Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Louise Riggsbee Jones, September 20, 1976. Interview H-0085-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Devastating fire at a cotton mill

Jones describes the fire that burnt the original Bynum cotton mill to the ground around 1915. Jones does not recall the specific year of this fire, but notes that it occurred shortly before she began working around that time in the new mill. Sparked by lightning and fueled by the wood structure and cotton and oils used in the mill, the devastating fire demonstrated the hazards that surrounded mills and factories during this time. In addition, the way in which Jones describes the community's response to the fire demonstrates a sense of solidarity and loyalty amongst the workers and within the community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Louise Riggsbee Jones, September 20, 1976. Interview H-0085-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I went to work when this new mill. . . . We call it the new mill now, because the old mill burnt down, and the old mill, it was a wooden building. And the lightning struck it. I never will forget that. Ooh, what a high . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were you in one of these houses right here?
LOUISE RIGSBEE JONES:
No, I was living up on the hill. And there was a bad thundercloud that Sunday afternoon, and the lightning and all. But we had opened the door, and one of the neighbor women, Mrs. Mabel Anderson, and her little boy had come in to sit with us, you know, during the cloud? And my mother opened the door, and I was sitting where I could see out the door, and I could see the tower. It had a kind of a tower. Well, there's a picture hanging in there on the wall of the old mill. They had steps to go. . . . Well, they had an elevator, too, but they don't have no steps to go up and down stairs. But they had two sets of steps out as you went in the mill, you know, in the tower, then went up. And it struck twice that Sunday evening in the tower and set it afire. And I looked down there, and the blaze was just going up, and I said, "Lord have mercy." I said, "The mill's afire." Well, everybody, by that time, was out. And they didn't have the water. Well, they had the hose down there, just what they could use at the mill, you know, but they didn't have the fire stations like they do now to come in and help. Of course, they knew it wasn't any good to put it on the mill, because that was wood, and there was so much oil and cotton and all in there, and that thing just went up right now. But they did put the water on the cotton house. It was out thataway; that's the cotton house there. And they were all wooden buildings then. But they were trying to keep the other buildings from catching afire, too, you know. And a lot of them would get water at the well pumps, the wells, you know, and just carry two buckets at a time and try to on the outside and around the places, to . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Everybody came down and started trying to put buckets up?
LOUISE RIGSBEE JONES:
Yes. Yes, they did.