AUBURN —  It was the people, not the bricks or the oil-soaked floors, that made the Cowan Mill a special place for George Herrick Sr.

It’s almost all gone now, the people and the building.

A massive fire took away most of the structure Wednesday night. Time is taking away the people who powered the looms and filled the floors.

“They were really great people, hardworking and very kind,” Herrick said. “I didn’t have bad thing to say about any of them.”

Herrick, 93, worked as the third-shift supervisor in the Cowan Mill’s weaving room for five years beginning in 1950.

“I loved it,” he said Friday. “It was a great place to work, from top to bottom. My bosses were great, and so were the weavers.”

Herrick was driving back from Wal-Mart on Wednesday afternoon and didn’t realize the mill was burning until he’d arrived at his Barker Mill Arms apartment. He spoke with family and friends that night and drove past the burned-out hulk on Thursday.

It brought back plenty of memories, noises and sounds.

“When that picker ball came down and hit that picker shoe, wham!,” he said. “You never forget that. It was a lot of noise.”

He was hit twice by a shuttle flying out of the loom, once in the belly and once in the nose. The shuttle smashed the welder’s glasses he was wearing and left a permanent scar below his left eye, but no other damage.

The mill made fabric for clothing, mostly plaids, while he was there.

“It smelled like oil and bits of fabric,” he said. “It’s a unique smell. As soon as you smell that, you know you’re in a textile mill.”

Oil was everywhere, he said, dripping out of the machines and soaking deep into the floor. He figures that contributed to how fast the building burned.

“It’s a shame to lose an old building like that, with so much history,” he said. “It would have been better to save it, to put something up there.”

He left in 1955, reluctantly. He would have stayed longer, he said, but he learned that the building’s owners were planning to sell it and close the business. He found a job at a mill in Oxford just in time, before the weaving operation shut down.

He knew it was the right thing to do, but he missed the Cowan operation. He retired from weaving in 1967 and moved to North Carolina with his wife. He moved back to Auburn six years ago, to be closer to family and friends.

“Mainly, I missed the people,” he said.

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George Herrick, 93, of Auburn, remembers working in the Cowan Mill from 1950 to 1955 as a third-shift weaver supervisor. “I loved that place,” he said.


The Weaver


My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors he worketh steadily.


Oftimes he weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride,
forget he sees the uppers, and I the underside.


Not til the loom is silent and shuttles cease to fly
shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.


The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand
as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern he has planned.

— Author Unknown, from a card saved by George Herrick Sr., a former weaver at the Cowan Mill.



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