Lanny Hartsoe strolled through the old Warlong Building in Conover Station on Wednesday with a smile on his face. He looked up, then down and closely observed the building he worked in for 24 years.
“I reckon your office is gone, Sam,” he said to one of his former colleagues.
Hartsoe was one of about 10 former Broyhill Furniture employees to tour the newly renovated Warlong Building.
The men, ranging from supervisors to security officers, spent many years inside the manufacturing warehouse making seats and upholstery. That’s why the city wanted to give the retired workers a first look at the revitalized building, said Conover Mayor Lee Moritz.
“We wanted to get the folks in here first that made this building hum and made the manufacturing business what it was,” Moritz said.
Major infrastructure renovation to the Warlong Building is complete, and the building’s first tenant will begin business in three weeks. The building originally housed Warlong Glove, but most citizens remember it for Broyhill Furniture, which also occupied the building for half a century.
Conover has worked on the Warlong Building since the city bought the property more than five years ago. It is not a complete renovation project, Duncan said, but rather an opportunity to re-use and design an old building for the long haul.
“We didn’t change what the building gave us, we just re-used it,” Duncan said. “You have to work with what the building gives you. We want to take a building that’s been here for 100 years and design it to be around another 100 years.”
In addition to a library on the third floor, the three-story building will house a community room, Greenway Transit Authority administrative offices, a coffee bar and an outdoor patio with tables for visitors. In addition, Duncan said the N.C. Department of Transportation purchased a portion of the second floor, where Conover hopes to start a train depot.
With all the changes to the new, yet old, building, former employees like Hartsoe were confused.
“I’m amazed with what they have done. I walked this building for 24 years, and I can’t tell where I’m at,” Hartsoe said, adding that he was a supervisor in the upholstery department when he worked at the plant.
Years ago at the plant, Hartsoe said the building was buzzing.
“Everyone did their job and you didn’t have any problems,” he said. “Everyone stayed busy.”
Retired Broyhill workers like Jones Colson, 96, said the Broyhill family was a good employer. Colson, who worked at the plant for 31 years, retired as a supervisor.
“They were wonderful people to work for,” Colson said. “Ed Broyhill would go around and shake everyone’s hand, and greet the workers.”
Graham Richard, who worked at Broyhill for nearly 52 years, agreed with Colson.
“I tell people Broyhill was the best company I ever worked for,” Richard said, adding that Broyhill was the only company he ever worked for. He said he started working at Broyhill after getting out of the Army in 1954.
“If you hadn’t been around, you wouldn’t even recognize the building now,” he said.
Ralph Davis worked at Broyhill from 1950 to 1989. On Wednesday, he laughed and swapped stories with Richard about gossip from the 1950s and 60s.
“I always tell people the Broyhills have been patient with me,” Davis said, adding that he started in the cabinet room, then was shifted to the machine room, then was shifted back to the cabinet room, then to sanding, then to pre-assembly, then back to sanding. “They were patient with me and moved me around trying to find something I was good at.”
Davis was in charge of sanding when he left.
“I worked under four plant managers while I was there. I never had any trouble with any of them.”
Davis, who now lives in Vale, said workers often commended him for never missing a day of work. He traveled 20 miles to work some days while other workers lived close by, but he said an income was necessary for survival.
“When you’ve got children in school and bills you got to pay, you have got to keep the money coming in,” he said.
For more information on the Warlong Building or Conover Station, visit conoverstation.com.