Couple invests in Saxapahaw buildings, people
If you’re driving down N.C. 87 from Elon, don’t blink, or you might miss the charming village of Saxapahaw.
Located along the banks of the Haw River, between Burlington and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, around sixteen hundred people call it home.
Centered around what was once a run down mill is now being given new life there are those who are committed to its restoration, including Heather LaGarde.
“It’s stuck in my mind as the beautiful faraway magical river place you know,” LaGarde said.
After growing up in the area, Heather and her husband Tom, a former NBA player who played college ball in the state moved to Saxapahaw from New York in 2004 with their two young children to start a new life.
“Loving the beautifulness of this just the physical part of Saxapahaw which is a river-based tiny historic village and beautiful. I just fell in love with it and I am often accused of being in love with a village and I am in love with a village. I love this place,” LaGarde said.
Walking around with her and you’ll see, people love her too, but she said she’s no celebrity.
“No! I’m really not. If you were walking around with anybody in Saxapahaw you would see that everybody loves each other like that like I love that in this town more people blow kisses than wave and they do,” LaGarde said.
Her friendliness and maternal nature are not her only claim to fame, but rather her and Tom’s commitment to rebuild Saxapahaw.
First it started with her and Tom’s love of collecting of antiques and architecture from the old mill days. Then, she and Tom stumbled on an old dye room in the cotton mill.
“Wow that place is just decrepit what will they ever do with that place,” she remembered.
But in 2011 that decrepit place was restored and opened as The Haw River Ballroom, a now popular venue for concerts and other events. She and Tom also installed a corner coffee shop by day and ballroom by night for concerts and events.
LaGarde didn’t tell ELN the exact cost, saying it’s a complicated matter with Alamance County, but did say, “It was very expensive to do this and it was all out of philanthropic love.”
Due to the high costs of continuing to run the place, both she and Tom hold day jobs. Still, Heather LaGarde is avidly continuing to seek creative ways to help visiting artist who come play at the Ballroom.
“We use a big swan bucket to collect the money and I’m better known as the Swan Lady, than Heather, by many, many people. And I love that,” LaGarde said.
So while she may shy away from being called a celebrity, she will gladly be known simply as “the Swan Lady.”