Appalachia Music

Maggie And The Old Mill Pond


Until the mid 1950s folks took their corn, wheat, or rye to a local gristmill to have it ground into meal for bread making and other uses. Here in Southern Appalachia most people used Corn for meal-as it was easier to grow and seemed to last longer in storage.


Typically the Corn was left in the field to dry and cure through about 3 hard frosts before it was deemed ready to make into meal. After it was dried, the Corn was usually stored in a Corn Crib and used as needed.

Pap can recall several gristmills that operated when he was a child. His family would take a couple bushels of Corn each month to be ground. If you got more than you needed, you took the chance of weevils getting into the meal. Most mills in this area kept part of your meal as payment.

When Pap’s Mother was a young adult still living at home, her father, Jewell, went to the mill one day-he never returned. When they begin to search for him-they found him shot dead. None of us still living, know the details of what happened that day, and Mamaw didn’t talk about it. Now as an adult, it makes me wonder if every time my grandmother went or sent to the gristmill she had to re-live part of the day her Daddy died.


Most mills used water to power their grinding. Pap said some had chutes that carried the water a far piece-from the creek down to the water wheel. Makes me think of a wooden water slide. The water used to turn the wheel resulted in a mill pond. Several years ago Pap showed me where a gristmill had been about a mile from our house. Nothing remained- except the creek. After all these years-the place is still called the Old Mill Pond.

As Appalachia became industrialized and folks started going to work instead of farming, the need for gristmills disappeared.

Today’s Pickin & Grinnin In the Kitchen Spot is a song about love, mills, and Maggie. I Wandered To The Hill Maggie written by George W. Johnson in 1865.

Hope you enjoyed the two-part harmony singing. Have you ever had meal ground at a gristmill? Do you have a story about a mill pond or a water wheel? I’d love to hear about it-just click on the word comments below and follow the directions.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in June of 2008.

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  • Reply
    April 10, 2022 at 2:40 pm

    Having become old and far too callous about many things, few things bring a tear to my eye. This song and a few others I’ve heard Pap or the twins do (In the Garden) bring a tear every time because they are songs I heard my Pa sing many times, mostly as he rocked us kids or his grandkids.

    This was a great rendition of that old favorite. Thank you, Tipper!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I live on the site of an old grist mill (it was called a corn mill in these parts)–some of the old bolts and gears still stick out from the creek bank.

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    November 25, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Many years ago we had a mill that ground the corn into meal on Adams Creek, Birdtown Community. They put the flume a long distance up Adams Creek. It was built by John Noland Lambert, years before my time. I have a hand drawn picture of it and I know where it was located. Also, I questioned about the mill. I picked my peoples brain with why, where, who and when.
    There was another gristmill on Lambert Branch, built by great great grandfather Lambert.
    First he built a traditional corn beater in 1870.
    Cousin Carl Lambert also had one in Big Cove section between 1929 and 1940.
    If anyone would like to read or buy this story about mills and corn. Below is where I got the Journal.
    Taken from:” JOURNAL OF CHEROKEE STUDIES” Vol. X1, NO.1 SPRING 1986
    by Joan Greene and H.F. Robinson
    I don’t know if it is still in print. They sell them in the Museum of the Cherokee Indians and also published.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Tipper-I think the mill pond was above the wheel itself. It collected the water before it went into the chute. They had a gate in the chute that controlled the amount of water that went over the wheel. That was how they stopped and started the mill and adjusted its speed. Something like how the automatic transmission in your car works.

  • Reply
    Tenesha Hines
    November 25, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Living in central MS, I don’t know of any old mills around. But, your story reminded me of neighbors who lived across the road from us when I was a child. They were an elderly couple and they planted what seemed, to me, like a hundred acres of sugar cane every year. When it came time to make syrup, they had an old mill that ground the cane powered by an equally aged mule. I remember watching that mule go round and round with Mr. June proddin him on a bit when he lagged. It fascinated me how that mill chewed up that cane. I also remember my Momma, Mamaw, and Mrs. Maudie cooking the syrup under a shed over a wood fire. Momma and Mamaw always volunteered to help and were paid with quart jars of syrup. Usually enough to last til next syrup makin time. Lots of people around our area bought that syrup. Makes me wish my little boys could see something like that. Thanks Tipper! I haven’t walked down that memory lane in a long time.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    November 25, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    Hearing Pap and Paul–and the other artists–sing “Maggie” made me really sad and nostalgic today! The Wilson Duet did their usual excellent job of picking and singing! I thank them.
    When I was a child, my father took me with him to the Jeptha Souther Mill about a mile from our house. Jeptha, the miller, was my father’s cousin. He ground both cornmeal and flour–on different stones, as I remember. It was a water-powered mill, with water coming to the mill from–yes–a pond on Choestoe Creek! And one time, so the story goes (sometime before my day) when Barnum and Bailey Circus came to Blairsville, the elephants were being driven by the mill and the millpond, and those big mammals got loose from their tenders and got into the Souther Millpond. So the story goes, they like never to have gotten the elephants out of the millpond! (And yes, as far-fetched as it seems, this was a true story that happened in the mountains of North Georgia at the old Souther mill!).

