Hundreds of people came together at Northside Baptist Church for a family reunion in Rock Hill Saturday – but the bondwas not blood. It was lint and looms, yarn and cotton cloth.
Almost everybody who lived near the old Aragon Mill on Crest Street north of downtown Rock Hill – just west of what is now busy Dave Lyle Boulevard – had somebody in the family who worked at the mill over its decades of operation.Sometimes both parents worked there, or siblings, or generations. The mill steamed and hummed six days a week, three shifts night and day.
“I was born on Frasier, raised on Edgemont” said June Brewton.
“I will show you right here on the map,” said event organizer Lucille Montgomery Boan. Her finger went to the map she handmade and plastered, which takes up much of a wall in the fellowship hall. The church is still a centerpiece of the neighborhood. On the map, each house was labeled, all the streets named and numbered, and by each address, the names of the families that had lived there.
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Mildred Powell came in, armed with key lime pie and a casserole and chicken, because a reunion without food is a failure. She found the house on the map she lived in for so long so long ago.
“There it is,” Powell said as she pointed at the map.
Her smile dazzled.
“Many people lived in two, three, more houses around the mill over the years,” Boan said.
People marveled at the memory of those tiny four and five-room homes that housed the mill hands and their families. Fathers made $25 or $30 a week. Rent was a few dollars a month. Houses could be bought for a few thousand dollars.
They remembered how each street, Laurens and Long, Piedmont and Lucas, Kuykendalland Community, had its own set of beauties and toughs.
Frankie Frasier came with a picture of a store sign that was a giant Pepsi-Cola bottle cap. Frankie & Ronnie was the name of the little store, where Pespi-Colas were 5 cents a piece and the neighborhood love was free. The store was her parents, named for her and her brother.
People talked of hundreds surrounding the softball field to watch the mill hill team play. How doors were never locked. How money was raised for a sick neighbor, or somebody hurt on the job.
People chuckled at the mention of the “Blue Buckle Gang.” That’s what the people who lived and worked at the nearby Industrial Mill were called, because that mill made blue denim.
People remembered the “dope wagon” that was the mill food cart long before the word dope was a negative for drugs. They remembered when people would say, “We are drawin’ today!” meaning a payday Friday when bills were paid and lights kept on and groceries bought.
The other walls were covered with old photos of the Aragon mill hill and its people who were vertebrae in Rock Hill’s backbone for so long.
Jimmie Bratton, bald on top in 2014 and the hair he does have white, showed a picture someone took of him with his foot on the running board of an early 1950s Ford. He had on a white T-shirt with ropy muscles snaking out of it and a full head of dark hair and for a few minutes, everybody in the room was young again.
The tables along one side of the church fellowship hall and the back wall sagged with the food brought and bought. There was enough chicken for an army. . Macaroni and cheese filled at least a dozen different pans. There was corn bread and beans, and more than 20 different salads and tea sweet enough to make the straw stand up in it, and desserts by the dozens.
Even with all that food, the stars were the people there, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in years.
“We were happy,” said Boan, who along with Shelvie Faile and others planned this reunion so that the memories of this mill hill don’t die out.
The mill has been closed for more than three decades. But the people who lived near and worked in it are strong and proud people. Hard and tough, and tender and sweet, all at the same time.
The people who lived around that mill and worked in that mill weren’t all related. But they were close as any sisters and brothers and cousins. The people laughed and hugged and held hands and remembered on Saturday.
“We were a big family,” Karen Montgomery Griffin said.