|When:||Oct 5, 2019 @ 10:00 am - 3:00 pm|
|Where:||Swannanoa Valley Museum|
223 West State Street
Black Mountain, NC
Why: Event to celebrate all things related to the Beacon Blanket textile mill, which operated in Swannanoa from 1924-2002
Cost: Free and open to the public
Museum information: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Beacon Blankets Make Warm Friends.” If you are lucky enough to own a blanket with this label, you may already appreciate all that Beacon Manufacturing Company has done for the Swannanoa Valley. To celebrate the company’s contributions, the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center – as part of its exhibit, Beacon Blankets: The Mill, on display through November 8 – is hosting “Beacon Blankets Make Warm Friends Day” on Saturday, October 5 from 10:00am-3:00pm at the Museum.
The Beacon Manufacturing Company operated in Swannanoa from 1924 – 2002 and was once the largest blanket manufacturer in the world. Today, many of their beautiful blankets are collector’s items. The museum exhibit highlights several aspects of Beacon’s history, including its controversial use of the term “Indian Design” when advertising its blankets, workers’ striking and union efforts, and the lives and culture of Beacon’s Swannanoa community. The exhibit is open to the public Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00am – 5:00pm.
On Saturday, October 5, the public is invited to experience the exhibit alongside former employees while shopping reproduction blankets, Beacon fashions, and collectible books.
Highlights of the event include:
>> Jerry and Kathy Brownstein will be signing and selling copies of their book, “Beacon Blankets Make Warm Friends,” which chronicles the company’s history alongside photographs and details about collecting their vintage blankets, robes, and other wares.
>> DeeAnn Carpenter of Adore Designs, a brand of distinctive, handmade wearable art fashions, will also be on-site selling coasts, vests, hats, and handbags made from vintage and reproduction Beacon Blankets.
>> Over the last few years, a new branch born out of Beacon Blankets – with several former employees at the helm, began reproducing vintage Beacon patterns. Samples of these reproduction blankets will be offered for sale in up to 10 different vintage patterns by Tedd Smith, President and Co-Founder of Beacon Linens (and former Beacon Blanket employee).
This month, the Town of Black Mountain issued a proclamation honoring Beacon Blankets to “express sincere appreciation for the outstanding contributions made by [the company] over the years to the citizens of Black Mountain and the Swannanoa Valley.”
Part of the proceeds from all purchases goes towards support the non-profit Swannanoa Valley Museum.
About the Beacon Manufacturing Company
Originally located in New Bedford, MA, Beacon Blankets moved its entire operations to Swannanoa in the midst of the Depression under the guidance of the company’s owner Charles D. Owen II. Owen’s decision was representative of an era in which many northern companies moved their manufacturing south to gain greater access to cheap labor and resources such as water, cotton, and timber. The move was likely also motivated by increased union activity in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which Owen, like many northern factory owners, hoped to avoid in southern communities.
In 1936, after the massive effort of moving machinery and infrastructure from north to south, Beacon Manufacturing completed its new 1 million-square-foot plant in Swannanoa, heralding an era of prosperity for the company. Beacon became the world’s largest mill, and at its peak, the giant factory employed 2,200 people. The company came to be famous for its use of vibrant colors and the Ombre design process, which added shades of the same color to blanket patterns.
Beacon transformed Swannanoa into a mill town with company-owned houses and company-sponsored entertainment and sports teams. While amenities such as mill village housing were provided as a strategy to discourage workers from organizing, the bustling, close-knit community that formed around the mill is fondly remembered by former residents. In a 2012 interview, Joan Barnwell recalled the ways in which Swannanoa thrived during Beacon’s heyday, saying, “We had a department store, we had a furniture store. … We had a theater and … two drugstores.”
Multiple generations of Swannanoa Valley residents worked at the mill until its closure in 2002. In 2003, an arsonist set fire to the building, burning it to the ground. Today, the former mill site is an open field situated next to historic mill village housing, now private residences.
Several entities are currently working to preserve the memory of Beacon’s history in Swannanoa. The Swannanoa Valley Museum maintains collections related to Beacon, and its 2019 exhibit is part of ongoing efforts to educate the public about the history of the mill and its workers. Additionally, Black Mountain resident Rebecca Williams is producing a film, called Blanket Town, about the rise and fall of Beacon Manufacturing in Swannanoa. More information about the film is available at www.blankettown.org.