How the Hunger Games Could Resurrect a North Carolina Ghost Town

 

In the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina lie the remains of the Henry River Mill Village. Overgrown weeds and crumbling buildings may be a far cry from a once-thriving community, but they make the perfect setting for a post-apocalyptic world where teens are drafted by lottery to fight to the death.

Upon seeing the hydropower potential of Henry River, Michael Erastus Rudisill established the town in 1904. At its height, the settlement, located near Hildebran, was completely self-sustained: not only was electricity generated by the dam and mill, but the town ran a company store, school and church – and even minted its own currency. Most people worked at the mill and lived in clapboard houses the company set up and leased for nominal fees.

 

 

However, Henry River was not without its downsides. People worked twelve-hour shifts involving backbreaking labor. When not working, the townsfolk found release in tending their gardens and livestock, square dancing, games of baseball, or drinking homemade moonshine. The mill was shut down in 1973 and residents moved elsewhere to seek work. In 1976 Wade Shepherd purchased the mill with plans to open it for business, but it burned down within a year.

 

 

However, Henry River was not without its downsides. People worked twelve-hour shifts involving backbreaking labor. When not working, the townsfolk found release in tending their gardens and livestock, square dancing, games of baseball, or drinking homemade moonshine. The mill was shut down in 1973 and residents moved elsewhere to seek work. In 1976 Wade Shepherd purchased the mill with plans to open it for business, but it burned down within a year.

 

 

The North Carolina Division of Tourism and Burke County have been making efforts to preserve Henry River and draw visitors, including getting it added to the National Register of Historic Places. Now, though, tourists are flocking to the area because the 2012 movie The Hunger Games was filmed entirely in North Carolina. Henry River was the site of District 12, notably the Mellark family bakery (the company store) and the Everdeens’ shanty.

Back in the real world, Wade Shepherd still owns the place, keeping a close eye on his property – and a man carrying a gun described as the caretaker has apparently confronted people, warning them against trespassing. For now, Shepherd, as well as the local sheriff’s department and private security guards, are more likely to be seen shooing people away for safety reasons, making sure nobody gets accidentally hurt. Perhaps they’ll rethink, however, after being bombarded by hoards of curious movie fans. Many of the buildings are visible from the road, and Henry River’s history is told at Hildebran Heritage Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted on April 23, 2012, in Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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