“We lived for the lights to come on in the gym,” Vic Wilson said as he drove through the New Holland mill village where he grew up.
He was a “MilliKid,” a child of parents who worked at the Milliken textile mill just east of Gainesville.
The gym was in the New Holland Recreation Center, a multipurpose building built by the company in 1921. Besides the band-box gymnasium, the center also contained a swimming pool and bowling alley that adults and youngsters alike kept busy in its heyday.
Later, however, it had run down; the bowling alley and pool weren’t operable, but the basketball goals still stood, and the gym floor was in tolerable condition.
Pete Morgan was the building’s caretaker, and he would let MilliKids use the gym when he was available. His schedule, however, didn’t always jive with theirs. “ ... For us kids, it was our sanctuary, our haven, our daily and nightly place to retreat,” Vic said.
Walking through the building today, which is occupied by doctors’ offices and physical therapists, Vic points to a window where he and his friends would sneak in to play basketball. One night when they were breaking into the building, they witnessed some would-be skinny-dippers diving into the abandoned and darkened pool. Problem was, the pool had no water in it, and the intruders ended up pretty banged up.
That’s one of the stories Vic tells in his book, “MilliKids. It Took a Mill to Raise a Village.”
Vic, a retired educator, now a golf teacher and clubmaker, relives his memories of those happy days in New Holland. He and his friends had no video games, computers or other electronic devices that are so prevalent today among youngsters. It was a major event when Vic’s parents got a new black-and-white TV that would pick up only two channels.
The MilliKids, however, found plenty to entertain them.
Remnants of a covered grandstand can be seen today at the New Holland athletic field. Vic remembers a time when fans crowded in to watch baseball games or when the fields would be covered with children and adults.
On rare snow days, the boys, who couldn’t afford sleds, would scavenger pieces of cardboard to slide down hills. Once, one of the MilliKids tried a hill that ended at what was then U.S. 23, now Jesse Jewell Parkway. His “sled” dodged cars as it slid across the busy highway.
Lack of snow wasn’t a problem, though. In the summer, the boys took their cardboard to a hill in a pasture where a water standpipe stood and slid through the grass.
R.O. Pilgrim’s store was a popular gathering spot. Vic fondly recalls the joy of finding a nickel on the street and running to buy an RC Cola, pulled from an ice-filled drink box in the store.
A “ghost” supposedly haunted an auditorium behind the Methodist Church, one of the most historic and quaintest landmarks in the village. The spook had been the janitor for the church and an adjacent auditorium. Vic and the MilliKids would scare others by telling them they saw his shadow in the buildings. They later learned the janitor had died in a fall from a ladder in the auditorium.
MilliKids, now adults, get together regularly to talk about those times and Vic’s book, which is available for $14.95 on Amazon.com. Announcement will be made when it’s available locally.
New Holland trivia: The Double D Burger on Old Cornelia Highway traces its origins to R.O. Pilgrim’s store, which became The Canteen when it moved inside the mill in the late 1960s. Pilgrim’s son-in-law, E.C. Dale, succeeded him and later opened the Double D Burger. Scotty Piotrowski, E.C.’s son-in-law, took it over, later selling to Sandra Ertzberger Griffin, whose son Gary Griffin built the more modern Double D, still on Old Cornelia Highway just east of New Holland.
It says “Victory Street” on the maps and street signs in the village, but it once was and is supposed to be “Victor Street,” so named for Victor Montgomery, president of Pacolet Mills, son of founder and first president John Henry Montgomery. Somehow over the years the sign was changed and the “y” apparently inadvertently dropped. The ballfield also was named Montgomery Park.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.