For decades, the bright reddish-orange neon “Home of Dan River Fabrics” sign graced the roof of the White Mill. It signaled a homecoming for Danville residents and an invitation to stay for passersby. Today a portion of that sign is visible on the corner of Union and Main Streets, displaying “HOME” in the same cheerful color. This single heartwarming word carries deep significance for a town whose history has shifted throughout the years.
The History of the “HOME” Sign
“The Home of Dan River Fabrics” lit up the Dan River from atop Mill Number 8 for over 60 years. When the textile and tobacco industries took a hit, many people lost their jobs. Despite this, Dan River Inc. remained open for some time, and the sign kept the town’s pride alive. The letters went beyond just being a designation of Dan River Fabrics to a reminder that Danville was home no matter what. Sarah Latham, president of the Danville Historical Society, described the importance of seeing the original sign as “a feeling and deep-seated emotion about being welcomed back to the city.”
In 2006, Dan River Inc. went bankrupt, and the sign was sold for salvage in 2007. With the initial loss of the textile and tobacco industries, combined with the loss of the letters, “people felt that the heart of Danville had been ripped out,” said Sonja Ingram, former president of the Danville Historical Society. So, the people of Danville worked to “bring back the memory of Danville,” she said. Through collaborative efforts, the Danville Historical Society was able to save the sign.
Preservation and Transformation of the “HOME” Sign
Dan River Inc. sold the sign. That easily could have been the last time Danville’s residents ever saw it – until two members of the society stepped up and purchased the sign from a man who was in the process of removing the giant letters from the mill building. Another society member stored the sign in her warehouse.
“Now [the sign’s letters] were housed in a large old tobacco warehouse with the historical society,” said Latham.
While the society considered ways to restore it and make “Home of Dan River Fabrics” available to the public again, it made an agreement with a local business to display a single letter accompanied by information about the sign. But after another Danville resident’s intervention, the momentum to restore the old sign accelerated.
In 2015, historian Dr. Ina Dixon approached the historical society. “Ina had an idea to reuse the letters,” Ingram explained. “We worked together on a $15,000 grant and worked with a company to rewire the sign and letters.” The funding was provided by the Danville Regional Foundation’s “Make It Happen Grant,” allowing the society to remount the word “HOME” from the original sign.
A New Home for “HOME”
The letters received a welcoming reception when they were temporarily mounted at Ballou Park for the Christmas Festival of Lights competition in 2015. “No, we didn’t win,” laughed Ingram, “but people love the sign. It reflects home for Danville.”
Residents of Danville have embraced the sign and found new ways to integrate it into the city’s traditions. It is the subject of local art and photos. There are postcards and t-shirts at the welcome center, as well as stickers, masks, and water bottles that feature “HOME.” Sheriffs’ arm badges sport it, and it even showed up in a Danville-inspired Monopoly game. The Danville Historical Society made the sign the subject of its first Christmas ornament. Ingram calls the neon letters, “a commemoration of art and historical presentation.”
The Sign’s Future
Since the sign has taken the role of artwork, there are still efforts to restore the letters to their original location. Ingram said she agrees with these efforts. “I hope the historical society can use more of the sign or have the sign on a revitalized mill,” she said. Since the old White Mill is currently being renovated into retail and residential space, it potentially brings a new opportunity for what can be done with the remainder of the sign.
Latham said, “There’s community engagement around preserving the sign. The sign speaks to people.” Whatever may ultimately happen, the Danville Historical Society is proud to protect and store the gigantic letters that formed the historic sign and delighted to have been instrumental in making “HOME” an iconic symbol of Danville’s reimagined future.
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