By Laren Anderson
David Murdock has no plan to preserve this town's mill history after Plant No. 1 is toppled, according to several local historians.
The Kannapolis History Associates want Murdock to provide space for an operational textile museum here, said Norris Dearmon, a board member of the group that preserves local history. The group has not approached the billionaire businessman about a museum yet.
Lynne Scott Safrit, president of Murdock's Castle and Cooke Inc., did not return repeated telephone calls this week for comment about the hope for a museum.
Nevertheless, Murdock has given the associates no indication he will grant their wish for a museum that would stress all facets of the textile industry, not simply the role Kannapolis played as a mill town for roughly a century, Dearmon, 83, said recently. He worked at the plant from 1938 to 1985 with brief absences while in college and serving in World War II.
"This is just my opinion, but I don't think Mr. Murdock wants much more to do with textiles," he added. "That's our heritage."
That heritage is collapsing.
Workers with D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. of Greensboro are demolishing the plant to make room for the N.C. Research Campus, one of Murdock's projects.
Devoted to health, biotechnology and nutrition, the campus will be a collaboration between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Duke University is debating whether it will claim a stake in the campus that is expected to draw 100 biotechnology companies to continue their research here.
Initial construction of the campus is slated to begin within three months. The campus should start daily operations in five to seven years.
Betsy Smith, president of the historic preservation group, said she hopes Murdock will join the group in creating a textile museum.
"We have people who are interested in the future," she said, "but are also eager to preserve the past."
Larry Hayer, head of the history room at the Kannapolis branch library, does not understand why Murdock cannot find space on the campus or at another nearby site for a textile museum. Hayer's parents were employed with Cannon Mills.
"Kannapolis was built on textiles," he said recently. "The textile industry has, more-or-less, gone offshore. So, what we are talking about is history, and we need to preserve it."
Both Dearmon and Hayer said a museum like the one Dearmon envisions will need several thousand square feet of space. And it would cost roughly $26 million to establish a textile museum of that size, Hayer added.
Tom Hanchett, Ph.D., staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte said Kannapolis does not have to spend that much money to preserve its mill heritage. Most thriving towns have found a way to incorporate growth while maintaining its history, he said.
For example, New York City has preserved its aging brownstone homes while erecting nearby skyscrapers, he added.
The Levine museum houses a section on textile history in its Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers exhibit. Among the artifacts on display is a towel that Plant No. 1 produced.
"North Carolina wouldn't be North Carolina without its textile history," he said. "It's a shame to try to wipe out all evidence of our past. Your history is your soul."
Contact Laren Anderson at 704-932-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org..