For about a decade, entrepreneur George L. Carter led a number of business ventures in Johnson City, and his Model Mill was one of the earliest driving forces in the development of the city.
Built in 1909 — the same year the railroad tycoon brought the historic Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad to Johnson City — the Model Mill was a state-of-the-art facility that provided the area with a boost in business and jobs.
“During its heyday it was one of the biggest milling operations in the south. They shipped out all across the country, not just here in upper East Tennessee,” Washington County Archivist Ned Irwin said.
Carter was no stranger to flour mills. He operated several other mills throughout East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Some of Carter’s other regional businesses included banks, iron mills, coal mines and foundries.
At the time, the Model Mill was one of the largest employers in Johnson City. The facility made and sold flour under the Red Band Mill brand, which was a highly popular brand in the south.
One of the selling points of the flour was that every batch was kitchen-tested.
With the construction of the CC&O Railroad Depot located near the Model Mill, Carter’s Johnson City mill business provided ample freight for his railroad.
Carter did something similar in Kingsport, another place he helped develop, according to Irwin.
“His vision there was to develop a modern industrial city where you would have industrial plants built adjacent to the railroad lines,” Irwin said.
When Carter brought his business to Johnson City after leaving Bristol in 1906, he wanted to create the same type of atmosphere.
Irwin said the Model Mill represented Carter’s desire to create another industrial city.
“I think the Model Mill really was the first development along those lines that he did in Johnson City. I think he probably envisioned other plants and industries going in along those properties,” he said.
The business was instrumental in the development of what would become the Tree Streets neighborhood. Many of the people employed by Carter at both the railroad and the mill built some of the first houses in the neighborhood, according to Irwin.
At the same time Carter was developing both the railroad and the Model Mill, he was also working on getting the state to approve the site for a normal school in East Tennessee. His land was selected and what would become East Tennessee State University was built.
“You had the Model Mill at one end and the university at the other end, which all owe their existence to George L. Carter,” Irwin said.
Around 1916, Carter left Johnson City to live closer to his coal operations in West Virginia.
In 1933, Carter sold the mill to Washburn-Crosley — which would later become General Mills — for $1 million and continued to operate for several decades.
The mill has been abandoned since being resold to Ohio-based Mennel Milling Co in 2003 for $3.5 million.
In 2008, the Chamber of Commerce’s Chamber Foundation purchased the property for $400,000 with hopes of developing the historic site into a new headquarters.
The Chamber is still pursuing development at the mill property.