmont Sayer for an adaptive reuse that was originally envisioned as a boutique hotel and later revised to loft apartments. “Grey Mill is the last standing testament to the industrial might of Hendersonville in the first half of the 20th century,” the study’s writers said. Character-defining details like the steel-framed multi-pane windows, clerestory roof, hardwood floors and circulation patterns remain intact with original materials preserved. “Overall, the complex has good integrity and is an important entry into the textile history of the region,” the consultants said.