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Water-Powered Mill

Water-Powered Mill

Early Water Powered Mills

The earliest mills in Vermont were powered by direct drive water wheels. From the earliest settlement through the early 19 th century, the water mills changed little. Small stone, brick, or timber frame buildings were located near small waterways, often in village centers but sometimes in remote locations. Often a loft door with a pulley was located on the upper story. The most distinguishing feature of the water mill is, of course, the water wheel. The large, wooden wheels turned with the current of the water and powered the mill. Dams were generally constructed to create mill ponds to store water, and the mill was often elevated onto a large stone foundation, allowing gravity to pull water over into the dam.

The water wheels are quite prominent in the two images below. Also notice the long, tunnel-like structure approaching the top of the wheel. Water passed through and spilled down onto the wheel to generate power.

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Vermont Historical Society

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Vermont State Archives

The water wheel is not visible, and may no longer be present, on this old mill. However, its location along the water, and its small, gable-roof construction characterize the structure as an old water mill.

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the University of Vermont Special Collections

Notice in the images below how the mills are elevated on walls of stone, allowing the use of gravity. The lower, concrete portion of the foundation in the top image is likely a 20 th century repair to the original structure. The image at the bottom is likely an early 19 th century structure, as it is larger than the typical 18 th century mill.

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Vermont State Archives

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program

The Watermill

A watermill is a structure that uses a water wheel to drive a mechanical process such as grinding flour, lumber or textile production, or metal shaping.

A water mill that generates electricity is usually called a hydroelectric power plant.

The first documented use of a water mill was in the first century BC and the technology spread quite quickly across the world.

Commercial mills were in use in Roman Britain and by the time of the Doomsday Book in the late 11th Century there were more than 6,000 water mills in England.

By the 16th Century waterpower was the most important source of motive power in Britain and Europe. The number of mills probably peaked at more than 20,000 mills by the 19th Century.

The Norman Conquest introduced the feudal system to the country and ‘soke rights’ forced everyone to have their corn milled at the mill owned by their Manorial Lord which stayed in use until as late as the 19th Century.

Although the “Right of Soke” was never written in law, it was commonly practised in Britain – and throughout Europe – until the 16th century, even after the country had moved away from feudalism.

With agricultural developments at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people began to move away from agriculture into other industries.

Rural water mills began to close down to be replaced by the large, industrial, port-based steam-powered mill and by the end of the 19th Century almost all rural watermills had ceased commercial production.

Water mills use the flow of water to turn a large water wheel. A shaft connected to the wheel axle is then used to transmit the power from the water through a system of gears and cogs to work machinery, such as a millstone to grind corn.

See the short video below showing a working gristmill in Bhutan.

Watermills are usually built beside streams or rivers to use them as a water supply. Very often these supplies were improved by the provision of mill races and weirs to help overcome the problems of different seasonal water levels. Many of the weirs seen on rivers today were originally built to help control water levels for watermills.

Usually power from the waterwheel was transferred to the inside of the mill by a shaft extending from the waterwheel axle which connected to a large gear wheel called the Pit Wheel (because half of it lies below the floor level of the mill, in a pit). Power was then turned through 90 degrees by bevel gears to turn a large vertically mounted shaft leading to the upper floor of the water mill.

At the lower level, this shaft drove a large Spur Wheel, which then provided power to turn the millstones. At the top of the shaft another large wheel, the Crown Wheel, was placed to drive other machinery in the mill, such as sack hoists.

Millwrights were highly skilled craftsmen who could work with wood and iron to build the complex working machinery of the mill.

