Though it was raining all week, I still didn’t mind. Knowing that each deluge of rain added to the bloated and water logged tile in the ceiling above my bed only diverted my thoughts to my upcoming visit to Berry College’s Old Mill. The Old Mill has a water wheel attached to it, and I was certain that the rain was turning the thing at a pace that could grind any inedible grain into something fine and powdery. 100 years ago in Floyd County this wheel would be turning my corn into something I could use to make grits.
Or at least that’s how I thought old mills worked back in the day.
In preparation to my visit of the Old Mill scheduled for the next day (located on Berry College’s Mountain campus about 9 miles from downtown) I went to visit the college it rests in to find someone who knew how it worked. I never found anybody. Instead of going to the school to find an explanation of how the Mill works, I found myself driving deep into campus.
There is something mesmerizing about driving up to the Old Mill. Despite the heavy rain I was at ease. I was on the three mile “Stretch Road” linking the Main Campus to the Mountain Campus. Arched and overhanging trees cover this road that has no turns or curves whatsoever. It was a tunnel pointing me towards my destination a day early. Five minutes and a small gravel road later I saw the Mill and its wheel’s reflection in the small reservoir lake located in front of it.
The water wheel wasn’t moving an inch, even with all this rain. Turns out there’s no need for large amounts of water to turn this wheel. Upon a closer inspection, gears and machine made metal parts connected it to the Mill itself. Obviously the mountain folk knew what they were doing when they made a mill here.
This mill is not a medievalesque Disney ride, it was industrial machinery for rural people. Something pragmatic that could still work today if need be. It is important to understand that the Old Mill in Berry College was a necessity at one time. A tool people used in this area for their livelihood -which is hard to believe when your standing right in front of it in this heavily wooded place. Where are the people? Where did they live? Whatever the answer they didn’t live next door to this thing.
Going to this Mill is to get a glimpse into the life of Floyd County 100 years ago. A life not necessarily connected to the hustle and bustle of Rome then nor now. Nowadays the Old Mill is only used to grind corn on Mountain Day in the Fall, which is equivalent to homecoming at Berry; but one does not have to come at that time to appreciate the value of the Old Mill. This landmark is for anyone who wants to see something historic outside of Rome. The road to the mill is always open to visitors, and the gate to it is unlocked during normal daylight hours. Anyone who wishes to see it can get a map at the Berry College Gatehouse when you first turn into the College.
Constructed in 1930, the Old Mill boasts an iron hub which had originally been of service at Hermitage, an early manufacturing community near the Shannon village between Rome and Calhoun, Georgia, and was a gift to Berry from The Republic Mining (bauxite) and Manufacturing Company. Henry Ford had the hub moved to Berry where the wheel was rebuilt.
The wooden overshot waterwheel, considered one of the largest in the world at 42 feet in diameter, was constructed by student workers. For many years, the mill was operated by Mr. Green Berry Goodson, a white-bearded miller who ground Berry-grown corn into meal and grits. Water is piped directly from Berry’s reservoir lake to the wheel. Once primed, the force of gravity is strong enough to push the water up the stone column, and over the wheel, causing it to turn.