Weldon, North Carolina
Weldon is a small, former manufacturing town that is adjacent to the much larger Roanoke Rapids. Weldon was an important location in North Carolina's and the South's industrial and transportation history but doesn't seem to be widely known or visited. It was the site of the lower terminus of the Roanoke Canal which was one of the only navigation canals ever built in the South. The canal was completed in 1823 and used for travel to Virginia until railroads effectively replaced it in the late 1830s. The canal bypassed some 8 miles of rapids on the Roanoke river. In the 1880s and 90s the canal was repurposed to provide power to mills being built in both Weldon and Roanoke Rapids. The Weldon Corn/Grist Mill pictured above and the Weldon Cotton mill, below, were among them. Sections of the Roanoke Canal are still visible and there is a small museum in Roanoke Rapids devoted to preserving its history.
Weldon was eclipsed by its larger neighbor in the 1900s when several massive textile mills were built in Roanoke Rapids. The mills in Weldon closed in the Great Depression or shortly after and the town languished in the shadow of its neighbor for the rest of the 20th century. Weldon, which had been on the main north-south highway was by-passed by Interstate 95 in 1964. Weldon's population peaked at a little over 2,300 in 1930 and 1940 and declined to a low of 1,374 in 2000. Its population has recently started to rebound. The Weldon Textile Mill has been converted into a small shopping center. The grist mill (below) has been renovated and other efforts are being made to preserve and promote Weldon's history. Downtown Weldon is still largely empty but is well preserved and has potential. The path of the Roanoke Canal is being developed as a walking/biking trail.