There were many types of watermill. You will find the main types listed below:

  • Gristmills, or corn mills, grind grains into flour. These were undoubtedly the most common kind of mill.
  • Fulling or walk mills were used for a finishing process on cloth.
  • Sawmills cut timber into lumber.
  • Bark Mills stripped bark from trees or ground it to powder for use in tanneries.
  • Spoke mills turned lumber into spokes for carriage wheels.
  • Cotton mills were usually powered by a water wheel at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
  • Bobbin Mills made wooden bobbins for the cotton and other textile industries.
  • Carpet mills for making rugs were sometimes water-powered.
  • Textile mills for weaving cloth were sometimes water-powered.
  • Powder mills for making gunpowder - black powder or smokeless powder were usually water-powered.
  • Blast Furnaces, finery forges, and tinplate works were water powered. Furnaces and Forges were sometimes called iron mills.
  • Blade mills were used for sharpening newly made blades.
  • Slitting mills were used for slitting bars of iron into rods, which were then made into nails.
  • Rolling mills shaped metal by passing it between rollers.
  • Lead was usually smelted in smeltmills prior to the introduction of the cupola (a reverberatory furnace).
  • Paper mills used water not only for motive power, but also required it in large quantities in the manufacturing process.

By the early 20th century, the water wheel gave rise to the water turbine, and cheap electrical energy made the watermill obsolete in developed countries - although some smaller rural mills continued to operate commercially into the 1960s.

A few historic mills (for example, at the Wayside Inn -USA) still operate for demonstration purposes to this day, or even maintain small-scale commercial production as at Daniels Mill, Shropshire , Little Salkeld and Redbournbury Mill - all in the UK.

In some developing countries the watermill is still widely used for processing grain. There are approximately 25,000 operating in Nepal, and 200,000 in India.

Sash-type sawmills have been known for centuries starting in continental Europe in the 13th or 14th century, and were a feature of the New England landscape since the earliest years of European settlement—the first water-powered sawmills in New England were built near Berwick, Maine in the 1630s. In England, pit sawing by hand remained the predominate method of converting logs to lumber throughout the seventeenth century. In the American colonies, there was a shortage of labor, but hundreds of streams and rivers ripe for exploitation as power sources. In order to utilize the vast forests of the New World and supply the need for building materials in the growing country, sawmills (and other mills) were eventually built on nearly every source of moving water—by 1840 there were about 5,500 sawmills in New England, with nearly 700 in Connecticut alone.

Most of these sawmills were on small scale with a single saw, and were part of the local economy. On the large rivers of northern New England, especially Maine, however, sawmills with multiple or gang saws processed millions of feet of lumber annually both for shipment to major New England cities and for export.

Sawmill technology changed significantly and continually during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. In 1800, essentially all sawmills were of the sash-type, with the wooden building and structural components of the saw mechanism made locally by the millwright (excepting the steel saw blade, iron crank, and a few other parts). Through the nineteenth century, more sawmill parts began to be manufactured from iron and could be purchased from a mill supplier—for the 1870s-era Ledyard mill, this includes an iron water turbine, iron shafting and gears, and iron friction rods upon which the saw sash moves. A larger change in mill technology, however, was the use of circular, rather than straight, saw blades starting around 1830 by 1900 circular saws had replaced nearly all the sash sawmills. As these changes were occurring, the development of reliable and affordable steam engines resulted in the dominance of this power source by the early twentieth century—the use of steam power also allowed the development of portable circular sawmills which could be set up near the timber to be harvested.

Mill Hollow Heritage Association

Near the middle of the town of Alstead nature created a small gorge with brook running through and bed rock near the surface, an ideal location for the placement of mills. Less than a quarter mile upstream is a small lake, called by the first settlers, the Great Pond, which offered a steady supply of water. The length of the gorge proved sufficient for as many as five mills and their related buildings operating together, and these mills became the economic base for the small, but busy, industrial center known as Mill Hollow.

Settlement in Alstead by the English began in 1763. Agents for the proprietors of new towns not only allotted land to the settlers, but often worked to attract them by providing some of the services the new settlers would need. Among these were the first mills by which to provide lumber for building and grind grain for food. Timothy Delano, Alstead's agent, built two mills: the first a sawmill, about 1765, on his own land in Alstead Center and the second a gristmill in the gorge described above, about 1767, on Warren Brook in East Alstead.

