Thursday, June 16, 2011

Grist mills

Before there was electricity, before there were internal combustion engines, there was water. The power of falling water was harnessed more than 2,000 years ago to grind grains for making bread, and has continued being used for that purpose even today. We have three very different examples nearby, all situated in parks.

The Rice Mill is a classic of small mill design. A mill race diverts water from a nearby stream to the overshot wheel. It was built in 1798 and was operated by four generations of the Rice family. When the Tennessee Valley Authority built the Norris Dam in the mid-1930s, the mill was moved from land that was to be flooded to the Lenoir Museum and is now operated by Norris Dam State Park. It still grinds corn meal during the summer. It's located near Norris, Tennessee.

The Mill Springs mill is the third to occupy the site, dating back to 1817. The current large mill was built in 1877. It, too, has an overshot wheel fed by a mill race. The original 28-foot cedar wheel was replaced by a 40-foot, 10-inch steel wheel in 1908. An auxiliary engine was added in the 1920s so the mill could continue to operate during low water flow. It is now part of Mill Springs Park, a Civil-War Battlefield Park. It's located near Monticello, Kentucky, overlooking Lake Cumberland.

The Sgt. Alvin C. York Mill at Pall Mall, Tennessee, was owned and operated by the United State's most decorated soldier of World War I. It is a turbine or "tub" mill, in which water is taken from a mill pond through piping to a turbine directly below the mill wheel.

The mill no longer operates and the turbine has been removed for display beside the mill. The mill was built about 1880; Sgt. York bought it in 1943. It is now a part of the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park that encompasses his home, farm, and store.


  1. Before my local Salts Mill was built, there was a water-powered corn mill on the site. As you say, they've been around for a long time. I'm always glad to see them preserved and working.

  2. I love old mills, especially those massive mill stones.

  3. Yes, preserved first, and working is even better. Preservation is a hard fight, especially when the economy is bad. There was a headline in The Oak Ridger newspaper today that the preservation group trying to save the Guest House that I wrote about recently has given up the fight. They simply can't raise enough money to buy it from the current owner. It looks like an important building from the Manhattan Project is going to be lost because the city has mandated that the building be restored or torn down.