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Rediscovered vault in Hylton Hall rubble opens new chapter in textile history

By Justin Ward, jward@wdbj7.com
Published On: Jan 13 2014 07:51:43 PM EST
Updated On: Jan 13 2014 08:05:37 PM EST

Crews find secret vault with historic records

DANVILLE, Va. -

"Haven't you had times where you just thought, 'suppose there's something there'" said Carol Handy, the president of the board from The Schoolfield Museum and Cultural Center.

She had that feeling.

"You were compelled to pursue it. You had to," Handy said.

She climbed over brick and wood after a demolition crew tearing down Hylton Hall told her they found a vault in the basement.

It was the administration building for Dan River Mills and already a place full of memories. The building burned nearly two years ago.

"Everything was packed, and the first thing was, 'oh my gosh there's so much', and the second thing was, 'we're going to be breathing in this mold,'" Handy said.

It's creepy, dark, and damp, but packed full of receipts, payroll, bank statements, and records of Dan River Incorporated and Riverside Mills dating back to December 1888.

A woman told Handy six months ago about the records but she didn't know where to find them, until now.

"Historically speaking, you couldn't put a value on it," Handy said.

Handy and other volunteers are carefully removing more than 100 record books and stacking them in the Schoolfield Museum and Cultural Center two blocks away.

Pages of handwritten notes bring to life another world, 125 years ago. In the payroll book from 1888, one employee earned $4.11 after working 11 days.

A book from the early 1900's, already on display, shows shareholders investing tens of thousands of dollars into the company.

"I don't think they would have invested the first penny if they didn't think there was a future in it," Handy said.

Record keepers sometimes filled books nearly eight inches thick.

That isn't much of a shock coming from company that was once the largest textile producer in the world and believed to have hired up to 18 thousand people at one time.

The Schoolfield Museum is planning to build a library for all the books and put some of them on display.

Carol Handy says it's going to be a multi-year project.