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Former Blue Bell Plant Added to National Register of Historic Places

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Once considered an American denim capital, Greensboro, N.C. is honoring its Made in USA manufacturing past.

The former Blue Bell plant, whose credits include manufacturing suspender-back denim overalls in the 1920s and garments for the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1902 and doubled in size a year later, the plant was originally home to the Lenoir Cotton Mill. According to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDCR), the mill remained the largest of the area’s seven textile mills through the early 1920s and employed approximately 200.

NCDCR describes the factory as displaying “typical characteristics of early twentieth-century industrial architecture, including load-bearing brick walls, segmental-arched window and door openings, and heavy timber framing on the interior.”

In 1927, the plant became the Greensboro-headquarters for Blue Bell Inc., a manufacturing company specializing in denim overalls, and was expanded to include retail and military apparel production.

During this period, the Greensboro News and Record reports that the plant employed about 1,600 people—mostly women—and helped produce more than 24 million military garments including khaki dress shirts, pants and jackets for the U.S. Army and white jackets, trousers and jeans for the U.S. Navy.

In 1943, the firm acquired Casey Jones Company, a workwear manufacturer and original owner of the Wrangler brand. Several decades later in 1986, Blue Bell merged with VF Corporation, making VF one of the two largest jeans makers in the world at the time.

Just five years later, the property was sold and transformed into offices for small businesses.

Greensboro has a rich denim history and it remains the headquarters for Kontoor Brands, VF Corp.’s denim spin-off.

The city was home to Cone Denim’s iconic White Oak Mill, where Made in USA selvedge denim was produced for more than 100 years before it shutdown in 2017. The same year, the now Kontoor Brands-owned Wrangler payed homage to its local heritage with the 27406 collection. Made with White Oak fabrics, the collection was named after the zip code both companies share.

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