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Schoolfield Division of Dan River Mills

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1895 established. Bounded roughly by Memorial Dr., Ballou Park, and the streets south of W. Main St.

In 1895 a group of investors, many of them Riverside (see PI34) stockholders, formed the Dan River Power and Manufacturing Company. A decade later this Schoolfield company merged with the Riverside Cotton Mills to form Dan River, Inc., which was in operation until it closed in 2007. The Schoolfield textile mill complex (their speciality was blankets and pillowcases), originally consisting of more than fifteen hundred acres, is located in the Danville suburb of Schoolfield, named for then president of Riverside Cotton Mills, Robert Addison Schoolfield. The company constructed electrically powered mills on the high ground above the river, a dam and water power plant to serve them, and a mill town with handsome brick public buildings. The Norfolk Southern Railroad separates the mill buildings from most of the residential area.

To draw and hold mill employees from the surrounding counties, the company housed and trained them. By 1929 the company owned eight hundred and thirty-three houses in Schoolfield. The insulated world of Schoolfield belonged to the company and it hired well-known architects to design community buildings and the residences of supervisors and foremen, although local builders constructed the workers' housing. So that overseers could live close to their work and be part of village life, J. Bryant Heard designed seven houses for them on Park Avenue Extension. The two remaining, built 1919–1920 and similar to Sears mail-order houses, are one-and-a-half-story frame houses with gambrel roofs, dormers, an interior-end brick chimney, and side porches. In addition to fifty mid-level employee residences he designed for the Riverside Division of Dan River Mills on Riverside Drive and adjacent streets, E. Robert James designed sixty residences in a variety of styles in Schoolfield on Bishop Avenue and adjacent streets.

The workers, until the 1940s virtually all of them white, often came from depressed areas and hardscrabble farms where they had few, if any, amenities. They traded a rough life on infertile farms for work in a community with many social benefits and with housing superior to any most had ever known. To the early workers, the mill town was an improvement. After World War II, the company began the sale of housing to employee occupants. The mill owners, as was usual, built their houses away from the area, mostly on Main Street's so-called Millionaires Row.

The company built a hotel (burned), a YMCA (demolished), stores (PI65.4), the Welfare Building (PI65.5), public schools (PI65.6), a firehouse, and a country club. To attract women employees for Schoolfield and Riverside, the company built Hylton Hall (1919) on Lanier Avenue. Designed by J. Bryant Heard, the U-shaped two-and-a-half-story brick dormitory, which was partially destroyed by fire in 2012 (and awaits a possible restoration), also served as a social and recreational center for the women, with a gymnasium, swimming pool, infirmary, and parlors for entertaining guests. As part of the social web, the company helped build churches on land in their residential areas. Schoolfield remained an extraordinarily cohesive, almost closed, community. With the closing of the mill, hard times have come to the Schoolfield area.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Anne Carter Lee
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Citation

Anne Carter Lee, "Schoolfield Division of Dan River Mills", [Danville, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/VA-02-PI65.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Virginia vol 2

Buildings of Virginia: Valley, Piedmont, Southside, and Southwest, Anne Carter Lee and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015, 377-378.

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