Loading the player...


Interview conducted as part of the Crafted with Pride project, which documented residents of Gaston County's mill village communities. Clyde Dietz, at the time of the interview Senior Vice President of the Belmont Heritage Corporation, worked at and for several Belmont-area mills over his 55-year career. Since he grew up in an East Belmont mill village (1920s through 1940), his perspective is that of both mill village dweller and mill management. (He worked summers as a teenager as an operator in a mill, but otherwise held clerical and eventually management positions.) His family of six (his father had died; presumably his mother and siblings worked in the mill) lived in a five-room house, later upgrading to a six-room house when it became available. He started with the Majestic Manufacturing Company, which had previously been the Climax Filling Company, and then turned into the Stowe Thread Company, then Belmont Hosiery Mills, Inc., and then Belmont Heritage Corporation. He describes mill housing in the ‘20s as somewhat better in quality than the housing many mill workers, especially those who had come from the mountains, were used to. They were decent-sized frame houses with big windows, wood stoves, coal heaters, an ice box, and plenty of room outside for vegetable gardens. Residents had coal, firewood, and daily ice delivered, the cost being taken out of their pay. He adds that two factors made mill housing necessary for workers: the lack of available rental housing in town, and the lack of transportation. By the end of the 1930s, he says, the general standard of living outside the mill villages had begun to rise so that village housing was no longer superior. Still, people could walk easily to their jobs, rent was cheap (he remembers 20 cents per room per week), and the mill owners were very lenient about letting workers stay even when times were hardest. There was no company store, as such, where he grew up, but there were numerous nearby grocery stores and other shops which he thinks were owned by mill stockholders (the main store was owned by the Stowes, who later took over mill ownership). In town were the bank, a movie theater, a commercial laundry/dry cleaner, and a barber shop. Some families in the mill village hired African American help for childcare and laundry. There were wash tubs outdoors and lines for hanging clothes. Water in the early days came from a central well, but running water was put into houses during the 1920s. A sewer system was put in after 1925. Since housing and electric lights were taken care of, Dietz says, the main thing workers had to worry about was “short time” (when the work week was cut down to only two or three days) so buying food and clothing became a problem. He remembers childhood recreations as having been baseball, first of all, for the boys, who also enjoyed playing “pee-gee,” which involved hitting wooden pegs, and roller skating (the mill had built good sidewalks). There were also social events put on by the churches (like picnics), and listening to phonographs – and in the ‘30s, radio – was popular. Schools were not located within the villages themselves, but close by, the main Belmont school consisting of three buildings for grades one through twelve. Churches, too, were on the outskirts of town, within walking distance of the villages. One exception was a Lutheran church built on Majestic Mills property. The bulk of all the church congregations was mill workers, and mill management and their families were important leaders in the churches. Other interesting details Dietz touches upon: divorce was frowned upon in the mill villages; and there might have been a slight stigma about living in a mill village compared to living elsewhere because one was a “captive” of the company, not owning one’s own home but lacking incentives to move away. He plays down the effect of inhaling cotton dust as a cause of brown lung, blaming the illness more on cigarette smoking.





Downloads Statistics

Download Full History