It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since that tragic day in 2003 when the Beacon Mill, once the heart and soul of the Swannanoa community, burned almost to the ground. Back in its Burning of Beacon Mill heyday, the mill employed thousands of people and was the largest blanket manufacturer in the world. But as textile manufacturing moved overseas, the workforce at the Swannanoa mill dwindled. The doors of the mill were shut for good in 2002. The massive structures sat vacant until the early morning hours of September 3, 2003, when an arsonist ignited a pipe bomb inside one of the buildings.
That morning, residents in the Valley woke to the smell of smoke. The flames from the mill fire reached so high into the sky that they could be seen from great distances. People left their homes and began to gather together on street corners and in parking lots. Old timers, newcomers, and former mill employees stood side-by-side, watching in stunned silence as the buildings burned. Tears were shed; stories and memories were shared.
The closing of the mill dealt a heavy blow to Swannanoa, but in many ways, the fire had an even greater impact. It was final, and it put an end to the hope that the mill might one day re-open.
Thirty-two fire departments and hundreds of fire and emergency personnel were involved in the effort to contain and extinguish the fire. Thanks to the leadership of the Swannanoa Fire Department and the many responders on the scene, the fire was contained to the mill site, and no injuries were reported.
To see an archive of newspaper articles about the fire, visit the Swannanoa Fire Department’s website at www.svfd.net. To read a Swannanoa resident’s account of the fire and its impact on the community, click here.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the fire, an exhibit about the Beacon Mill will be on display at the Swannanoa Library, 101 West Charleston Ave., during the month of September. The photos and artifacts in the exhibit are on loan from the Swannanoa Valley Museum.