Members of Danville City Council. Photo by Grace Mamon.
Members of Danville City Council. Photo by Grace Mamon.

What has been known as the White Mill in Danville will now be called Dan River Falls, Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones announced at a groundbreaking ceremony today for the $85 million project to rehabilitate the massive riverfront building. 

Once transformed, the 550,000-square-foot building will have about 150,000 square feet of commercial space and 150 apartments. (For more renderings of what the project will look like, see this background story.)

Artist’s rendering of the White Mill. Courtesy of REDgraphx.

The name “White Mill” was used as a moniker after the site was abandoned and adjacent mill buildings were demolished, Jones said at the ceremony. 

“Rather than clinging to the name White Mill, we celebrate the site’s history along the Dan River and look toward its future,” he said. 

The name “Dan River Falls” is a nod to Dan River Fabrics, the textile industry that was once a critical component of Danville’s economy and operated many mills in the city, including the White Mill. 

The name came from suggestions from community members and people who worked at the mill, Jones said in an interview after the ceremony. 

Randy Henrick, Jr., a former employee at the White Mill, spoke during the ceremony.  Photo by Grace Mamon.

The ceremony was open to the public, and several former Dan River Mills employees attended. One, Randy Henrick, Jr., who began working at the White Mill when he was 15 years old, spoke during the event. 

“It gives me great pleasure that this building is going to remain standing and see a new life, not only as a useful part of Danville, but also as a tribute to Dan River [Mills],” Henrick said. 

His father, mother and uncle all worked at the White Mill as well, as was the case with many families in Danville during the mill’s heyday. 

“Dan River salaries housed, fed, clothed and educated multiple generations of Danvillians for over a century,” Henrick said. 

He was “heartbroken” when the mill officially closed in 2006, Henrick said in an interview after the ceremony. But “it makes my heart swell to know that this building is going to live on to serve Danville and be a tribute to Dan River [Mills].”

Also at the ceremony were members of the Alexander Company, a Wisconsin-based real estate developer that worked with Danville’s Industrial Development Authority in a public-private partnership on this project. 

Joe Alexander, president of the Alexander Company, spoke about how the project began with a tweet from City Councilmember Lee Vogler in 2018. 

“We had finished up a project in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I don’t know how these things work, but I was told we got a tweet from this guy named Lee Vogler in someplace called Danville, Virginia, and they’ve got this gargantuan building that they want us to come take a look at,” Alexander said. “I said, that sounds a little nuts.”

But he said he “quickly came to believe in Danville” after visiting. 

Diana Schwartz, executive director of the River District Association, also spoke about the significance of the White Mills restoration on the adjacent River District in Danville. 

“This project is a major contribution to one of the most powerful stories in downtown revitalization in the United States of America,” she said, adding that its completion will boost civic self-esteem and pride in the community.

And Jones said that the new name, Dan River Falls, is a signal that this building is moving out of the past into the future. 

“The monumental redevelopment effort that we celebrate today is injecting new energy and investment into a site that was left behind,” he said.

From left to right are Julie Langan, of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Diana Schwartz, executive director of the River District Association, Alonzo Jones, mayor of Danville, Neal Morris, chairman of the Industrial Development Authority, Joe Alexander, president of the Alexander Company, Ken Larking, Danville city manager, Randy Henrick, Jr., former Dan River Mills employee, and David Glassman, with the Virginia Housing Development Authority. Photo by Grace Mamon.

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.