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Green woolen blankets were standard Army issue during WW II. For soldiers on the European front, the blankets meant warmth. For soldiers from Swannanoa, they also meant home.
In 1904, the Charles D. Owen family purchased the aging Beacon Manufacturing Plant in New Bedford, Massachusetts, opening a second branch in Swannanoa in 1924. Due to growing union strength, the New Bedford plant was closed in the 1930s and shipped by rail to Swannanoa, literally “brick by brick” and “loom by loom.”
Workers came from Swannanoa, Yancey County and Massachusetts. Employees lived in Grovemont, boarding houses and the Mill Village, which became a beloved community to generations. By 1940, 2,200 were employed, with 930 leaving for the armed services. Manufacturing turned from baby and Navajo-inspired blankets, to Army issue blankets. Over 7 million were made.
Beacon changed ownership multiple times before closing April 12, 2002. The one million square foot plant was destroyed by arson on September 3, 2003. An era ended by flame, immortalized by the slogan “Beacon Blankets Make Warm Friends.”
Panoramic View of Beacon Mfg. Co. Swannanoa, N.C. circa, 1935. Courtesy of Mary and Joe Standaert Collection.