Bynum, North Carolina
Rural Gentrification and Suburbanization

Bynum, North Carolina is an easy place to miss if you don’t know where you are going. There is one little state road sign on 15-501 South that points the way. The small mill village is located approximately 8 miles south of Chapel Hill and 4 miles north of Pittsboro in Chatham County. With its “close-but-far” proximity to Chapel Hill and the Research Triangle Park, this quaint community has become the perfect target for rural gentrification.

Introduction to Bynum

The commonly accepted territory of Bynum includes the area immediately off of Bynum Road. The town grew up around the mill, which was set on the Haw River. The mill would later become the sight of the Bynum Manufacturing Company, established in 1872 to make cotton goods (Hadley: 1971). Originally, the company built 14 cotton mill houses available for rent to its employees (Eventually that number increased to 38). As the mill grew, the town grew and became a vibrant community. In the 1930’s there were five stores, a movie theater, and a high school in Bynum. As one native Bynum resident said, “You never had to leave Bynum at all back then. Everything you needed was walking distance” (interview: 2003).

Today, Bynum is much different. The mill is gone; closed down and burnt out. New houses have been added to the landscape. The only store that remains in town is the Bynum General Store which also serves as a post office and social gathering space. And the native residents of Bynum are disappearing.

Rural Gentrification

As with urban gentrification, rural gentrification begins with an area in decline. This decline is both economic and aesthetic. In the case of Bynum, the decline was the closing of the mill. This forced some people to leave the community which opened up vacancies for new people to move in. The company sold off the houses, but due to the company credit system, many of the native residents were too poor to purchase the houses in which they had lived their entire lives. Attracted to Bynum by the low property values and its quaint, down-home feel, new people quickly bought up the properties and the process of rural gentrification in Bynum came into full swing.

The gentrification of Bynum has both proponents and opponents. But regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is clear that the effects of gentrification have changed Bynum’s, physical, economic, social, and cultural landscape.