Delano sold his grist mill only two years later to Israel Jones who made two improvements. He built a sawmill just below the gristmill and made a dam across the natural outlet of the Great Pond, raising the water level to increase the ready supply. Jones and all his successors in title would have the right to open the gate when necessary to run the mills. Only two years later, Jones sold all of the above to Simon Baxter. Baxter became Alstead's outstanding Tory, and had operated his mills only a few years before his lands and property were confiscated and he fled to Nova Scotia.

After the Revolution, Baxter's lands were purchased by Levi Warren. Warren built a large house overlooking the Pond, just above the mills, and ran it as a tavern. The spot was ideal for this, as it stood at the junction of two stage routes. A map of 1806 shows that his house overlooked a store and post office, a sawmill, a gristmill, a trip hammer, a carding mill and a fulling mill. The neighborhood was labeled Warren's Mills, although probably not all the mills belonged to him. A scattering of small farms dotted the countryside around.

Sheep farming developed in a big way in New Hampshire during the first 30 years of the 19th Century, providing a period of real prosperity. At its peak, Alstead had 6000 sheep, and many mills developed to aid in the processing of raw wool. No machine weaving was done in Mill Hollow, but carding, spinning and fulling all promoted the production of wool fabric.

Ezra Kidder began his milling career at the lower end of the gorge by building a mill in which to grind potatoes for the making of starch. He later enlarged the starch factory building to include a sawmill. Nearby he built a small spinning mill, notable then for making two threads at once. At the upper end of the gorge, he purchased the fulling mill opposite the gristmill and operated it for many years. Upstairs in the gristmill, Gideon Delano made hats from wheat straw early on, and later someone installed a carding machine there. These, together with Ezra Kidder's starch production, served to make Mill Hollow a real center for textile related industry. Ezra, identified as 'clothier' on deeds, built a substantial brick house overlooking the gorge where he and his wife, Calista, raised a large family.

For all these operations, falling water provided the power that turned the drums for carding, ran the mechanism for spinning and raised the hammers for pounding fabric (which together with washing constituted the 'fulling', or finishing, of cloth). Near the starch factory someone had a blacksmith shop, sometimes called wheelwright's shop, and water raised the great trip hammers used there. What the mills produced reflected the economic patterns of the developing country. As people became more settled their needs changed. As demands changed and mills changed hands, the goods produced often changed as well.

As the era of sheep farming subsided and transportation improved, the production of lumber and wood products for a wider market developed. Mill owners by the names of Banks, Messer and Kidder became prominent in Mill Hollow at this time. They operated next to each other, cheek by jowl, with no apparent attempt at harmony. In a setting where cooperation and working it out could only have benefited them all, spitefulness reigned.

Gardner Banks, in 1859, bought the old Jones sawmill and made improvements. Up until this time all sawmills in the area were of the up and down type. Banks replaced his with a new circular saw, which had come into use first in the 1840s. He replaced the water wheel with a new 30-inch turbine. At the same time he and his wife, Ella, living in the Levi Warren house, carried on some of the early tourist trade. They kept a popular picnic ground by the pond, by this time called Lake Warren, rented rowboats and stabled as many as thirty horses at once for the picnickers.

Frank Messer made wood products at the mill on the site of the original gristmill. He got out shingles, chair stock, dowels, bucket handles, sap spouts, moldings, etc., and made cider. In addition he and his wife, Nettie, carried on a tourist business in competition with Banks, just next door, in what was called the Cupola House.

Erastus Kidder, great nephew of Ezra, took over what had been Ezra's starch factory. Following Ezra, a Mr. Howard had converted this mill to the making of bobbins for use by weaving mills elsewhere. Next came Messer who made rakes. Erastus, or 'Rastus, and sometimes just “Rat,” now made shingles, lath, rakes and hardwood stock, and sawed and planed lumber. He was adept at maintaining mill machinery, doing work for other millers as well as his own. Upstairs in the mill were a machinist's lathe, planer and drill press, plus an anvil and forge for blacksmithing.

