ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — About thirty miles northeast of Greensboro, in Rockingham County, you’ll find Mayo River State Park. But more than a century ago, that river and a newly created artery inspired the formation of a mill and a town designed to grow around it: Avalon, North Carolina.
But today, Avalon is not a ghost town. Simply, it is gone.
“The town of Avalon was incorporated in 1901,” explained Jeff Bullins, president of the Museum and Archives of Rockingham County.
The map outlining the town had been drawn in the 1890s. By the time Avalon Mill was built and operational, roughly half of the town’s hundreds of inhabitants worked there. Including its children.
The mill was erected as a means to create materials to be transported along the nearby railroad.
“There was this opportunity to have more income,” Bullins added.
In 2023, the Museum and Archives of Rockingham County keeps a cotton ledger. The leather-bound book details the thousands of pounds of cotton those workers processed every day. In the pages marking June of 1911, you can make your way to June 15, reading 4,722.
It is the final entry for the Avalon Mill.
“They totaled it out at that point, totaled out the book at that point,” Bullins said.
It was a Thursday, and had neared the end of the day, so most of the workers had already left the building.
“Somebody noticed that there had been a spark on the fourth floor and the fire was starting to spread,” Bullins added, saying a worker threw a bucket of water on the fire, but was soon forced to flee. “Even though the mill had a state-of-the-art fire suppression system, it failed.”
With the fire 40 feet above, the townspeople rushed to witness their lives come smoldering to the ground from the top down.
A professional photographer happened to be in town that day to document the destruction. Within a week, those photographs were turned into postcards. One of them, sent a week after the fire, already foreshadowed what was to come for Avalon.
“Grace has made up her mind to come back to Salem. I think she will come down next week. this is a picture of the Avalon Mill that was completely destroyed by fire last week,” it reads. “It will temporarily cripple our work there. The people are moving away. With kindest regards to you and yours.”
A mere two years after the fire, nearly everyone – and everything – had left. Many of those people moved their families and homes to nearby Mayodan, where a mill had been built in the years before Avalon’s construction.
“The operations they had there, they moved to Mayodan. Most of the people who worked at the Avalon Mill began working in Mayodan,” Bullins said.
Pieces of their lives are still evident in Mayodan. If you drive through town, you’ll see some of those homes, marked with white plaques.
Despite some bricks scattered throughout the park, all that truly remains within the Avalon grounds is its power plant. Sitting along the river, it’s still operational today, run by a privately-owned company selling power to Duke Energy.
“There’s an artistic quality to the stonework that was done in Avalon,” Bullins described.
It’s a renowned tale, familiar to few, about a town no one alive today truly knew.
“The story of Avalon is so dramatic and engrained in so many peoples’ minds,” Bullins added.