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Henry River alive - in 'Hunger Games'

Unpopulated former mill town is location for 'Hunger Games' - a post-apocalyptic film.

By Jeff Willhelm
jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com

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Streams across the Piedmont once powered mills, and with mills came mill towns. When times and industry changed, not all the communities survived.

Among them, southwest of Hickory, is Henry River. Population: 0.

Small, wooden homes - which housed the workers of Henry River Manufacturing and their families - still line the road through town. Perhaps 20 houses, built in the early 1900s, when the town was new, are left.

The brick company store also remains, as does the dam that powered the mill.

The factory, which manufactured yarn, closed in the late 1960s, and its citizens drifted away. The company town was bought in 1976 by Wade Shepherd, who had hopes of reviving the mill.

But the mill itself was destroyed in a fire the following year, and the dam's generator was later ruined in the wake of Hurricane Hugo.

Henry River today is a faltered dream wrapped in dust and ivy, its rotting, wood-frame dwellings and outhouses now dwarfed by grown trees. The village, quiet except for the rustle of falling leaves, has a wistful appearance - rooms with shards of wallpaper, stray mill spools and rusted machinery.

Shepherd, now in his 80s, still owns the 76-acre site, which is ringed by "no trespassing" signs. Police routinely check for interlopers.

While you're not allowed to visit Henry River, you soon will be able to see it: "The Hunger Games," a novel-based, science-fiction film about life in a post-apocalyptic America will be released in the spring. A good bit of the film was shot in the North Carolina foothills, and Henry River is the location of "District 12," where the story begins.

While filming was under way this summer, people walked the streets of Henry River, and clothing again hung from wash lines.

Now the site is still once more.

And it is minus one house, which was destroyed, as part of the plot, in one of the scenes. The home was once the home of Bud Rudisill, one of the last Henry River residents to leave.

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