The mill town - industrial communities scattered throughout North Carolina's foothills and Piedmont. Small to large textile mills developed communities and towns to support the factory. In return, the factory was the community's and its residents' lifeblood. These towns flourished throughout the state in the early 20th century. However, beginning in the mid-20th century, many of these communities would slowly fade away as the textile industry modernized and consolidated.
|Map of Cliffside in 1942 - along with the Downtown and the Cliffside Mill - much of the homes that were part of the company town are no longer standing.
Cliffside, located in Southern Rutherford County along the Second Broad River, is one of those textile communities that flourished and eventually declined with the industry. Cliffside was founded by Raleigh Rutherford Haynes - an industrialist that had already developed mills in nearby Henrietta, Caroleen, and Forest City.
The Cliffside Mill began operation in 1902, and Haynes developed the town with it. He named the community Cliffside noting the hilly dropoffs into the Second Broad River. Cliffside would have over 400 homes, a general store, library, central park and playground, post office, skating rink, movie theatre, and other amenities. Haynes developed the Downtown next to the mill. Constructed atop the mill was the "Get Up Bell." The bell would ring at different times throughout the day, notifying residents and mill workers of the start and end of every workday. The bell served as a community alarm clock into the 1940s.
Haynes would pass away in 1917, and two years later, a memorial clock tower was erected in his honor. The tower and accompanying building were home to a community center, offices, and a boarding hall for out-of-town guests. The clock tower and Haynes Memorial Building were torn down in 1976. In 1978, the clock tower returned to a new location and was rededicated. In 2010, the tower was once again restored.
|Cliffside Public School has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998. It is now an elementary school.
|Cliffside United Methodist Church was built in 1911 - expanded in 1927 - and continues to serve the local community.
Five years later, Haynes would sell his shares of the Cliffside Mill to the Cone family, which operated the Proximity Manufacturing Company. The Cone family would soon convert the Cliffside mill to a terry cloth factory. Later, the mill would produce denim. It was denim that was still being produced at Cliffside when the mill finally closed.
|Gates block entrance to what was once Downtown Cliffside at North Main Street.
In 1971, after a requested bypass by Cone Mills, US 221A was moved to the east of Downtown. The short bypass allowed through traffic not to be snarled by mill traffic; however, it would be the end of Downtown Cliffside. In the mid-1970s, the Downtown area would be gated off and only accessible to mill employees. Like Burlington Industries and Cooleemee, Cone Mills no longer saw the need for a downtown area and demolished the non-mill Downtown stores and amenities not long after.
|What is left of the Cliffside Mill.
In November 2003, Cliffside Mills officially closed. Demolition began in 2005, and not much of the old mill grounds remain today. The mill grounds remain gated off as it has since the 1970s.
|The former Cliffside Baptist Church is undergoing extensive renovations.
Though the Downtown is gone, there are still small pieces of Cliffside that remain. The original Cliffside Baptist Church, built in 1924, links Cliffside's past to a hopeful future.
|The sanctuary inside the former church. Restoration is ongoing.
The 22,000-square-foot church - abandoned when the congregation built a new church in 2000 - is slowly being transformed into a multi-function community building. Led by two local business-owning couples, Johnny White, his wife Karin, and Amy and Jason Drum, the church has undergone a careful restoration.
The former church is currently home to a small Christian dinner theatre and a few offices. It is a massive complex of classrooms, meeting halls, and more. Additional plans include a possible wedding venue, community outreach services, childcare, and more.
The White and Drum's continue to restore much of the church. Recently, the stairs to the Greek revival-style building have been repaired and restored. Numerous glass window panes have been replaced, a full-security system put in, and much of the main sanctuary restored.
Cliffside is no longer the town it once was; however, thanks to efforts of former mill employees, their families, and other residents, its history will continue.
All photos taken by post author - April & June 2021.
Sources & Links:
- Remember Cliffside
- Guided Audio Tour of Cliffside ---Visit NC Small Towns
- Raleigh Rutherford Haynes ---NCPedia.org
- Cliffside, NC ---Personal Flickr Set
- Johnny White
How To Get There: