Abandoned Henry River Mill Village – Hildebran, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura
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Hildebran, North Carolina

Abandoned Henry River Mill Village

An abandoned village that doubled as "The Hunger Games"' post-apocalyptic wasteland is up for grabs. 

Western ghost towns get all the attention. Tourists flock to the dusty remnants of mining towns left over from the peak of the Gold Rush era, now abandoned but still filled with iconic tumbleweeds and horse troughs, hoping to soak in a little of the Old West. But there was another financial boom in the early 1900s; one that that eventually left just as many abandoned villages in its wake: the Industrial Revolution.

As new methods of manufacturing and automation swept the northeastern United States like wildfire, tiny towns and villages sprung up along rivers and shipping ports, attracted to easy transportation and the unlimited (and free) power the steady flow of a river could provide. Thus the mill town was born, with the quaint image of a riverside factory attached to a giant waterwheel—just as iconic as any horse-drawn carriage—serving as its crown jewel.

The Henry River Mill Village was just one such town.

The mill 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 ghost 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 big wigs 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.

One wonders, though. After the fandemonium calms down, and Henry River Mill Village turns back into a metaphorical pumpkin of a town, what then?

As more and more people traveled to explore this ghost town after it was pushed into the limelight, something more insidious has been illuminated as well. The town has always been rumored to have been haunted from the time it was originally abandoned in 1973, but few people had experienced or documented anything to support these claims. As people begin to come forward with various stories of their trips to the abandoned village one can’t help but notice striking parallels between the stories. 

Almost every documented story has occurred late at night. One occurrence that people have experienced that seems rather unexplainable is the throwing of things from the largest and first building in the village. When people approach the perimeter of this building something is thrown from the inside of the building down towards the ground, usually a rock, stick, or some other small object. This phenomenon seems as if it could be explained relatively easily, however the house has been locked at every entrance point for a number of years leaving it uninhabited. 

A second occurrence that people have experienced has caused several people to promptly call the police. If you walk all the way down to the end of the asphalt road on the right side of the town you will find a second road on the right and a subsequently smaller more vegetative path on the left leading down to the damn and the riverside. Many people have walked down that path at night only to hear the voices of multiple men talking to each other indistinctly.

One would think that when a person would hear something like that in the middle of the night that they would run from the area, but a few people didn’t do that just yet. If you continue down the path towards the voices, it is said that you can see three of the original mill’s workers having a conversation. A few stories have said that if you stand there for long enough spying on the men then they will eventually all turn towards you and stare at you with large grins on their faces that will make your blood run cold. 

No person has yet to get photographic evidence of either of these paranormal phenomenons to either prove or discount the many stories. 

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 the price of $15 per person.