Grey Hosiery Mill
301 Fourth Avenue East
The Grey Hosiery Mill, built in 1915 with additions in 1919 and 1947, is the only historic industrial building remaining in the city of Hendersonville. Located three blocks east of Hendersonville's historic Main Street area, the mill occupies approximately one-half of the western side of the block bound by Fourth Avenue East to the south, Grove Street to the west, Fifth Avenue East to the north, and Pine Street to the east. The mill is located in the downtown area of Hendersonville, but is removed from the Main Street Historic District by one block of modern non-contributing structures.
The horizontally-massed, one-story mill building is typical of early 20th century industrial architecture with its large multi-pane steel sash windows, plain brick exterior, and stepped gable roof with clerestory. Overall the building is shaped like a backward J, with the 1915 and 1947 portions positioned in a north-south orientation along Grove Street connected to the 1919 section--which is also positioned in a north orientation--by a hyphen located at the south side of the parcel. To the east of the mill is a small parking lot and yard. The entire building rests on a coursed stone foundation. The interior consists of large open areas with exposed heavy timbers. Partition walls, which do not extend from the ceiling to floor, divide all of the open areas into temporary offices but do not detract from the overall scale of the original spaces.
1915 Original Portion of Mill
Built in 1915, the original portion of the mill served as the knitting room. The facade of this long, rectangular building faces south towards Fourth Avenue East with its long side along Grove Street. A low hip roof portico supported by plain square columns marks the entrance to the building on Fourth Avenue. Concrete steps lead to a pair of glazed-over-single-panel doors, which are each topped by a six-light transom. Large multi-pane steel-sash windows with concrete sills flank the entrance, and the facade rises to a stepped parapet that is peaked slightly in the center. The side elevation on Grove Street consists of the same large steel-sash windows running the length of the building. A double-leaf, nine-over-two-panel door located in the center of the elevation is accessed by a low wooden deck ramp. A second entrance, which is fitted with a metal roll-up door, replaced the next-to-northernmost window bay on the Grove Street elevation. The northernmost window bay has been partially enclosed around a seven-by-seven glass block window.
The interior of the original section has wood floors, beaded-beard ceilings, and clerestory windows on both the east and west elevations that can be opened and closed with the original pulley system. The heavy timber posts supporting the roof beams and truss system are chamfered. The exposed ends of the timber beams project through the exterior walls and are carved to a rounded end. The interior plan is open except for the new partitions added by the City of Hendersonville upon occupying the mill.
1919 Addition to Mill
In 1919, the building was enlarged with a roughly rectangular-shaped brick addition extending to the east along Fourth Avenue and then north within the block. This addition created an overall backward J-configuration, with a courtyard separating the two north-south oriented sections of the building. The one-story-on-basement brick wing along Fourth Avenue that connects the two parallel sections of the mill was used for shipping and storage and is similar in detail to the original portion of the building, although it lacks a clerestory. A portico that mimics the detail of the main entrance shelters a pair of separate entrance doors that face Fourth Avenue. A simple loading dock stands on the east side of the portico. The windows on the Fourth Street side of the addition have been replaced with pairs of six-over-six, double-hung wooden sash windows and enclosed above. On the courtyard elevation facing west, similar modern six-over-six windows have replaced the lower half of the original steel sash. A stepped parapet with a slight peak in the center dominates the unadorned brick east end of the addition. The portion of the wing extending north into the block contained rooms for finishing, boarding, and drying. At the rear of the wing and projecting from the mill to the east stands a four-bay, shed-roof shop, which is constructed of corrugated metal siding on all elevations and a brick foundation. The shop is accessed through four metal roll-up doors.
1947 Addition to the Mill
Another brick addition, constructed in 1947, extends from the north side of the original mill building and completes the block face along Grove Street. This portion of the mill is utilitarian design with only small square louvered vents punctuating the west elevation. Four pairs of double-hung windows and a recessed doorway mark the north end or Fifth Avenue elevation of the addition. This section of the mill has concrete floors, steel roof beams, no clerestory, and is open in plan.
Grey Hosiery Mill was established in February, 1915, at the request of the citizens of Hendersonville in order to bring industrial development to Hendersonville. The citizens contributed the sum of $600.00 to Captain James P. Grey and son James P. Grey, Jr. Captain Grey, a native North Carolinian and Davidson College alumnus, began his career as a teacher, then after investing wisely in a Louisville, Kentucky, timber company he retired early. Capt. Grey grew bored with retirement and learned the textile business through a large operation in Johnson City, Tennessee. He later moved to Hendersonville and established the mill. Capt. Grey's brother, Charles L. Grey, joined the company in 1919. James P. Grey, Jr., who had attended Davidson College for a short time, was previously employed at Freeze-Bacon Hosiery Mills in Henderson County. Capt. Grey later left the business and relocated to Bristol, Tennessee, where he started another mill. James Grey, Jr. and Charles Grey remained in Hendersonville to supervise operations.
The mill operations first began in a small brick building and a small frame structure in 1915 at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Grove Street. The mill originally produced knee-length ribbed stockings for children, manufactured on 32 knitting machines. At this time, the mill employed approximately 25 people. With the invention of nylon around the time of the second World War, production was changed to women's seamless hosiery. Grey Hosiery produced 66,000 pair of hosiery weekly and employed 250 people at its peak. The city of Hendersonville gained recognition through the distribution of Grey Hosiery Products, and James Grey, Jr. held several exclusive patents. The company distributed its products through sales agents and into department stores under their well-known brand names. Grey Hosiery also distributed stockings under its own brand names (e.g., "Betty Grey," "Dolly Grey," "Grey Moor," "Flamingo" and "Sarita"). James Grey's wife also ran a mail order business that sold the Flamingo brand. In 1965, Grey Hosiery mill was sold to Holt Hosiery Mills Inc. of Burlington, North Carolina. Holt Hosiery operated on this site for only two years and halted production in 1967.
During the 50-year period that the mill operated under the management of the Grey family, Grey Hosiery was a key employer in Hendersonville and Henderson County, and the expansion of the company coincided with the expansion of the town. The mill also employed personnel residing in neighboring counties. The Grey family was highly regarded by the employees of the mill for their progressive management. Although the company did not provide housing for its workers, the mill provided insurance for its employees, a nurse on duty, and childcare. The mill also sponsored a number of sports teams. Upon the sale of the mill to Holt Hosiery, and after 50 years in the business, James Grey, Jr. expressed his appreciation for all the past and present employees of the mill: "If there is any pleasure to be had in operating a hosiery mill, the greatest pleasure to me has been my association with a very fine group of Henderson and Polk County people who have worked with me for so many years.”
Since 1967 the building has served a number of uses, including a craft store and temporary home for the Henderson County Library. The building is owned by the City of Hendersonville.
(Excerpts from the National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form 5.11.99)
Grey Hosiery Mill ca. 1940s