In 1925, The Beacon Blanket Manufacturing Company relocated from Massachusetts and planted its roots in the Swannanoa community. Homes were built to house employees, and soon a thriving business district emerged. A grocery store, drug store, clothing stores, a movie house, and variety stores served the Valley. During World War II, Beacon employed more than 2,200 people and held the title of the largest blanket manufacturer in the world.
After Beacon was sold in the 1980s, business weakened, employment dwindled, and, in 2003, the plant closed its doors. In September of that year, Swannanoa residents were devastated
when an arsonist burned the plant to the ground. In the aftermath of the fire, the community bonded together and demonstrated its caring and compassion for its neighbors, firefighters and workers. During the years the site lay vacant, neighbors shared their visions and their dreams for the once thriving district.
In May 2011, Irminger Consulting, Inc., working under contract with the North Carolina Land-of-Sky Regional Council and funded by Swannanoa Valley Properties, LLC and a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), conducted environmental assessment activities at the Beacon Mill site. During the assessment, 25 soil samples, 16 groundwater samples, four surface water, and four sediment samples were collected for laboratory analysis. The samples were collected in areas considered most likely to be contaminated, based on an extensive review of historical operations and a Work Plan which was reviewed and approved by the EPA and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The assessment activities revealed that groundwater was impacted with low concentrations of chlorinated solvents in the area of the former dye house.
The results of the assessment are under review by DENR and will form the basis of a Brownfields Agreement between DENR and Swannanoa Valley Properties, LLC. The Brownfields Agreement will outline the conditions for safe redevelopment of this property for the betterment of the environment and local community. Conceptual plans for the property currently consist of a combination of commercial and residential development.
The strength and heart of the community continues, and Swannanoans look forward to witnessing the resurgence of the Beacon Mill site.