Kidder was a man of some mechanical genius and had many clever devices all through his mill. He invented a new kind of carriage for a shingle mill with an up-and-down action, which he patented in 1876. An ink stamp was made with an image of it for printing on paper, now in the possession of his great-granddaughter.

The mills of all three above produced a great quantity of sawdust, a very important by-product. Sawdust served as bedding for large farm animals, as insulation for the storage of the year's ice supply and as banking around houses in winter.

Mill Hollow had its share of neighborhood feuds. Two illustrations of this involve Gardner Banks and “Rat” Kidder. For any mill to operate someone had to go to the pond dam and open the gate to allow the water to flow in quantity. This dam was practically in Banks' back yard. Banks was known to wait until Kidder had gone to his mill after opening the gate and then go down and close it again.

At some point Kidder wanted to move a cottage from opposite Banks' house on the Forest Road to a spot about a quarter mile along the lake shore southward. It would have to pass over Banks' land. Banks refused to permit it. Kidder waited for winter and moved the cottage across on the ice. He then proceeded to rent it to a family with children. He notified the Town they would have to build a road to it so those children could go to school. The Town agreed, but the only place to put the road was along the lake shore on Banks' land. Banks protested, but could not prevent it. This became the Pine Cliff Road of today. As if that were not sufficient, in a short time, Kidder built the Pine Cliff Hotel beyond his cottage and opened a summer tourist business in direct competition with Messer and Banks.

Milling days waned with the approach of the 20th Century. Kidder's mill operated the longest, in its last years as sawmill only, by his son-in-law, Carroll Hatch. Finally the Flood of 1927 washed out its flume and dam, ending water powered commercial activity in Mill Hollow.

Water power was to enjoy one more burst in Mill Hollow, however. In 1910, architect Hartley Dennett, from Massachusetts, moved to the house of Ezra Kidder. He tore down the remains of the Messer Mill on the site of Delano's gristmill and by 1916 had erected, on the same foundations, a small mill that was partially powered by water. Much of its machinery came from other local mills no longer functioning. This mill served Dennett as a woodworking shop for the various house remodeling jobs he did locally. A spacious loft upstairs was used for community discussions, craft sessions and dancing. The mill passed to his step-son, Heman Chase, who used it for his own wood and ironwork projects. Chase also carried on woodworking classes for neighborhood children many years. More a hobby and community resource than economic power source to Dennett and Chase, the water power aspect of this mill has served to demonstrate this part of the town's history to scores of visitors. Now in some disrepair, a group in Mill Hollow is working to restore the building in hopes it may once again serve as such an educational resource.

Heman Chase, Short History of Mill Hollow, The Early Industrial Center of East Alstead, New Hampshire, 1969.

Helen H. Frink, Alstead Through the Years: 1763-1990. Alstead Historical Society, 1992.

Marion Nicholl Rawson, New Hampshire Borns a Town, E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1942.

A Brief History of Portable Sawmills

Reprinted with permission from the Oct/Nov 1997 issue of Independent Sawmill & Woodlot Magazine.

The new "portable" sawmills of today are only updates of machines that have existed since the days of pyramid building.

Portable sawmilling used to be two slaves carrying their owner's bronze pit saw into the woods, hoping to saw a single log in a day. Today a modern woodlot owner or logger can save up to buy a versatile, powerful portable sawmill that can produce 2,000 or more board feet of lumber on a good day-all for the price of a new pickup truck.

With so many wonderful machines currently on the market, just for the fun of it, let's take a look at what has gone before. The first portable sawmills were simply two men, most likely serfs, carrying a pit saw. The men took turns carrying the saw into the woods where trees were felled and a pit was dug. Once milling began, the man on top was called the "Top Man." He lifted the saw and guided it along a line scribed on the log. The man on the bottom was the "Pit Man," who pulled the saw down, supplying the energy that cut the wood. He often got sawdust in his eyes, and always in his hair and down the back of his neck. The saw cut only on the down stroke. This technology was developed by the Egyptians and was later improved upon by the Romans, who eventually adapted it to water power. The pit saw remained fairly common into the 18th century, and can still be found in some places today.

