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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.


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

Additional Resources:

Catawba County Historical Association. "Historic Murray's Mill." (accessed June 14, 2012).

The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills. "The Old Mill of Guilford." (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 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.



I'm looking for info on what I've always heard called the Dalton Mill in Bullock nc. The mill was torn down when I was a kid but the dam is still there. It's on grassy Creek a few miles from where it runs into Kerr lake.


I'm seeking info. on the Brower grist Mill located in Randolph county NC. I think it's was built by Nicholas Brower in 1771 and later owned by his son Alfred, a state legislator. This Mill also had a post office on site. I'm the third generation to live on the Mill site and would love any additional information.


I purchased a postcard of Grantham & Sons Grist Mill, North Carolina recently. I cannot figure out where in NC this mill is located. Anyone know?


I am looking for information about a mill on Newport River in Carteret county. I was told it was on the Hardesty Farm property. We have purchased several tracts of that farm and would like to know about the mill. Any guidance would be appreciated.


Dear Denise,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia. I am going to forward your request to our reference team.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library


Answering my own question about wind-powered gristmills on the OuterBanks:


Just now the Ocracoke Preservation Society posted these photos of a millstone there on the Island. It's hard for me to imagine a gristmill there as there is no elevation and no appreciable flow in the creeks there. But some have suggested that windmill gristmills might have been on the Outer Banks. This seems farfetched based on what little I know (and have now read) about NC gritmills, but I'm open to new information. Any evidence of milling on OBX? Or should we assume that these are decorative imports from somewhere on the mainland?


Outer Banks mills were wind mills. Or so I have heard.


Since I retired I am constantly searching out old mills and mill sites in North Carolina and so far have taken pictures of 57 of these. So many have been destroyed in recent years due to neglect or from flooding, particularly in eastern North Carolina. Some are on private property and can not be accessed for photos. Most of my pictures are from eastern North Carolina but I am presently looking towards central and western North Carolina. If you are looking for recent pictures of an old mill please let me know and I my have the one you are looking for or for that matter you may give me suggestions for adding a new one to my list.



I am looking for any information about a mill that would have been located in the Haws Run section of Onslow County, NC. My mother was from that community, and I know very little about the mill, except that the millpond used to be visible from the Haws Run Road off NC 53, and my mother's brothers used to swim in the millpond. (Girls not allowed.) She was born there in 1928.

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