Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Old Mill of Guilford

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

When Joann and I decided to make North Carolina our photography destination this spring, I knew this old mill in Guilford County had to be on our list of stops. I had stopped at the mill on my first trip to North Carolina in 2003 and I knew that Joann would enjoy it.

At the time of my stop, the late Charlie Parnell was still running the mill. When I entered the mill, he was hard at work, covered in the white flour dust that also covers about every inch of the mill. For some reason, he reminded me of the Ghost of Christmas Past

Today the mill is owned by Amy Klug and she continues to keep the mil open seven days a week from 9 to 5, which was lucky for us because our route took us past the mill just after 9 AM on a Sunday morning. As we pulled into the parking lot, Joann jumped out to get her camera equipment, and I went for money I knew I would be spending at the mill store. Then we walked around the site taking pictures of the various mill buildings.

There was another mill that had been a feed mill, an old tobacco barn with a bread oven on the back of it, and a stone addition on the mill that housed the store.

When Joann said that she was going to go up onto the highway for more pictures of the mill and waterwheel, she told me I could go into the mill and check it out. So I went over to the porch of the mill and looked at the old log furniture, the history of the mill, and humorous postings tacked up on the side of the mill.

Finally, I ventured inside to the stacks of flour and grain bags, and a young woman working diligently in the back packing up phone orders. We said hello, and then I told her that Joann was up on the highway taking pictures from that angle. She said something along the lines of “Oh, she’s taking her life into her hands; that’s one busy highway,” and I agreed.

I told her I thought it had been too busy seven years ago, and that there was so much more development around the mill now than there was back then. Not only is the highway busy, but there is no shoulder and no pedestrian walkway across the bridge.

Eventually Joann came into the mill and the woman continued the conversation about the difficulties of getting to the other side of Beaver Creek. She said that some photographers want to go to the other side, but since the field is very uneven, the mill’s owner asks the photographers to sign a waiver before going over there. Then they tell the photographers that they can get there on the old rickety swinging bridge or the highway, but they suggest the rickety swinging bridge. The photo below shows the bridge on the right-hand side. It doesn’t look very safe to me, but to them, this was the safer choice.

As we chatted, she told us that their mill cat, Toby, hadn’t been feeling well lately, but he was better today and had joined her in the mill. As we talked, he napped behind her. She also told us that the order she was filling was from someone who told her how much they wanted her to spend and to choose the items herself. She said it was fun to shop with someone else’s money.

Then Joann and I went into the store to check out all of the flours and mixes that were for sale. There were regular flours, specialty flours, and scone, muffin and biscuit mixes. We bought gifts for several people and I picked out some for myself.

The mill site dates back to 1753 and several types of mills have been on or near this site. The Old Mill of Guilford, founded in 1767, is believed to be the longest continuously operating water-powered grist mill in the nation. At one time, after several wooden waterwheels were worn out, the mill was changed to a roller mill using turbines, but in 1954 the mill was returned to water power and has remained that way to this day.

If you ever have the opportunity to stop at an operating grist mill, do so! You can buy yourself some mixes for muffins, scones, hush puppies, and cornbread, or many other products. There is nothing like getting it directly from the miller.

Happy Shunpiking!

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