February 23, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Area residents and visitors soon will be able to learn about the local textile industry — past and present — and its impact on the community while they get some exercise.
The Martinsville-Henry County Textile Heritage Trail is being developed by the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) as an arm of a walking and biking trail along the Smith River near Fieldale.
Jennifer Doss, the EDC’s director of tourism, said the partners are working with historians and others knowledgeable of local textile industry history to develop six interpretive signs to be installed along the new trail.
Doss came up with the idea for the trail, according to Brian Williams, local program manager for DRBA.
The smokestack at the former Fieldcrest-Cannon factory in Fieldale can be seen from the trail.
Fieldcrest-Cannon evolved into Pillowtex, which went out of business after going bankrupt almost a decade ago. Yet items made by Fieldcrest still are in many homes, so many people should be interested in learning about the company, Doss surmised.
Information and photos on the 2-foot by 3-foot signs also will highlight the histories of other local textile makers that no longer exist, such as Bassett-Walker, Tultex, Sale Knitting and Pannill Knitting, she said.
The signs will focus on the local textile industry’s impact on the area, including its heyday, decline and re-emergence, Doss indicated.
“By no means will the signs tell the whole story,” she said. Rather, they are to be “bite-size nuggets of information ... a nice overview of the story.”
People wanting more details can find them at the Bassett Historical Center, she added.
Overall, the signs denote “the rich history of textiles in our area and the important role they played in shaping our region and our nation,” Williams said.
Doss said the local textile industry is making a comeback, albeit in a smaller way, through firms such as Solid Stone Fabrics and Drake Extrusion. She said the sixth panel along the trail will have information about those newer firms.
Companies are “still making textiles in Martinsville-Henry County,” Doss said, and “that’s something to be proud of” considering that everyone uses textile products.
Some photos on signs along the trail will show scenes of the Martinsville area from many years ago and businesses in existence then, including the Roxy Theater, McCollum-Ferrell Shoes and the Leggett’s store uptown.
In addition to learning about textile history, “we think the public will enjoy reminiscing” about the area’s past and younger or newer residents “can see what life was like here” then, Doss said.
The new trail is a quarter-mile loop near where a train depot once stood, she said, noting that a parking lot is on the site. Part of the trail runs along the old Dick and Willie railroad bed.
Landowner Donald G. Trantham Jr. provided an easement for the trail, Doss and Williams said.
Most of the trail is surfaced with crushed run, which Doss described as “a very, very fine gravel compacted and rolled to the point” in which the trail almost seems to be paved. “It’s a very firm surface” to either walk or ride bicycles on, she said.
Williams said a boardwalk is on the lower part of the trail near Jordan Creek in an area that sometimes floods.
“This is the first trail in the Martinsville-Henry County area to have a boardwalk, which is really cool,” Doss said.
“It’s just a nice little addition ... that will keep people’s feet from getting muddy” when the ground is wet, Williams added.
He estimated the cost to establish the textile trail at $40,000. Both the EDC and DRBA contributed to the cost, he said, with DRBA using funds it received through grants from Dominion Power.
The Harvest Foundation and Henry County Parks & Recreation Department also provided funds. In-kind donations of labor were provided by the Friends of the Fieldale Trail.
People already can use the trail, but Doss estimated it will be 30 to 60 days before the signs are up and it officially opens.
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