Satisfying my longtime curiosity about the old May Hosiery Mill, uh, May Hosiery Lofts

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I got a lot of information — and a free beer glass — during the May Hosiery Lofts open house on Saturday. The apartments should be a nice addition to downtown.

I have always had some curiosity about the old May Hosiery Mill in downtown Burlington. During my first nine years working across the street from it at the Burlington Times-News it was still a functioning operation. It was joined to another building across Morehead Street with an overhead connection between the two buildings with Kayser-Roth written on one side. I walked underneath that small overpass a lot of times heading out to pay bills at then nearby Duke Power Co. or city hall. It was on the way to the Post Office, too.

When I returned to Burlington 15 years after leaving in 1992, LabCorp was preparing to place its corporate headquarters across the street from May Hosiery Mill. The mill itself was empty and falling apart a bit more day after day. It was deteriorating before everyone’s eyes, something I documented on my regular walks downtown. I shot a lot of photos downtown and still do. I like the architecture and lately the changes. Here are several images of May Hosiery Building and its iconic smokestack taken in 2011.

I always thought, “someone really needs to find a use for such a great old building.” A few things were discussed over the years — at one point a nightclub was talked about, but the idea blew away almost as soon as it was mentioned.

And then a couple of years ago, work began to improve the exterior of the building. some facade work on the Main Street side revealed some incredibly beautiful brick underneath. And I thought again, “This could really be something.”

Today it is. The 60,000 square-foot building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is under renovation by Clachan Properties, a company from Richmond, Virginia that specializes in transforming historic landmarks into apartments. The company has undertaken projects involving old mills, hospitals and courthouses that also qualify for historic tax credits. It has done so in several areas in North Carolina, including Winston-Salem and Greensboro. The $10 million project is almost complete. There are several final touches but the most difficult parts of the renovation are completed. There will be 67 apartments with a variety of floor plans. The site is called May Hosiery Lofts and you can learn much more about it here and see floor plans and pricing.

A representative from Clachan told me and several others all of this on Saturday during what I would describe as a limited open house. Tours of the building’s second floor were given in small groups over a two-hour period. Clachan and Preservation Burlington facilitated the event.

I think everyone involved was surprised by the interest on Saturday. The number of visitors who wanted to tour the site was a bit overwhelming. Guests were asked to sign a waiver before taking the tour releasing all parties from responsibility for injuries because the building is still a construction site. They ran out of the waivers about 30 minutes into the open house. I overheard one organizer say that 300 people toured the old mill during the quick run-throughs led by Clachan representatives. Judging by the age of many of those in attendance and the reunion atmosphere, I believe many were former May Hosiery employees who wanted to see what the building looks like now. “Old home week” was an expression I heard once or twice.

The tour was well worth the short wait outdoors on a 90-degree day. Burlington Beer Works had a tent. Beer, wine and water were available for purchase. The interior, as I noted earlier, is still very much a work in progress. One apartment was available for viewing. It was a one-bedroom with an upstairs and small. Many historic features of the old mill will remain but the kitchen is very modern with granite countertops. There are a variety of designs for studio, loft and one or two-bedroom apartments. Some have a terrace. The prices vary and you see more detail here. Here are a few photos I took during our quick walk-through. There is a lot of nice exposed old brick and the large square object featured in the photos will be used as artwork on the large wall spaces.

The exterior images were taken on what will be a communal patio area with a firepit and grills that will be for use by all apartment dwellers. I’ll be interested in seeing the final product there and elsewhere inside. But what I saw on Saturday was promising. For a lot of people, space will be an issue. The apartment we entered was small for two people. There are larger units with greater space but storage will most certainly be limited. But for those who want to live in a downtown environment in a neat old building who are downsizing or downsized, it could work nicely. My generation — born in the late ’50s and early ’60s, collected things. The generations behind us don’t.

As Burlington’s downtown begins to re-emerge after decades of slumber, the May Hosiery Lofts could be another key piece of the recent growth trend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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