Updated October 5, 2015.
Watermills are one of those nostalgic scenes that make me skip a breath. Covered bridges, swinging bridges, and old general stores have the same effect. It’s tangible history, but not of the stuffy, textbook variety. When you’re fortunate to find a watermill that’s still operational, it’s like being transported back into another time. A time of sweat equity and the satisfaction of just putting food on the table. See what I mean when you pay a visit to one of these old, glorious workhorses. Be sure to see the map below.
Virginia’s most recognized mill is Mabry Mill at milepost 176.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s noted as the most photographed site on the Parkway, and for good reason. Abundant wildlife flock to the pond, showing off along with the scene itself. It doesn’t hurt that the buckwheat pancakes and other delightful dishes appeal to hungry travelers. You read right. There’s a restaurant and gift shop at this working mill, along with trades demonstrations, like blacksmithing, spinning and basketry.
~ History of Mabry Mill
The Bush Mill in Nickelsville dates to 1896. The original mill was burned down on April Fools Day, which was no laughing matter for the people who relied on it. Once rebuilt, the mill operated into the 1950s. What you see when you visit to day is still an operational mill, as it has since been restored and sits proudly on the National Register of Historic Places. Share in the history by watching the video below.
Cowan Mill, an 1890s mill, sits along Indian Creek on private property in Ewing. The mill is not open for tours, but is included here as a beautiful picture opportunity, as it is one of the most photographed sites in Lee County. Please be respectful of the property owners.
Cowan Mill at Sunrise by Harold Jerrell.
One of Virginia’s more unique mills is Aldie Mill (1807-1809) in Loudoun County. It’s a real powerhouse with tandem wheels working to demonstrate the agricultural side of life. Aldie Mill bore witness to the Battle of Aldie (1863) during the American Civil War. In fact, it was the prelude to Gettysburg. Quite a few events are hosted at this mill each year; check the schedule.
Also in Northern Virginia is Chapman’s Mill in Broad Run, believed to be the tallest stacked stone structure in the United States, as it stands five and one-half stories tall. The mill was constructed in 1742 and supplied food through five wars. Sadly, a 1998 arson fire gutted the interior of this prize. The ruins are stabilized and remain an interesting photo opp. The site is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.
>> History of Chapman’s Mill
In Raphine you’ll find Kennedy-Wade’s Mill, a working 1750s mill that is still grinding away to bring you local flours and meals. What’s wonderful about Wade’s Mill are the culinary lessons offered by the miller’s wife! See what Georgie has cooking and make a date with deliciousness.
Woodson’s Mill is a 1794 working gristmill in Nelson County. Locally-harvested grains are stone-ground daily with water from the Piney River. Be sure to take a few bags home, and maybe utilize the Hushpuppy & Batter Mix for fried Virginia oysters, as one of their blog posts suggests.
It’s a wonder Virginia has as many watermills still in existence as there are, considering one of the Union goals during the Civil War was to cut off the Confederate food supply. Many mills were burned as a result.
~ Whittle’s Mill, South Hill – one of 35 mill sites along the Meherrin River, and a very good local swimming hole!
~ Burwell-Morgan Mill, Millwood – operational mill still grinding meals and flours
~ Colvin Run Mill, Great Falls – foundation built by George Washington; operational; tours available (video)
~ Damascus Old Mill, Damascus – restaurant and accommodations
~ Swift Creek Mill, South Chesterfield – a venue for theatre and education; dates to at least 1663
~ Tomahawk Mill, Chatam – a winery tasting room
~ White’s Mill, Abingdon
~ Palmer Mill, Saltville
~ Historic Edinburg Mill, Edinburg
~ Jessee’s Mill, Lebanon
~ Breneman-Turner Mill, Harrisonburg
~ McCormick’s Farm Gristmill, Raphine
~ Stratford Hall’s Mill, Stratford
VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS.