It was a cold day in November 2020 when Vickie and I toured the mill house in Massey Hill.
A tear came to her eye, and mine as well, when she talked about how her dad had added a closet to her bedroom in one of the four rooms in the mill house where she was raised. She climbed up to look in the top shelf of the closet and felt in that special place as if she hoped to still see the diary that she kept there as a child.
I can only imagine the words of a 14-year-old girl written in a diary during the early 1960s, living in this mill house in the middle of Massey Hill, surrounded by doffers and lint pickers from the three textile mills in the area. Likely there were words of young love and dreams, of bleeding madras and London fogs, of orangeades and 10-cent hot dogs at the drug store: words of hope for a better opportunity and a better life.
Vickie Horne Winstead shared a lot that day as we went from room to room, pausing in each to reflect on her memories there. She talked about the neighbors nearby, the special-colored paint her dad used for her room, and where they placed her mother’s casket when loved ones gathered for the sitting up with the dead. She smiled when thinking about her wedding in 1967 to Terry, the love of her life.
Vickie was giving a tour of her homeplace as part of the Massey Hill Heritage Preservation Project. Over the past several years, friends and supporters of the Massey Hill community have worked to acquire an old textile mill house and convert it into a museum to display the lifestyle of living in a mill village in that area. The mill house was Vickie’s homeplace, and she was so proud to show it off.
Over the course of an hour or so, the stories of this mill house came alive. Suddenly, the effort became more than just a construction project. It became the opportunity to tell the stories of countless peoples’ lives – people who worked in the textile mills, lived in the mill village houses, attended the local schools, looked forward to Friday night ballgames, attended Vacation Bible School and baccalaureate services, lived the American dream, and hoped for more for their children — all inside the four-room houses in Massey Hill mill villages.
When we finished our tour on that day, Vickie provided a bag filled with family photos she hoped might be displayed in the museum once it was finished. Each photo had its own story, each enriching the understanding of what life was like then. We promised her we would scan the pictures and get them back to her.
Seven weeks later — on Jan. 16, 2021 — Vickie Winstead died from COVID, leaving Terry and their children Tony and Pam — and a lifetime of friends and memories. Her dreams of seeing the Mill House Museum completed were never to be. But her stories had given a new life to the restoration project and to the importance of capturing life’s stories when you can.
Thankfully, we were able to capture Vickie’s tour of her beloved homeplace on video. You can see Vickie’s video here.
Hundreds of people contributed to the museum effort, joining the generous support of the Cumberland Community Foundation and the state legislative delegation. Massey Hill Baptist Church donated the old mill house beside the church, and the city of Fayetteville agreed for the building to become a part of the city’s museum facilities to help ensure that the lives of this community would be shared.
The dedication of the Mill House Museum is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. as part of the Massey Hill Homecoming weekend. Hundreds of friends and supporters are expected to join for the dedication, a golf outing, a Woodpeckers baseball game and the 50th reunion of the last graduating class of Massey Hill High School.
It will be a time of celebration and memory-sharing as folks go from room to room to see memorabilia from that period. They will reflect on pictures of families and friends, on sports trophies and on Christmas parties in the mills. They will be able to touch old furniture and high school annuals and letter jackets.
No doubt they will laugh about how an entire family could keep everything they had in a four-room mill house.
And maybe they will take a minute to look into the top shelf of that hand-made closet in the purple bedroom, where they’ll see Vickie’s secret place — the place where the hopes and dreams of a mill village kid lived.