A TOUCH OF HISTORY
Sometimes historians can only guess at the details of the scene. The history of the Old Mill of Guilford goes back to 1745. The official records can be found dated as early as 1753 when the founder of the Mill, Daniel Dillon, had been transferred from Hopewell, Virginia to North Carolina. In 1755 the Earl of Granville granted Dillon a tract of 552 acres near New Garden. This land is drained by the Reedy Fork of Haw River and Beaver Creek. Rowan County later granted him a license to build the mill. This Mill commenced the business of grinding grain for the early settlers in 1764.
On February 10, 1781, during the Revolutionary War, British troops commanded by General Charles Cornwallis marched by the Mill while pursuing General Greene who was encamped at Guilford Courthouse. There are accounts that British troops seized the mill to grind grain for the soldiers prior to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. The story goes that the miller James Dillon was chased from the property, was shot at, and suffered injury in the process.
In 1808 Nathan Dillon (son of Daniel and executor for his father) sold the original tub mill and dwelling on 175 acres to Joel Sanders for $ 900. Sanders owned a slave by name of Tony who was not desirous to do field work. After seeing Tony loiter around the Dillon Mill much of the time, Joel decided he would purchase the Mill and give the job to Tony, who was happy to run the Mill until 1822.
Realizing the importance of the Mill, Sanders moved it 500 feet downstream from its original setting in 1819 and built a new dam across the creek. The new Mill was designed to be a merchant corn and wheat mill with an overshot wheel to replace the small tub mill.
The Mill was acquired by K. L. Hendrix in 1913, later converting it to a roller mill and substituting the water wheel with a turbine. In 1932, highway 68 was built between the dam and the mill. In order to keep the mill operating, the long overhead wooden flume carrying water from the dam to the Mill was replaced by a steel pipe that ran under the new road. Clarence Bailes bought the Mill in 1954. Subsequently, he took out the roller mill machinery and the turbine, installing in their place a 24 x 4 foot Fitz overshot water wheel. This is the system that is operational to this day.
THE HEART OF THE MILL
The Old Mill of Guilford has been in continuous operation since 1818, using a water powered wheel. The first reference to the use of a waterwheel dates back to about 4000 B.C., where, in a poem by an early Greek writer, Antipater, it tells about the freedom from the toil of young women who operated small hand mills to grind wheat. They were used for crop irrigation, grinding grains, supply drinking water and later to drive sawmills, pumps, forge bellows, tilt-hammers, trip hammers, and to power textile mills. They were probably the first method of creating mechanical energy that replaced humans and animals.
Most people do not realize the historical significance of the grist mill. These mills were some of the earliest economic indicators of a growing country, usually being built before schools and churches. Townships often grew from these mill sites while roads, stores, post offices, and stables were the result of the economic benefits mills brought to their communities. Millstones used to grind at the old Mill of Guilford in the 1800’s are still grinding products today. Presently, the Mill continues to produce all-natural, stone-ground, whole grain foods, just as it has for over 250 years.
The Mill may be the oldest in continuous use in the whole country and one of only 5 in the state at any one time The ground grains include wheat, corn and rice. The corn is shipped in from a Davidson County farm, to the South of the Mill, and is sold on the Mill’s premises as well as to local restaurants (such as Darryl’s, a popular establishment). The ground products are also shipped all over the country. The Mill employs one full time miller and several volunteers.
The operation proceeds in the following fashion. For example, the corn from Davidson County goes through several cleaning stages and is then passed into holding bins. It is then processed in a grinding machine, followed by sifting, separating into different particle sizes, to finally end up in drums and colorfully and distinctively labeled bags for sale.
TODAY'S CARING HANDS
In 1977, the Mill, which had suffered from two years of disuse, was sold to Heidi and Charles Parnell who renovated it and continued the old tradition of a water powered grist mill. The couple operated the Mill for 30 years until 2007, when they both died. The current owners, the Klug Family, continue to operate the Mill on a full-time basis since that time.
The latest 30 years have seen families with a German ancestral connection running this historic Mill. They bring to this place a sense of pride in efficient productivity, in pride of place and history, and a special warmth that could only be exuded by a family business. Amy Klug is the reigning and working “queen” of this charming and at the same time rugged old Mill. She, the more than capable and knowledgeable miller, Annie Laura Perdue, and Amy’s wonderful volunteer staff not only work hard every day of the year until 5 pm, but they are also always ready to answer questions about the technology and the history of the Mill. And then there is Otis, one of the two mill cats that add another homey feel and cozy security to the place, except to any potential field mice.
The Mill currently produces all natural corn meals and grits, pancake flours along with a wide range of mixes that include buckwheat, sweet potato and oat bran muffin mixes, Scottish scones and gingerbread. The Heidesand traditional German shortbread cookie mix is representative of the current owners’ rich heritage.
A PLACE FOR EVERYBODY AND EVERYTHING
Each time I am going to the Mill is a time of discovery and revelation for me. Coming there requires a transition to another era. Suddenly the modern world becomes foreign here. Old stone walls, wooden interior, never tired machines which have been used for generations, and the old bench and carriage outside sweep you back to the 18th century. The unforgettable homespun fragrance of freshly ground flour and the peacefully sleeping cat outside make you feel at home. Strangers become your friends even if you do not know their names. Forget about urban life, just go around and relax looking at the hypnotic rotation of the wheel or listen to the soothing sounds of the creek or take your shoes off and enjoy the warm and gorgeous sunset which bathes the whole place in warmth.
I always like photographing this Mill. It is never the same. You can go there every day and find something different and special about the place and people working there. And the biggest reward is to take home some fresh products and interesting recipes, anticipating a happy breakfast with your family.