Thursday, August 13, 2020

Summer Days at the Old Gristmill

by Denise Weimer

It’s summertime, and what’s more refreshing than a creek splahing over rocks at the shady site of an old mill? Welcome to Freeman’s Mill, a Gwinnett County park in Dacula, Georgia, near where I live. This gristmill was built on the Alcovy River between 1868 and 1879 by brothers John Griffin, a saddle-maker, and Levi. J. Loveless, a judge, pastor, state senator, and state representative who owned a 650-acre plantation. Some stories indicate that the mill was actually pre-Civil War and originally owned by a man named Wilson, who may have later married a younger sister of John and Levi. The gristmill was one of 1,262 in the state at that time. Local farmers brought wheat and corn there to be made into flour and meal, preferred by many to the products of electric mills. A sweeter taste resulted because the corn was ground more slowly by the waterwheel.

According to the National Register report, “The building frame is of hand-hewn timbers in a mortise-and-tenon construction joined by wooden pegs.” The report also states that the original tin roof was replaced in 1947. The two Dutch doors were used to keep animals from entering the mill. The original corn stones were 48” in diameter. The site includes the mill, 20-foot dam (V-shaped stone replaced the wooden dam in 1910), two mill races, sluice gates, and waterwheel.

The corn was run through the sheller to remove the kernels. The cobs were used for firewood or run through a hammer mill to create livestock feed. Kernels were then sifted and funneled down a chute to an elevator belt, which carried the corn to the second floor through the blower. Then it traveled back down the chute, into the hopper, and onto the stones. A mirror hung above the hopper to allow the miller to make sure there was always corn on them. The meal exited into a wooden bin for bagging. All the machinery remains in the building—which means the mill could easily resume operation.

A miller’s house was originally just east of the mill but was destroyed by a fire. One early miller constructed a small wooden room under the spillway where he could take cold showers, and Alcova Baptist Church used the mill pond for baptisms.

The next millers were W. Scott Freeman and his son, Winfield, until the property was purchased in 1915 by Newt Pharr. Pharr had a contract with the state to provide meal for the prisons and a hospital in Lula. Newt’s grandson, Otis, remembers swimming in the mill pond and helping sharpen the mill stones. By 1996, Freeman’s Mill was one of only fifteen in working order in the state. Purchased from the Pharr family in 2001, it was restored in 2009, along with twelve surrounding acres. A favorite place for photo shoots (as you can see from our family picture below, taken at our older daughter’s senior photo shoot), it’s currently undergoing renovation to make it wheelchair-accessible and open for tours.
The renovation allows a glimpse inside the mill.
“Old Gristmill Centerpiece of Freeman’s Mill Park,” AJC, Kathryn Kickliter, Feb. 15, 2020; National Register of Historic Places Registration Form 885

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of almost a dozen published novels and a number of novellas. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses!

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  1. Sounds like a great place to visit! Thanks for the post.

  2. Thanks for your post, Denise. My ancestors on my maternal grandfather's lived in Alabama and one branch ran a grist mill. Like this one you write about, Rikard's Mill in Alabama is now open to the public. I visited there only once when a first cousin and I drove down to Alabama to see where our southern roots originated. Your post brought back some pleasant memories of our morning spent at Rikard's Mill.

  3. Connie and Pam, thanks for stopping by. Pamela, that's so neat. I have roots in Alabama also. - Denise

  4. I've been looking for a day trip for us, and you just gave it to me. Thanks, Denise!

  5. You're welcome, Ane! It won't be far for you. I also have posts coming up on the Elisha Winn House and McDaniel Farm Park. You could walk forever in the latter. :) - Denise

  6. I love the sound of you all's books and the covers are Beautiful! What or who inspired you all to become an author? And what was your favorite child hood book? Thank you.