Destination: Saxapahaw

By Chris Lavender / Times-News

SAXAPAHAW — It’s been 18 years since Dixie Yarns closed the former textile mill in Saxapahaw, which paved the way for the town’s renewal.

The site along the Haw River has been the center of economic activity for more than 150 years. The textile mill still stands. Buildings that once housed spinning yarn now house residential and commercial businesses.

Both the upper and lower mill sites have been developed to attract new residents who call Saxapahaw their home and who have a vested interest in seeing the town’s growth succeed. Jordan Properties Chairman John Jordan has lived in Saxapahaw for all of his life. Jordan, 76, has seen the former mill village transformed into a viable place again for new residents to enjoy.

“It’s a safe place to live,” Jordan said.

Jordan’s family purchased the abandoned textile mill in 1927. His father, B. Everett Jordan, became the mill’s general manager. The family later sold the textile mill in 1978 to Dixie Yarns. There were 66 mill village houses still at the site when Dixie Yarns made its purchase.

John Jordan purchased and developed the remaining mill village houses and converted them into rental property units since Dixie Yarns had no use for the houses.

Most of the residents who had worked at the former textile mill were from Gastonia, east Tennessee and from the local area, according to Jordan. Today, many residents in Saxapahaw are originally from Chapel Hill and Orange County.

Jordan said 1980 marked a time when most of the mill workers had moved away from the community and new residents began moving in. The lower mill space was slowly transformed into residential and commercial space and the area promoted living in a clean environment.

“We had to sell what others didn’t have and that was the river,” Jordan said. “We created a good community for people to want to come and live.”

Forty-three cottages near the mill and 75 apartments developed in the lower mill space are filled. Jordan said there was a waiting list to rent these properties.

“Now people live here and go some other place to work,” Jordan said.

Saxapahaw is more than just the brick and mortar used to build the former textile mill and surrounding buildings. Local business entrepreneurs Jeff Barney, Claire Haslam, Doug Williams, Mac Jordan, Heather LaGarde and Tom LaGarde are among those who have helped Saxapahaw write its next chapter. Together, they have helped develop much of the upper mill space.

Barney came to Saxapahaw in 2008 and converted the town’s lone gas station into a community center and multi-food business. With help from Cameron Ratliff, The Saxapahaw General Store has continued to thrive and become more than just a tourist attraction. Barney said a full-time general manger was recently hired to run the store. The store will also expand its catering services beginning this year.

A community garden was planted nearby that will provide the store with fresh produce for its customers. Barney said all of the general store’s food waste is sent to Cozi Farms, where it is used to feed the farm’s animals and create compost piles.

Barney said he recently applied for a Rural Advancement for Farmers Institute grant to buy new equipment for his general store. Barney said the grant will allow him to buy a new freezer and produce cooler for the store’s use.

A part of Barney’s catering business will include providing food to The Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw. The pub opened in December 2010 and is run by Claire Haslam.

“We had about 175 people on the first night and have been busy ever since,” Haslam said.

The Eddy Pub is located in the upper mill above the Cup 22 Coffee House. Both businesses allow local residents and visitors a place to unwind and relax.

There’s also an outdoor amphitheater just outside Cup 22 where live music will be featured this year.

“It’s a community spot for people from Greensboro to Raleigh to visit,” Haslam said.

Williams has overseen the development of the upper mill site since about 2008. Williams said last week that the development has been a collaboration among several businesses.

“The people who move here develop their own culture and build friendships,” Williams said. “It’s a special part of what is happening here. It’s all community based.”

Twenty-nine new condominiums developed at the upper mill site will go on sale in 30 days, Williams said. Mac Jordan was an integral part of the condominiums development project. Jordan said the units include one-, two-, and three-bedroom units.

“We tried to use as much original material as we could,” Jordan said.

Jordan said the new units included rain water harvesting systems and solar energy technology. There’s still room in the upper mill to develop. Williams said two significant spaces remain and a new bakery could be developed at one of the available spaces.

The Haw River Ballroom developed at the upper mill site continues to draw large crowds. Heather and Tom LaGarde run and operate the ball room. Heather LaGarde said the ballroom was an extension of Saxapahaw’s summer music concert series which begins in May and runs through August.

“It took years and years of planning to make the ballroom possible,” Heather LaGarde said. “It opened last summer.”

LaGarde said she hoped Saxapahaw would become a retreat area for artists who endure extended tour schedules. The Haw River Ballroom is a music hall that provides a variety of entertainment.

Parking for events in Saxapahaw has become an issue in recent years. LaGarde said she believed most of the town’s parking issues were solved when parking was no longer allowed on the sides of streets and a new field was opened for additional parking.

Balancing growth in Saxapahaw will continue to be a challenge. LaGarde said she believed the town was able to balance growth during the past 10 years since it was gradual.

“We want to make sure everyone is engaged,” LaGarde said.

Williams said Saxapahaw purchased a bio-diesel bus for public transportation last year. Community leaders hope to form or attract a non-profit group to help run the bus for public transportation in Saxapahaw. Williams said the bus could be running as early as May for the town.

On April 20, the Haw River Ballroom will serve as host to Switchpoint, which will include a concert and conference retreat for global thinkers to share ideas on how to make communities stronger. A group of Saxapahaw business leaders will also travel on May 15 to Grand Rapids, Mich., to participate in the 10th annual Business Alliance For Local Living Economies business conference.

Barney said BALLE had requested Saxapahaw leaders to attend the four-day conference to share their success stories with other communities attending the conference.

Current Saxapahaw businesses include Roxy Farms Antiques, The HawBridge School, Haw River Canoe and Kayak, Cozi Farms, Sandy’s Antiques, The Aya Fiber Studio, Benjamin Vineyards, Bourbon, Dogs and Art Studio, The Bridge at Rivermill, Cup 22 Coffee House, The Eddy Pub, The Haw River Ballroom, The Inn at Bingham School, Jordan Properties, Out of the Fire, Paperhand Puppet, River Landing Inn, The Saxapahaw General Store, Saxapahaw Farmer’s Market and Music, Saxapahaw Rivermill Offices, Victory Calls Stables, Brand New Day Consulting, and Metaform Movement and Massage.

Several of these business owners said last week they had decided to relocate or open their new businesses in Saxapahaw because of its location near the Haw River and central location between the Triad and Triangle.

Below is a list of websites for items of interest in the Saxapahaw community. A simple Internet search may yield many more points of interest.