Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cox's Mill

A couple of weeks ago, a friend set up a trip to Jefferson County, Tennessee, to see three old grist mills. This area east of Knoxville was among the earliest in Tennessee settled by Europeans, and each of the mills dates from the 1790s. Each was in a different state of repair/restoration, and I'll feature each over the next three days.

Cox Mill was built in 1796, although the plaque by the front door says 1803 (more about that later). It's a magnificent brick structure that is being "repurposed" by the current owner. The exterior is being restored to look as it did in earlier times, as is the grinding floor. But the top floor has been remodeled into an apartment where the current owner lives and there is shop space in the bottom floor and part of the grinding floor.

The mill stones are in place and the hooks used to lift them out for sharpening have been restored.

Levers behind the mill stones link to the mechanism that engaged the gears to turn the stones.

On the gear mechanism that turns the mill stone, one of the gears has teeth made of wood. That's so any shock to the gears will result in teeth being broken that are easily replaced. If it were metal teeth broken, an expensive gear wheel would have to be replaced. Notice the spare wooden teeth lying on the beam.

The brick for the building were all made on-site from local clay. The owner explained that in doing restoration work, modern  ready-mix mortar couldn't be used with these brick because it would cause the bricks to decompose. He had to make his own mortar from an early recipe.

The overshot mill wheel sits at the back of the building. It was fed from a spring that is the source of the small creek running beside the mill, but which is located behind the house of the original owner seen across the road. According to the current owner, the mill race carried the water in on the left side of this picture, past the wheel, where it made a U-turn before feeding the wheel. That would result in the wheel turning counter-clockwise. The blades of the wheel certainly would cause it to turn counter-clockwise, although that does sound rather counter-intuitive.

The plaque identifying the mill as a National Historic Register property shows its founding as 1803. According to the current owner, that resulted from the previous owner not knowing when the mill was built when he made application to the Register. He did find papers where the original owner had willed the property to his son on his death in 1804. He figured it was safe to say the mill was at least one year old at that time.


  1. you visit the neatest places. I love old buildings and the history behind them.

  2. you visit the neatest places. I love old buildings and the history behind them.

  3. Lovely that these old places are able to be preserved sympathetically. There's some good craftmanship in them. What is 'grist'? There is an expression 'grist to the mill' but I don't know what it is.

  4. Grist simply refers to the grain that is to be or has been ground in a mill. It can refer to any grain that gets ground, be it wheat,corn,or whatever. Your expression simply means something that can be turned to profit, such as the grain the miller keeps (his toll) as payment for his work.

  5. What a great place to live--above the mill that is. I love that he is restoring the mill and has it on the National Registry.