The pit saw may not fit the modern definition of a mill, a term now implying mechanical power. But the original concept of a mill was to bring the logs to a central area for processing, a place where there were many pit saws. Notice how the terminology has reversed-once again loggers are taking the saw to the logs rather than the logs to the saw. Of course, today both systems are in operation.

A Water-Powered Industrial Revolution
When the industrial revolution began in the mid-18th century, the concept of the water-powered pit saw was reinvented. The saw was mounted in a wooden frame that reciprocated, up and down, on wooden guides. The saw frame was connected to a water wheel by a series of wooden gears and a "pitman arm." Thus the water wheel became the pit man. Frequently the top man was replaced by a wooden spring pole that helped pull the saw frame up after the cutting stroke.

As water-powered technology advanced, the single saw was replaced by double, and then multiple, saws in the same frame. This developed into the sash-gang saw that could process a log into boards in a single pass. Such water-powered mills were distinctly not portable. They usually required a mill pond and extensive stonework for a mill foundation. The mill building, water wheel and sawmill were usually of "unitized construction" where everything was tied together. If a mill were torn down, parts of it could have been used in another location, but it was probably easier to build an entirely new mill
at the next location.

Water Turbines Speed Mills
As the industrial revolution accelerated, change came rapidly to manufacturing in general, and the sawmill industry was no exception. An early breakthrough was the development of the water turbine, which replaced the water wheel. The turbine produced much more power for the same amount of water and made higher speeds possible.

By the 1860s, large rivers in the east, such as the Penobscot in Maine, were dammed and sawmills occupied the river below the dam from bank to bank. It was not uncommon for dams and mill blocks to be repeated down the river, as close together as the river fall would permit. Nor were the big rivers of the East the only ones with mills on them. Nearly every trickle of water in timber country was used to power some sort of sawmill during those times. Although steam power was available by this time, the mills still used water power.

The rivers were highways for transporting the logs, and having the
mills on the river bought the logs right to the mill yard and provided free power besides. During those days, mill waste was discharged directly into the rivers. Tales are told of the Penobscot flowing solid sawdust through the center of Bangor.

The mills used mostly up-and-down sash gang saws powered by water turbines. These mills were certainly not portable. They were permanent, at least until they burned down, which most of them eventually did. Mill fires were common in the days of wood frame construction, where friction from wooden shafts and falling sparks from continually smoldering waste fires were normal working conditions.

The Age of Steam
Next came band saws and circular saws. At about the same time, steam engine technology saw rapid advances, and someone invented the concept of railroad logging and steam-powered log haulers. Smaller railroad logging operations at the time often did not use steam engines, or even steel tracks. Loggers looked to a nearby hill to provide the power and built wooden "tracks" on which a log truck was mounted. These wooden-framed log haulers often had only a hand brake to slow their speed down a hill, adding to the already dangerous world of logging for the driver of a load of logs speeding down the hill.

The new band sawmills tended to be large steam-powered affairs. There were several mills in Pennsylvania that had hourly production far in excess of the daily capacity of the largest mill in that state today. These mills were clearly designed to be permanent, as they were far too large and too costly to set up to consider moving. Since virtually none of them have survived the changing economies of wood production, the owners were probably overly optimistic in calling them permanent. Temporary would have been a better word.

Portable Sawmills Come Full Circle
The circular sawmills were the portable ones. They were usually steam powered, although some had a mill pond and water turbine power. In later times, such mills have been powered by gasoline and diesel engines, electricity and farm tractors. The Frick, American, Lane and Corley mills are good examples of the type. These mills were made in modules with wooden frames and were assembled into a complete mill. The three modules were husk, containing the saw arbor and carriage feedworks log carriage, and tracks. A fourth module was the power supply, but this was the responsibility of the owner and was not supplied with the mill. A majority of these mills also included a board edger, available from the mill manufacturer, but many got by
edging on the big saw.

