The Strange household is representative of the population migration made by many southern whites from Appalachian regions to mill towns across the South. The Stranges did not move from a nearby North Carolina county, however, but from Jefferson County, Tennessee, across the Smoky Mountains from Gastonia. Often these families chose to relocate in order to take advantage of financial opportunities. Workers at the Loray Mill were not paid very much, but it was likely more than many families were able to make farming the rocky soil of the Appalachian South.
In 1920, the Strange family rented a home at 306 South King Street in the Loray Mill village, four blocks from the mill itself and near other families from Tennessee. Their house must have been crowded. George lived in the home with his wife Martha and their seven children: Sanders, Susie, Viny, Cara, Easie, Ida Bell, and Sarah. Such a large family needed a significant amount of income to survive. Sanders, Susy, and Viny all worked as spinners in the mill, while George’s occupation according to the 1920 census was “placing machinery.” This description likely meant he was tasked with assisting in the mill’s ongoing expansion following its purchase by the Manville-Jenckes company in 1919. To increase production, the mill’s new owners constructed a six-story wing to house more textile machinery, so George probably labored to maneuver new spinning machines into place in the new wing.
George Strange was born in January 1869 in Jefferson County, Tennessee, the second child of John and Jane Strange. John was a farmer, and George grew up laboring alongside his father and brothers on their family farm instead of attending school. George married Minnie Cody on December 3, 1893, and over the next five years, the young couple had two daughters, Roena and Lucy. Minnie had passed away by 1900, however, and George remarried in 1902 to Martha Hale, George’s neighbor in Jefferson County. Martha would give birth to seven children by 1916 before the family moved to Gastonia. Lucy and Roena remained behind in Tennessee with their two husbands. Roena had married Mitchel Rinehart in 1910, and Lucy wedded Tossie Snapp in 1919.
The Strange family did not reside for long in Gastonia. According to the 1923-24 Gastonia City Directory, the family had moved from King Street to 808 West Main Avenue, with George working as a carpenter and several children employed at the Trenton Mill. By 1928, however, they were back in Tennessee, this time residing in Cocke County, near the Jefferson County line. According to the 1930 census, George once again owned a farm, but he and his daughters did not focus solely on agricultural work. With the exception of Martha, all of the Strange family worked in a local cotton mill, certainly a result of their prior experience in the Loray and Trenton Mills. George worked as a miller, Easie as a miller keeper, Viny and Ida Belle as spinners, and even the youngest child Sarah was a helper. In 1935, George died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Martha soon remarried, and the children had gone their separate ways by 1940.
Although George, Martha, and their daughters moved away, the Strange family continued to have ties to Gaston County. While he lived in Gastonia, Sanders Strange married Lula Cash. Lula immigrated to Gastonia from York County, South Carolina, with her widowed father Joseph sometime between 1920 and 1923. Lula and Sanders likely moved to Tennessee with the rest of the Strange family, but Lula returned to Gastonia after Sanders’ death in 1928 of typhoid fever and worked as a spooler in the Trenton Mill. Roena and Lucy, George’s daughters from his first marriage would also make Gaston County home. By 1930, Roena, her husband, their children, and Lucy lived in the River Bend region of Gaston County and worked in a local cotton mill. Although they did not work at Loray, they anre another example of the migration of southern whites from the rural Appalachian South to mill communities in the surrounding area.