The Town of Mills River is still very much rural, but is expanding facilities with the official opening last week of both a new Ingles supermarket and tennis courts in the town park.
Mills River also is getting a brewery, and various road improvements.
Last Thursday, Ingles Markets Inc. opened its 204th and newest store at 3338 Boyleston Hwy (N.C. 280). This is the eighth Ingles in Henderson County.
The site is .8 of a mile west of where 280 rejoins N.C. 191, to head toward Hendersonville. It is near Asheville Regional Airport, the Henderson-Buncombe county line and Brevard.
“This is a great location,” Ingles Chief Financial Officer Ron Freeman told The Tribune. Chairman and CEO Robert P. “Bobby” Ingle II stated that “Ingles is very honored and proud to open this store, and be a part of the Mills River community.”
Area shoppers responded, in full force May 25. Doors opened at 6 a.m. The large lot was full of cars much of the day. At times people crowded around a French native who told about cheese-making, before handing out samples.
Familiar staffers include Jim Cartrette, frozen section supervisor. He worked at the “old Ingles,” off Spartanburg Highway near the Greenville Highway.
The newest Ingles has Ingles Gas Express, a pharmacy, café featuring pizza, subs and Asian food; large deli-bakery, organic food, and beer-wine section with locally-crafted brews. Beyond standard Ingles sales, the store had its own discounts such as on Blue Bell ice cream.
The store is of Ingles’ standard size, Freeman noted, but seems more spacious with an efficient new layout. It has custom dairy-display doors, and motion-activated lights in freezer and refrigerator cabinets. Other energy-savers such as skylights and “heat reclaim” earned Energy Star federal certification for efficient energy use design, Bobby Ingle noted. He stated the aim is to be “energy efficient, to be good stewards of our resources, and to hold down overhead costs to maintain low prices for our customers.” Bobby succeeded his father Bob Ingle, who died two years ago and founded the company 50 years back in Asheville.
Many locals said they are excited to get an Ingles nearby. Natives Sammy and Mary Brittain shop at nearby Food Lion, but often prefer Ingles. So they drove regularly to an Ingles in Fletcher and Hendersonville.
“We’ve been waiting our whole lives for an Ingles in Mills River,” Sammy, 74, said. He and Mary like Ingles’ meat and produce quality, product variety and discounts. They saw the new Ingles get gradually constructed, watching from across the road at the Quik Lube their son Gary Brittain runs. They have two great-grandchildren.
The Brittains are among Henderson County’s two dozen pioneering families settling here, earning land grants by serving as Patriot soldiers in the Revolution. The family has roots to county government and education. Their ancestor James Brittain II donated 10 acres for a log cabin school in 1797. This was merely10 years after the first recorded state land deed in Mills River. Residents built the school. It doubled as a Presbyterian church. David Haddon was a minister and its first-known teacher. The two-story Mills River Academy replaced the cabin in 1830.
The academy is also where Henderson County’s first governing board and court met, making Mills River an early county center. This was before a vote gave Main Street the nod for the official county seat, and courthouse site.
The school burned down in 1921. But, a year later, two-story Mills River School replaced it. Now a training center, it was recently renamed Mills River Academy to honor educational heritage. It was replaced as an elementary in 2009, by a new one on School House Road.
Less than a month ago, on April 7, the Henderson County History Initiative dedicated a stone monument to the original academy. Speakers included Drew Brannon, graduate of Mills River High’s final class (1960) before West Henderson High opened and also absorbed Balfour and Etowah high schools.
Town’s Ten Years, Tennis
Meanwhile, the Town of Mills River ‘s 10-year anniversary is June 23. “We are no longer just a rural farming community,” Mayor Roger Snyder stated in the latest town quarterly newsletter. “We are a town of some 6,622 persons. There is a five-lane highway that splits the Town in two, making easy access to a major interstate (I-26) and a regional airport. Mills River is one of the fastest growing areas in Western North Carolina. It is our desire to maintain the balance of our community, to protect our natural, historical and cultural resources and manage the growth of Mills River.”
Now, the Mills River Town Complex has two tennis hardcourts for free public use. Their estimated cost was $160,000, with $85,000 budgeted after councilman Wayne Carland donated $75,000. He runs Valley Ag Farm and Garden. Lights may go in later. For now, the courts and rest of the park are open from dawn to dusk.
Other park amenities are an often-busy playground, dog park, picnic pavilion, restrooms and two-mile walking trail. Flavor 1st donated $100,000 for three baseball fields, to go in later. A boat launch and fishing pier are also planned. Mills River Town Park opened a year ago, in April 2012. The town bought the 51 acres for $1.38 million five years ago, and matched a $499,323 state grant for the first phase, according to Town Manager Jaime Laughter.
The Town Hall and Library opened two summers ago, on the same site. It houses six offices and a council meeting chamber. Mayor Snyder said the library (phone: 890-1850) seeks old photos, books and other historical artifacts people might donate for display in the Mills River Room. The room is used for genealogical research.
Snyder also noted a left-turn lane will be built onto N.C. 191, for eastbound traffic entering Town Center Drive and the park and library.
Mills River got other infrastructure for Ingles and nearby sites, thanks to a $301,000 state grant . Semi-gravity sewer lines went in, from Hooper Lane and Jeffress Road to 280/191 and North Mills River Road. Ingles’ Freeman said the store met the grant’s condition, which at least originally was to create 33 jobs.
A craft brewery is going up this year as even bigger job provider in Mills River. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. plans on at least 125 jobs there. The Chico, Calif.-based firm chose the French Broad River site, for its lone, $107 million brewing-bottling facility in the East. A tasting room/music venue and restaurant are also planned, for 50 acres in Ferncliff Industrial Park off Old Fanning Bridge Road.
Starting this week, the state has closed Old Fanning Bridge Road at the corner of N.C. 280 to widen and improve the road for the brewery. The $1 million project includes adding a “roundabout” signal-less intersection flow, and streamlining turn lanes. Work and road closure are expected to last nearly two months, to June 21. Traffic will be detoured from 280 to Haywood Road (N.C. 191) then back to Old Fanning Bridge Road.