The Henry River Mill Village opened in 1905, and like so many gold-panning towns, the promise of jobs and prosperity followed. And it delivered.
Before long, the town grew to incorporate more than 20 buildings, supporting a population that worked almost exclusively at the mill, producing miles upon miles of fine yarn for half a century. But like any boom town, this one was destined to go bust.
As industry marched on, the mill town became less and less useful (as did, one must admit, having an abundance of yarn), and the Henry River Mill shut down in 1973. Even before that, the town had begun to die. People moved away. For work, for family—for a more thriving environment. Almost as a metaphor for its bygone era, the people supported the mill rather than the other way around, and when the people started to leave, the mill finally went under.
The town was finally abandoned in 1987 when its last resident left. All that now remains is a strikingly modern town from the industrial age. More curiously, it’s entirely owned by a single man. 83-year-old Wade Shepherd is a nearby resident, and now owns all 20 buildings in Henry River Mill Village proper. He bought them because he could, because why not, and because of safety—before he did, the village was becoming an unseemly place, attractive to vandals and rapscallions up to no good.
A brief breath of life came back to Henry River Mill Village in 2012 by way of fame and fortune—Hollywood thought the run-down village would serve as the perfect setting for the post-apocalyptic dystopia District 12 featured in the film The Hunger Games. The town was featured in several scenes, and briefly thereafter was descended upon by tourists and thrill-seekers, running tours, trails and sightseeing trips hoping to capitalize on the story’s monumental popularity.
Mr. Shepherd sees it as his chance to cut bait and pass the town on to different hands for the future. He’s put the entire town up for sale, and a cool $1.4 million will secure the town for a potential buyer.
Know Before You Go
Take I40 to Henry River Road (first exit in Burke County if you're heading west from Hickory) head south from there it will be right at the river. The land was recently sold to a tour company that conducts guided walks at a price of $15 per person.