Portability was a matter of perspective. A crew of six to eight men could dismantle and reassemble one of these "portable" mills in about four days depending on how far they were moving. It was generally considered that a minimum of one-half million board feet of timber was required to justify moving a mill.

At the new location, the mill was reassembled on a prepared foundation, frequently poles set into the ground. The alignment and leveling of a portable circular sawmill were critical if good quality lumber was to be produced, and realigning and releveling was needed at least twice a year. This was necessary because wooden foundations tend to move with the frost. Unfortunately, this necessity was too often not understood, or perhaps ignored. The portable circular sawmill, and its mismanagement, was largely responsible for the
aphorism "Thick and Thin Lumber Company." Those sawmill operators who could not produce consistent lumber were quickly tagged with the thick and thin label, something modern sawyers try to avoid at all costs.

Stanley Mills

Stanley Mills is one of the best-preserved relics of the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s. The cotton mill harnessed water power to produce textiles for 200 years. Local merchants set up the mill with support from the English cotton baron Richard Arkwright.

Arkwright is world-famous as a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution, known for the technical innovation of his machinery and for the ‘factory system’. This, above all else, brought social and economic change to Scotland and much of the world. Stanley Mills is the best-preserved of all the mills in which Arkwright had direct involvement.

Stanley Mills was built in 1786 at a hairpin bend in the River Tay – a spot where immense water power was available. Machinery was powered initially by waterwheels, and later by electricity from water-powered turbines.

Mill buildings were added, adapted, expanded, shut down, reopened and demolished as the market changed and technology evolved.

New fibre, new opportunities

By the late 1700s, Perthshire had a well-established textile industry. Linen was made from locally grown flax, using water-powered machinery.

Around this time, British merchants began to import cotton, which could be spun into warm and strong textiles. In northern England, water-driven machines were being installed in large factories to process the ‘new’ fibre.

By 1785, a group of Perth merchants eager to establish a cotton industry on the Tay persuaded Arkwright to invest his money and expertise.

Successes and failures

Initially, Stanley Mills thrived. The East Mill was added to process flax, but was gutted by fire in 1799. Because of this, and a slump caused by war in France, Stanley Mills closed down.

James Craig bought the mills in 1801, with financial help from David Dale, founder of the New Lanark mills. But the business failed again and the mills closed in 1813.

In 1823, the mills were bought and reopened by Buchanan & Co. The Glasgow company enlarged the East Mill and built the Mid Mill, the gasworks and, in Stanley village, a church and new housing. It flourished for 30 years.

Owner George Buchanan helped to create a rail link to Stanley in 1848, making the transfer of raw cotton from Glasgow much easier. Buchanan sold the mills in 1852.

The next owner, Samuel Howard, closed the mills during the Cotton Famine of the 1860s, causing mass unemployment.

Further revivals

F.S. Sandeman, an astute businessman and skilled technician, took over in 1876. He replaced the waterwheels with turbines and introduced a new product – cotton belting, sold around the world to drive machinery.

During the First and Second World Wars, the mills saw good years producing webbing for the armed forces. Another advance was made in 1916, when Stanley Mills began producing an ‘endless’ thin cotton belt, used in the manufacture of cigarettes. This product helped Stanley Mills to survive the Depression of the 1920s and 1930s.

Adaptation and decline

India became independent in 1947 and imposed import tariffs on cotton goods, damaging a major export market. The growing availability of electricity also shrank the demand for belting.

By the late 1960s, the mills were mainly producing artificial fibres. In 1979, a management buyout led to the formation of Stanley Mills (Scotland). But the market proved too competitive and the mills closed for good in 1989.

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Stanley Mills Statement of Significance
Stanley Mills on Scran

Browse images on our online learning resource.

Stanley Mills on Canmore

Read detailed information on our online catalogue of Scotland's heritage.

