Walking the first floor of the New Holland gymnasium with its peeling paint and decades of dust, one can imagine the recreation center in its heyday.
Vic Wilson doesn’t have to imagine it, though. He remembers and can describe it well. He’s done so before in a series of books he’s written about the historic mill village, and he did it again Wednesday morning, leading a small tour through the old building.
Renovations at the gym — which is privately owned — are underway, including a new clock tower set to be finished in the next couple weeks. It’s part of an overall revitalization of the New Holland area, with Brenau University building athletics fields across the street as well. The new clock will be four-sided and measures 5 feet in diameter.
Built in the early 1920s by Pacolet Manufacturing Co., the gym once featured a heated swimming pool, bowling and billiards. Nowadays, the billiards tables are gone, the bowling alley is stripped bare and the pool is empty.
“This is where I learned to swim,” Wilson said, gesturing toward the drained indoor swimming pool, with its Jazz Age-era tilework. His mind abuzz with nostalgia, Wilson — a local author, historian and New Holland native — also showed off a space inside the gymnasium, which will soon be a museum.
In the early 1900s, Pacolet Manufacturing Co. built the county’s first sizable industry at New Holland. The company bought 850 acres on which to construct the five-story plant, as well as about 200 homes, the recreation building, a store, school, church, offices and athletics fields.
These days, new athletics fields could help breathe new life into the area, thanks to Brenau University’s plans for the Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park.
The site will include a softball complex, a soccer field and a track and field complex, according to David Morrison, vice president of communications and publications at Brenau University.
“We’re pretty far along now on the site grading,” said Morrison, adding that the fields will be located where the old New Holland Elementary School once was.
Morrison said games at the athletics park could begin as soon as spring of 2016.
“When everything is finished, we feel it will be a great asset for the community and will contribute significantly to the area’s revitalization,” Morrison said.
“To see this going on across the street with the sports complex and to see what’s going on with the gym, it’s just great,” Wilson said. “For people who come from this area, this is home. It’s not just where we’re from, it’s who we are. To see all this happening, it’s refreshing. It gives me hope for the future.”