"I Am History, Don't Destroy Please": Three Gristmills and Their Communities in Wake County, North Carolina

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The custom gristmill was a center of business and economic activity. Mills ground wheat into flour and corn into meal for millions of customers, providing a source for staple grains for both consumption and trade. Blacksmith shops, cotton gins, wool carders, community stores, and distilleries often soon followed the construction of a new custom mill. These services made the mill more valuable to both the owner and to the community by bringing local farmers to the mill site, thereby generating additional revenue for mill owners. The local gristmill, however, was more than a place of business. Millponds were popular places to fish and swim, and local churches often used millponds for baptisms. Mill yards offered common ground for neighbors to meet, trade, catch up on the news, and even date. Some mill owners formalized the social uses of their mills and ponds by renting boats or allowing the public to fish, swim, and picnic at the site. By using newspaper articles, oral histories, and county records to describe the history of three gristmills in Wake County, North Carolina, Yates Mill, Lassiter Mill, and the mill at Lake Myra, this thesis is able to elaborate on the importance of the social roles the custom mill played in the growth and development of its community. All three mills ground grain for area customers, and all three mills filled a variety of social needs for their communities as well. Traditionally, area residents could fish, swim, date, and trade goods at each mill as well. The last miller at Yates Mill began to formalize those activities by building and renting boats to mill visitors who wanted to fish on the pond. Today, Yates Mill is the centerpiece of a research and recreational park owned by NC State University and managed by Wake County. The nonprofit group Yates Mill Associates restored the mill and continues to be responsible for the continued maintenance and interpretation of the mill. The Lassiter family more formally recognized the social and recreational uses of their mill site by allowing county residents to continue to fish, swim, and picnic, even after the mill itself burned. Homes now surround the site, but the milldam and a portion of the mill's foundation remain. The Lassiter Mill site is preserved as a part of the Raleigh Greenway System, with picnic tables and a plaque that briefly describes the site's long history. Finally, during the last decades of the mill at Lake Myra's operation, the site was developed and marketed more as a recreational facility with swimming, fishing, boat rentals, and a community store than as custom gristmill. The mill has collapsed, but the private family that currently owns the property is working with the Wake County department of Parks, Recreation, and Open Space to develop the lake into a county park.



Lassiter Mill, Wake County, Lake Myra, Yates Mill, gristmills, community