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Heritage on display in Cooleemee

By Cynthia Hooper
For the Salisbury Post
COOLEEMEE — The rain didn’t seem to keep visitors away from the Textile Heritage Festival in Cooleemee Saturday afternoon.
The 20th annual festival, which is always held on the last Saturday of September, included music from several bands, museum tours, a corn bread contest and a guest speaker who discussed mill village revitalization.
The yard in front of the Zachary house was filled with music most of the day while activities went on all around. Acts included, Broke ‘N Lonesome, Selena Barker, Greenville Textile Heritage Band Concert, Risen Sun, Stan Bobbit Band and Little Brook and Short Bus.
The corn bread contest was a brainstorm of Cooleemee Mayor Lynn Rumley, also director of the Cooleemee Historical Association. Last year she wanted to do something at the festival that was different from everyone else in the area and none of the other Textile Heritage Festivals in North or South Carolina held a cornbread contest and the Carolina Cornbread Contest was born.
Averi Wilson was the youngest contestant, and with the supervision of her father she baked corn bread following a recipe she got from a church cookbook. Her cousin Mariah Crotts, also of Mocksville was not a judge in the contest, but really seemed to be enjoying Averi’s corn bread.
With more than 20 entries, some from outside Davie County, judging was not easy. Three judges were chosen and sequestered to a private area to taste each of the corn bread entries.
Susan Wall, contest organizer, said that judges were picked based on their love of food, discerning taste and cooking abilities. All three were residents of Davie County.
First-place went to Peggy Shelton, of Mocksville, whose secret to perfect corn bread is to melt a stick of butter in her iron skillet before putting the batter in.
Janice Greer of Cooleemee came in second place. Greer claims the best corn bread has sour cream and jack cheese in the mix.
Third-place went to Keith Chattin, who says it is all about how you cook your cornbread. Chattin, who calls Cooleemee home, cooks his corn bread in a Dutch oven lid that is sitting in a bed of charcoal.
“That way you can really smell it before you eat it,” Chattin said.
All entrants received an oven mitt set, while the top winners also shared $175 in prize money. Artist Bonnie Byerly designed and hand painted platters with the Carolina Cornbread Contest mascot on it, a corn man. The top two winners received the platters.
Wall, of Mocksville, was thrilled with the outcome of the contest and saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd.
“A lot of people who grew up here and moved away come to this event every year because they know they can see their friends,” Wall said, “We want to thank everyone who participated. We hope to grow the contest to someday include different categories of cornbread.”
In addition to all of the different cornbread, Bob Cranford, of Woodleaf made enough pintos to feed a small army.
Mac Jordan, developer of the Saxapahaw Rivermill project, 20 minutes outside of Chapel Hill, spoke to the crowd about what he has done with an old mill that was no longer in use due to damage from a tornado.
Rumley hopes that they can work together to save the mill in Cooleemee.
According to the Cooleemee Historical Association, Cooleemee has more than 330 original mill houses, with the Bullhole and dam at RiverPark and the old cotton mill still standing along the banks of the South Yadkin River.
Cooleemee is perhaps among the best preserved Southern mill villages of the post Civil War era. Cooleemee’s mill, built in 1900 at the height of the South’s mill building era, closed in 1969.
Jordan spoke about the Saxapahaw project, which includes residential apartments, a restaurant, hair salon, a small sheriff’s office, a gas station and even a charter school. The last phase of the 15 year project is under way and includes condominium homes.
Jordan is looking forward to working with the owners of the Cooleemee mill, the mayor and the community to find a way to revitalize the mill similar to the way they have in Saxapahaw.
“Cooleemee has something really special and it is a great opportunity,” Jordan said. “It is a long-term commitment, but it is worth it because if you don’t then you’ve lost that chance forever, and in the case of Saxapahaw, it has really given a whole new life to the community, in an amazing way.”
Rumley, impressed with the Saxapahaw project, thinks that Jordan has the right ideas to make the mill revitalization a reality and thinks Cooleemee is a perfect place for it to happen.
“We are going to do this here, we have the right man to work with, that is the key ingredient, finding the right developer,” Rumley said.
Cynthia Hooper is a freelance writer for the Salisbury Post and can be reached through editor@salisburypost.com

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