Goodbye, Grimes Mill

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 17, 2013

At least when old textile mills meet their end, demolition workers can salvage the bricks and timbers.
But when fire devours and destroys a historic structure like Grimes Mill, as it did Wednesday night, little is left beyond ashes and memories.
And a historical marker.
Many Rowan County residents may not have been aware of the towering structure tucked beside the railroad tracks on North Church Street. Three decades have passed since the mill produced its last bag of feed. And though Historic Salisbury Foundation volunteers were actively restoring equipment inside, from the outside the mill looked like a structure that had outlived its usefulness and was out of step with the traffic and buildings around it.
But Grimes Mill was a cherished relic, and it was about to become a working one. When idle, the mill was a reminder of Rowan’s rural roots and the days when farmers regularly carted grain and corn into town to be ground into flour and feed — for their own families and animals and to sell. Much of the mill’s equipment was still intact and volunteers were working to make it a working relic, one that could literally show visitors how it used to be done. That dream went up with the flames.
The devastating fire is heartbreaking for those who poured so many hours into recent restoration work at the mill. And it is especially sad for the foundation itself, which took ownership of the mill 30 years ago in order to save it, only to see it go up in flames Wednesday night. In between, though, the mill was the site of fundraisers, OctoberTour visits and more. The foundation put it to good use.
Soon the foundation faces the task of cleanup — a cruel but necessary use of scarce preservation funds. All is not lost, however. The fire destroyed the building but not its history. If anything, Wednesday’s blaze rekindled memories and stories that had been all but forgotten. Those are the things we can salvage and save for future generations, even as we say goodbye to Grimes Mill.