Mabry Mill, Milepost 176.1

When Edwin Boston Mabry (1867-1936) built his water powered mill in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, he had no way of knowing it would become one of the most photographed places in the United States. The mill, on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 176.1, draws several hundred thousand visitors each year. The gristmill and sawmill have been restored by park naturalists so visitors might see live exhibits, a real mill, and a working miller to demonstrate the milling process. The grounds of the mill include other interpretive media all designed to tell about mountain industry.

The Matthews Cabin is an outstanding example of mountain architecture and workmanship and offers an intriguing look into the tanning and shoe making crafts. There is also a whiskey still, a sorghum mill and a working blacksmith shop. Mabry Mill was a community center for the Meadows of Dan area when it operated as a gristmill and sawmill.

Today, the area becomes another kind of community gathering place each Sunday afternoon during the summer as musicians and dancers gather. Explore this gem of the Blue Ridge.

Mabry Mill Restaurant & Gift Shop

Located at Milepost 176, Mabry Mill Restaurant serves a country-style menu, featuring Sweet Potato, Cornmeal, Buckwheat, Blueberry and Apple Pancakes. Breakfast is served all day. Lunch and dinner entrees include Barbecue Pulled Pork, Chicken Pot Pie and homemade Blackberry Cobbler. The gift shop features Virginia crafts and foods including locally ground grits, cornmeal and buckwheat flour, as well as a wide selection of Mabry Mill and Blue Ridge Parkway-inspired gifts, clothing, books, music and souvenirs.

The History of Mabry Mill

Ed Mabry (Frelen, John, Charles, Isaac, George, Francis) was one of the fifth generation of Mabrys to live in this part of Virginia. He was born in Patrick County and is buried in Floyd County not far from the mill.

On March 22, 1782 his great-great grandfather Isaac Mabry received a grant for 183 acres of land on the south side of Robertson’s Creek of the Dan River. This land is on Mayberry Creek about 4.5 miles southwest of the Mabry Mill and about one mile east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nearby is Mabry Gap and Mayberry Presbyterian Church. Isaac Mabry’s brother George Mabry had land on Rock Castle Creek, about two miles northeast of the Mabry mill and also on Burk’s Fork and Greasy Creeks near the present line between Carroll and Floyd Counties. Today there are hundreds of Mabry descendants living in Floyd, Patrick, Carroll and other nearby counties.

Before 1890, on land not far from his birthplace in Patrick County, Ed Mabry had a water-turned lathe, which he used to make chairs. He later worked as a blacksmith in the coal fields of West Virginia. In 1903 he returned to Floyd County and soon began construction of the mill. It was first a blacksmith and wheelwright shop, then became a sawmill. By 1905 it was in operation as a gristmill. By 1910 the front part of the mill was completed and included a lathe for turning out wheel hubs, a tongue and groove lathe, a planer, and a jigsaw. Between 1905 and 1914 he bought adjacent tracts of land, mostly for the purpose of acquiring more water power. Those who knew Ed Mabry thought well of him and have described him as peaceable, easy-going, honest, hard working, a Primitive Baptist, and a Republican. Whatever he needed he tried to make himself, including most of the furniture in his home. He did not travel much, but when he did it was either on foot or in his one-horse Concord wagon.

Ed Mabry left no children, but his legacy lives on reflecting the self-sufficiency and hard work of our ancestors on the Blue Ridge.


Previous owners blasted out bedrock and put in a 50-kilowatt turbine that generates electricity for sale to the provincial grid. At least it did until a flood three years ago. Clough figures the turbine itself is still fine, but the turbine room may need electrical repairs.

“We almost had it ready to turn on.We had all the electricals checked and cleaned, and then we got flooded three years ago. And that is because we didn’t have enough stop logs pulled out of the dam,” she said.

With the couple splitting up, she can’t afford to invest more money in repairs that are needed in one foundation wall, or in putting the turbine system back into shape.

It’s a lovely setting, with a pond behind the dam, walking trails and a foot bridge to the far side of the creek.

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Watch the video: How Flour Is Made At A Traditional Watermill (January 2022).