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No longer turning

Brad Jolly • Sep 17, 2012 at 3:10 PM

TRADE — The wheel is still and the flume is dry as the people of Trade look for a way to restart the Trade Grist Mill.

The mill was a thriving attraction in the small public park that also contains a former school building that now serves as the Trade Community Center. It was also a commendable example of community cooperation as the vintage machinery was donated by a neighboring landowner and the building was built by inmate laborers.

The milling tradition in Trade goes back to at least 1802 when Thomas Jones homesteaded on nearby Roan Creek and built a mill. Pleasant May and his wife Callie bought the property sometime after 1850.

A grim event in that mill’s history occurred in 1892 when Callie May got her dress caught in the mill’s revolving shaft and was fatally dashed against the floor. “She was an excellent Christian lady and beloved by all who knew her,” the Johnson County News reported. “Our sympathy goes with the family as they follow her remains to the lonely grave.”

The mill was purchased by the Snyder family in 1915. A son, Peter Snyder, later learned to operate the mill and ran it until around 1989. He said he never liked to be in the mill alone for fear of encountering the ghost of Callie May.

In the 1950s a new highway between Mountain City and the state line took the “race way” that powered the mill’s water wheel. Peter sold the wheel and replaced it with a gasoline engine, which was used until the mill closed.

People who bought the property in 2004 donated the mill’s machinery to the Trade Days Museum. It was restored and became the works of the Trade Grist Mill.

The Trade Grist Mill operated for about four years powered by piped-in creek water before it was stopped by mechanical problems, said Frank Lawrence, grandson of the Snyder who bought the old mill in 1915.

“People brought corn, wheat, buckwheat, flax,” he said, and the mill produced flour, grits, cornmeal and even scratch feed for chickens. They sold some products to Food City and Mast stores, “but we couldn’t get enough orders to pay the miller.”

Then in quick succession, the miller quit, the bearing went out and the shaft broke. A replacement bearing, Lawrence said, would cost at least $4,000.

Lawrence, who has learned a lot about the milling trade over the years, conducted a tour of the silent mill. It contains half a dozen milling machines, including a couple bearing the name Meadows Mill, which he said were built in the late 19th century in North Wilkesboro, N.C. “They were run by water when we had it,” he said.

Sacks of corn sat in a row on the floor.

“We had hoped to make money for scholarships,” he said.

The members of the Trade Community Center are not throwing in the towel. In fact, repairing the mill is but one of several of their goals. Others are bringing back the Trade Days Festival, perhaps as the Mill Days Festival, and converting part of the Trade Community Center into a museum.

“We’d like to fix it up to where you could see it all at one time,” Bill Roark said. “This would be a wonderful place for a welcome center, right here on the state line.”

Roark said estimates on a thorough repair of the mill range from $4,000 to nearly $10,000. “And we would need to hire a miller,” he said.

Toward that end, the Trade Community Center is about to obtain 501c3 status, which will make donations tax deductible and enable the center to apply for grants.

With the repairs accomplished they would hope to serve the public a couple of days a week in the spring and fall.

“We have the artifacts, and we would like to establish a museum in the old Trade Elementary,” Earleen Reece said.

The reopened mill would beckon some visitors from the highway, said Paul Stout, who serves as the Trade Community Center treasurer. And when the mill wheel is turning, he said, “It’s as peaceful as can be sitting around here.”

Brad Jolly is assistant news editor for the Press. Email him at bjolly@johnsoncitypress.com.

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