It is difficult to imagine a time long ago when textile mill towns began to spring up all across the southeast. What we fail to realize is just how different life really was 80 years ago. These small villages were the entire world - the entire universe for many local residents. They could only dream of traveling to foreign lands, or even vacationing in nearby places. For many, they would spend their lives within the constraints of the town's borders.
In 1937, photographer and filmmaker, Herbert Lee Waters, toured the south filming people in these small towns during their daily activities. Most of the town's residents had never seen a "moving picture," and had certainly never seen themselves in movies. Mr. Waters would spend a period of time filming, editing, and preparing his short movies for showing in the town's movie theater. Much excitement would build throughout the town he was visiting due to the prospect of citizens having the chance to possibly see themselves on the "big screen."
Waters was born in Caroleen, just a few miles away from the mill village of Cliffside. The film below shows the town of Cliffside in 1937. Many of the mill workers donning their overalls and caps can be seen coming and going from work, and resting on the stoop of the mill entrance. During his lifetime, Mr. Waters created over 250 short films, leaving us a treasure trove of history. The town of Cliffside was a vibrant, bustling town--the entire world to many who lived there. In just a few short decades, the slow-moving Main Street was bypassed with a swiftly moving highway. This shifted traffic away from the town. Coupled with the decline of textiles in the late 1990’s, only remnants of this town survive today. No longer do the workers congregate to exchange stories of their work day, no longer do rows of T-Models line the streets in front of the company store, and no longer does the giant of a textile mill still stand; but where it's dark evening shadows once lived, the spirit of Cliffside remains.