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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Gristmills

by Joey Powell, 2006
Additional research provided by Natalie Popovic.

Gristmills used to grind corn, wheat, and other grains into flour and meal were a common sight in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century North Carolina. The first recorded North American gristmill was built in Jamestown, Va., in 1621. As settlers moved from the Jamestown area into what is now northeastern North Carolina, they carried their milling techniques with them and began building small mills to grind grain.

Yates Mill, a gristmill in Wake County, 1958. Courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh.

Gristmills generally operated by guiding a stream of water into a waterwheel, which provided the power to rotate the series of huge millstones that crushed the grain into progressively smaller pieces. Most early North Carolina gristmills were situated along creeks for a source of waterpower, usually near natural falls. Many gristmills had saws attached, harnessing the waterpower not only to grind flour but also to saw lumber. Power was increased by building dams. On some mills, millraces were built to carry water to the mill, particularly those equipped with an overshot type of wheel.

The demand for grinding grain for use as flour or meal grew as the population of North Carolina increased. In an effort to encourage the settlement of the Carolina backcountry frontier, the legislature in 1715 passed a law granting 50 acres of land and exemption from taxes and service in the state militia to gristmill and sawmill operators. This act contained a provision subjecting all mills to government regulation because of their "public" character. Despite these efforts, the number of mills in the colony remained small until the mid-eighteenth century. A more extensive and detailed law was passed in 1758, giving the colonial government greater supervision over the operation of mills.

Roller mills, an 1876 invention first used in John Sellers's mill in Philadelphia, had a tremendous impact on the milling industry. The roller mill had several advantages over stone mills. Primary among them was a product that was more uniform and had a more appealing appearance to customers. The use of rollers eliminated the need for stone "dressing," the periodic sharpening of millstones, saving the miller money and time. The rollers also extracted more flour from the same amount of wheat as the millstones. Most North Carolina mills built after 1876 were of this variety.

Few of North Carolina's older gristmills remained operational at the beginning of the twenty-first century, having become obsolete in the shadow of the larger, more efficient grain processors of the Midwest. House's Mill near Newton Grove in Sampson County claims to be the oldest continuously operating gristmill in the state, having ground flour and meal since 1812.

Reference:

Grimsley Hobbs, Exploring the Old Mills of North Carolina (1985).

Additional Resources:

Catawba County Historical Association. "Historic Murray's Mill." http://www.catawbahistory.org/historic_murrays_mill.php (accessed June 14, 2012).

The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills. "The Old Mill of Guilford." http://www.oldmillofguilford.com/ (accessed June 14, 2012).

Dunaway, Stewart E. Grist mills of North Carolina: a historical review using county records  [North Carolina?]: S.E. Dunaway ;Morrisville, N.C.: Distributed by Lulu.com. 2010.

Stephen Cabarrus History Club, Harrisburg School. By the Old Mill Stream: The Story of Early Industry in Cabarrus County. [Harrisburg, N.C.: Stephen Cabarrus History Club, 1967?].

Dellinger, Jack David. Dellinger Grist Mill on Cane Creek, Mitchell County, North Carolina: A Personal History. Folk Heritage Books, 2004./p>

Image Credits:

Yates Mill, a gristmill in Wake County, 1958. Courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh.

Comments

Comment: 

Looking for Grist Mill in Monroe, NC owned by
Bost

Comment: 

Dear Ms. Brown,

Is this the company you are referring to:

http://www.bostgristmill.com/

Thank you.

Mike Millner, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

I am looking for information on a Grist Mill that was located in lower Cabarrus Co. in Midland / Flowes Store Community. Our Great Grandfather moved to the area just after the Civil War and the Mill had already been moved at that time. The foundation and mill run ruins are still visible at this time.

Thank you.
Bob Roberts

Comment: 

Dear Bob,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing your question. I have forwarded your question to reference services at the NC Government & Heritage Library.  A reference librarian will contact you shortly to help if you are still looking for information.

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

Kelly,

I haven't received anything from the NC Heritage Library yet. But I found out that there was an Old Grist Mill possibly called Furr's Mill or Boger's Mill in this area during the turn of the century 1780-1800's. Cabarrus County was created out of Mecklenburg in 1792 so I suspect that if records exist they would be in either/both Mecklenburg and Cabarrus records. There was also a Post Office called Furrs from 1879 - 1906 in Mecklenburg/Cabarrus Counties and I noted that many of the old post offices were near Grist mills or contained the name i.e Pioneer Mills, Bost Mills, Dry's Mill etc. during that era.

Old family records of the Furr Family indicate that a grist mill was run by Daniel Boger 1780-1860. Are you aware if that Mill or Mill location is of record in the Heritage Library?

Thanks in advance for your assistance.

Bob

Comment: 

Hi Bob,

Thank you for contacting us again.  I'm sorry for the delay.  I am replying via email and reconnecting you with reference services at the library.

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

I am looking for information on a mill near my property on Taylers creek in Randolph co. N.C. It is between old NC 49 and Lassiter Mill Rd off Old Mill Rd

Comment: 

Dear Neil,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing this question. 

I’m afraid NCpedia does not have any additional information about this mill. I wish we had more information about historic grist mills in general.

Here are two resources that you may want to look at:

Dunaway, Stewart E. 2013. A beginners guide to grist mills of North Carolina: a historical review using original county records.  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/870265068

Dunaway, Stewart E. 2010. Grist mills of North Carolina: a historical review using county records. [Morrisville, N.C.]: Lulu. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/686771228

I have included a link to the item in WorldCat. WorldCat is an online catalog that searches the holdings of libraries around the world. You can see if your local library in Randolph County might be able to obtain them through interlibrary loan – I don’t see that the local library has them.  Additionally, you may want to inquire at the public library if they have a local history collection. There may be something there with some leads.  Another thought is to look at property and tax records for the land to see if you could obtain the name of the owner and research from that angle.  Depending on the time period you are searching, land records would be held by either the county or the State Archives of North Carolina. 

You may also be interested in looking at maps of Randolph County.  UNC-Chapel Hill has a database of historic maps -- http://www2.lib.unc.edu/dc/ncmaps/. You can search for Randolph County and see if you can locate the mill site on a map.

These are a few starting points!  Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Best wishes,
Kelly Agan

Comment: 

I am interested in information on Marley's Mills in Randolph County, NC. On old maps, it is shown as Marleys on the Brush Creek in the easternmost section of the county. It was run by Benjamin Marley (around 1790) then by his son Thomas.

Comment: 

Dear Joseph,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your comment.

I am connecting you by email with Reference Services at the N.C. Government & Heritage Library.  A reference librarian will contact you shortly to see if you are still looking for this information and, if so, will suggest some resources that might help.

Good luck with your question and best wishes,

Kelly Agan

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