Broken bricks lie scattered on the ground, remnants of silver metal air vents screech, sending a chill down the spine, and shards of glass fill the once-used path leading to a place that is now burned rubble and memories.
One can almost feel the loss and emotion of the abandoned place. It’s the certain kind of place that exudes feeling.
Gazing through the rubble, there’s a building in the back, or what’s left of it, approximately half a mile from the start of the concrete staircase, which leads to the first building that welcomes the visitor to what used to be.
From first glance, the first building seems to be normal, some shattered windows and warped vents from the heat of the fire. When walking to the side, one can see this building is cut in half, a distinct scar of the damage done. This place was once filled with the hustle and bustle of people, and it was a place that even some called home.
Born Christmas Day of 1939, Jane Worthington lived in the Pepperell Mill Village for the first 19 years of her life. She even wrote a 79-page book about it — “A Village Not Forgotten: Pepperell Mill Village, Pepperell Manufacturing Company, Opelika, Alabama: Mill History, 1926-1960.”
The Pepperell Mill was a cotton gin constructed back in the ‘20s, according to Worthington. She said the 400-acre land was approximately 2 miles from Opelika and bordered between the main lines of the Central of Georgia Railway to the north and the Western Railway of Alabama to the south.
“During the years that I went to Pepperell School, the nine years, I didn’t know anybody outside of the village,” Worthington said.
In 2005, she took over a historic website of the mill, which included first-hand accounts of memories shared in the village.
This place wasn’t just a mill. It was a place where people grew up.
According to the website, there was a school, town shops and the old mill recreation department, where the two most popular activities were square dancing and football.
Worthington said there was also a community center up the road at what they called the “old mill,” so most social activities of the village were held in the school building. A post office, drug store and beauty parlor were also in the village, according to Worthington. The mill stopped running in 2007.
“(1926–60) was the golden years of the mill,” Worthington said. “And then when it was changed, it was just never the same again.”
These memories still live on, but the mill does not. It was Tuesday night, March 12, 2013, when Reid Pope and his wife were shopping in Tiger Town.
On the way home, they saw a big ball of black smoke billowing up from the mill area. At first, Pope said he didn’t know what it was.
When they arrived there, Pope said they pulled into a parking lot near Pepperell Baptist Church and watched as the flames licked all the way up the building, enveloping them in a fiery haze.
Pope said they arrived after the Opelika Fire Department, and they weren’t the only ones. He said there were many curious people gathered to see what was happening to the mill, including Worthington.
She said she received a call at 8 p.m., and she immediately came to stand outside and watch it burn for two to three hours.
“It was just kind of unreal,” Worthington said. “There was absolutely no smoke in the village. Smoke was blowing the other way, and there was no smoke at all in the village. And, believe me, there was a lot of smoke from that thing. It was really weird the way (the fire) just kind of crept across the top of the building away from one end to the other.”
Three years later, bulldozers, trucks and mounds of dirt are slightly visible to the far right of the mill property. Pope said there were plans to renovate the mill before its smoke-choking demise.
Lori Huguley, director of economic development with the city of Opelika, said a farmers market and doctor’s office will fill the area.
Huguley said the property is privately owned, and there hasn’t been any new updates on the books.