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New Holland: Mill brought life, closeness to small village

Past residents remember tight-knit community

POSTED: December 23, 2012 11:17 p.m.

The windows of the old mill in New Holland have been sealed with bricks.

Though the windows are gone, it isn’t difficult for some residents of the small village on the eastern edge of Gainesville to remember the days when the open glass windows meant a gift was coming.

More than half a century ago, fathers who worked at Pacolet Mill in New Holland would hang their heads out of the windows and whistle down to get their children’s attention as they walked home from school.

The children knew to run over to the side of the big brick building and watch for a falling nickel — enough money to buy a Coca-Cola or 20 pieces of candy.

Lamar Elder, a longtime resident of New Holland, remembers fondly how his father would wrap the nickel in cotton so he could easily follow it down from the card room window where he worked reducing bales of cotton to thread.

The old mill is still in business making string. Milliken and Co. employs about 230 people who work throughout the five floors of the building.

Though the mill remains, much of the village’s old way of life has disappeared with time.

The general store, Porter’s service station and R.O. Pilgrim Cafe are gone.

The recreation center where workers and their families would swim and play basketball is a doctor’s office now.

Beside the center is the New Holland Methodist Church, which for many years shared the building, alternating Sundays with the Baptist church. The New Holland Baptist Church is now located just a few blocks away.

Paul Youngblood, pastor of the Methodist church, said the congregation is at an all-time low, with only about 10 people attending services.

The duplex homes surrounding the mill were once rented to the workers for around $6 a month. When the mill sold the homes to the workers in the 1950s, members of the once close-knit community began to scatter.

These days most of the homes in New Holland are rental properties.

Lamar Elder left the village not long after high school. He came back to live in his childhood home in 1990 after his parents died.

“When I graduated from high school the next logical place for me was to be in the mill. That’s where they got all their help, from the families,” Elder explained.

He said he worked for a few months in the mill after graduating high school. He swept the floors of the entire building, and it didn’t take long for him to realize he wanted to do something else with his life and went to work for AT&T. Since coming back home he said he loves New Holland for its convenience; he’s just five minutes away from everything, much like it was when he was growing up.

In some ways, the village is replenishing what it has lost.

A new shopping center is being built on the corner of Limestone and Jesse Jewell parkways. Several doctors’ offices have taken up residence near the old village. Frances Meadows Aquatic Center provides what the old recreation center used to. And children go to school at Gainesville Middle and New Holland Elementary schools, just a short distance from their homes.

Patra Elder, Lamar Elder’s wife, said the community has always been a “neat little place.”

“It’s not so much the same anymore. Of course the dynamics of the village have changed,” she said. “The mill was the main employment, so now that you’ve got other opportunities, people don’t have to stay in this one area. People moved out and live elsewhere.”

Patra Elder said it’s fun to listen to some of the stories about growing up in the village.

Bradley Elliott, associate pastor at Airline Baptist Church, and Marion Merck, Hall County coroner, grew up in the village together.

The men were best friends and remember playing on the grass outside the mill after school.

Elliott said life in the village back then was very different than life is today. If he and Merck got into any mischief, he could be sure they wouldn’t get away with it.

“Merck’s folks had my parents’ permission to tan my hide and get me straightened out. And mine him. That was just the way it was. Folks didn’t mind telling your parents,” Elliott said.

Neither Elliott nor Merck have lived in the village since they left home after getting married in the late 1950s.

Merck said he wouldn’t trade his childhood in the village for anything, though.

“There is nothing like being raised in a mill village. We were all poor but we never knew it because we all had the same things,” Merck said.

He said Christmas was a very special time to be a child in the mill village.

After opening their gifts on Christmas morning, all of the children would take to the streets on their bicycles, showing off what they got.

“Christmas is not Christmas unless you were born in a mill village,” Merck said with a soft chuckle.

Though he hasn’t lived in the village for many years, he said he still drives out to his old childhood home on Christmas Day to reminisce about the old days.

“It brings tears to your eyes to know that how you were growing up then and how you have to live now is changed,” Merck said. “No one that’s never grown up in a mill village knows what it’s like ... where you sit on the porch and you talk to your neighbor while they’re on their porches. Closeness is a whole lot different from what it is now.”


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