Arts Visual Arts

The Art of Abandonment: Henry River Mill Village

Henry River Mill village. Walter Arnold, artist

For the past 12 years, photographer Walter Arnold has traveled the country creating The Art of Abandonment, a photographic series documenting our nation’s abandoned historic places. Henry River Mill Village, just outside Hickory, is a unique part of that series. The village was established in 1902 for the production of cotton yarn to be used for lace. In 2011, it was used as the location for District 12 in the movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

“The scale of the place is quite significant,” says Arnold. “And while many of the houses within it are deteriorating, they offer a relatively unaltered example of an early 20th-century rural mill village.”

Henry River Mill village. Walter Arnold, artist

Twenty of the original 35 houses still stand on the 72-acre site, along with a two-story brick company store. In 1977, the main mill building burned to the ground after a believed lightning strike. Despite this, the community remained for decades, with the last residents relocating in the late ‘90s or early 2000s.

In 2017, Calvin and Melissa Reyes purchased Henry River Mill Village and began preserving, restoring and educating. People from all over the country visit to learn, explore and even spend the night in a restored millhouse.

“Many of the locations that I photograph are off-limits, or dangerous to explore, but Henry River Mill Village is an exception to that,” says Arnold. “As a whole, it is a beautiful piece of history that one can easily explore to learn and appreciate the decaying beauty that my photographic series strives to capture and preserve.”

Arnold’s photographs of Henry River Mill Village can be viewed at his gallery in the River Arts District or online at Other works from his Art of Abandonment series are on display in galleries including Woolworth Walk, in Asheville; Blue Moon Gallery, in Brevard; and Art on 7th, in Hendersonville.

“The way Walter paints with colors and light is truly incredible, and I find it difficult not to have an emotional connection to each of his photos and the stories that they tell,” says Calvin Reyes. “He gets that the real story of abandoned places like Henry River are everywhere, littered around, and right under your nose if you take the time to look.”

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