  • Reply
    November 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve always been impressed by the
    ingenuity of Mountain folks. When
    I was little, daddy took me with
    him to Raleigh Gregory’s Mill, at
    the entrance to the Nantahala Gorge. He ground our corn for a
    part of the grain. Boy, we sure
    had some good cornbread and fresh
    that evening. And there was another mill at the corner of
    Junaluska Rd. John King had a big
    waterwheel gristmill, and I saw
    it every day riding the schoolbus
    as it went right by it.
    Going toward Asheville, but on the
    left side of Sylva, I visited a
    large waterwheel that powered a
    man’s woodworking shop. Long belts were flappin’ all over the place, to each machine, all to
    make beautiful furniture crafted
    from God’s own handiwork…Ken

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    November 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Loved the music…as always and the harmony…
    My Grandfather had a mill, but his was gasoline powered…A big wheel, a conveyor belt and a bin at the end where the meal came out…I would love to own that old wooden bin…guess it was sold with the mill after my Grandfather died…I loved to look in it when the meal would start filling up the bin…I was warned to just take a peek or soon I would be covered in white dust…There was a big scoop in it and if it wasn’t moved to the side of the bin, it would get covered in meal..
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…When we go to one of those old engine and tractor shows…and someone starts up one of those engines…it sends shivers over me as it sounds like the old mill of my Grandfathers starting up….

  • Reply
    Jackie McClung
    November 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I grew up in the ‘overhill’ of Monroe County, TN. There were two mills in our area. Dad would take our corn and wheat to the farther one because he claimed the nearer one cheated (He took a larger portion for his grinding fee.)
    After I had gone with dad several times the task became mine. I think I was about 6 when dad put me and a sack of corn on the horse for the two mile trip. I was quite a distance from the barn when I realised it was just me and the horse.
    I learned several years later that dad was about the same age when his father sent him alone to the mill. You can’t do things like that now with all the bad folks lurking about.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    November 25, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    My Pap-Paw ran the “country store” where I grew up and he had a grist mill behind it where he would grind not only theirs but other folks as well. They would bring pick-up trucks loaded with their corn for grinding. I ate a many of pan of bread from corn ground in that mill. Now, unfortunately the store and the mill with the old Alis Chalmers tractor that ran the mill with this long and wide belt are all gone. Gone but not forgotten. That bread had a courseness to it that I still prefer today. some today love that “Jiffy” style sweet bread (including my wife). Its ok for a quick pan of bread but I still like the older style myself. Thanks Tipper for bringing back great memories.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    November 25, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Beautiful song as usual Tipper.. Yes my dad went to the gristmill all the time and got our meal.. I know you’ve probably read on my Blog about my Dad and grandpa and how they run an old Gristmill.. Ironically, we live in the exact same spot today where the old Gristmill was at.. Behind our house is the creek where they got water.. My grandpa died in 1937 and my dad told me alot of stuff about that gristmill.. He said my grandpa made sure everybody had plenty of bread back then.. He would even open up on Sundays if people brought corn for their family.. I wrote about it in my last book and I’ve wrote some more that’s gonna be in this next book..Thank you for posting this and the great memories.

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    November 25, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I don’t have any memory of mills, the few here are in ruins. But the story behind Maggie is very poignant. George W. Johnson was a young school teacher in Canada, who fell in love with and married Maggie, a former student. The tale of growing old together was not to be, as Maggie had tuberculosis and died at a very young age, a year or so into their marriage. During one of the bouts of illness, George walked up the hill overlooking the mill, and composed a poem about the view below, and his love for his wife. Several years later, he published a book of his poetry, including Maggie. An American musician set the poem to music, changing the name to Maggie as it fit the music better. I don’t recall the girls actual name, but the poem has lived on a long time after Maggie’s untimely passing. The thing that strikes me most, is how a man in his twenties could look down into the valley, and see himself, his wife, and the valley as they would look after 40 or 50 more years had passed. He expressed his love in a way few songwriters ever have.

  • Reply
    November 25, 2012 at 11:40 am

    My daddy used to sing that song…and I have not heard it in many years. Thank you and I love the harmony. As a kid we used to love to go to Norris, Tenn.and visit the dam and the grist mill. A lady in our church painted us a lovely picture of it and what a treasure it is.

  • Reply
    Celia Miles
    November 25, 2012 at 10:24 am

    I enjoy any article about old grist mills; one of my interests is finding them, photographing them, and writing about them. If any of your readers can tell me about a grist mill in WNC/TN/GA, I hope they will.

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    November 25, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I learned a few years ago that there was once a gristmill/sawmill in sight of the home where I was raised. Likely, it sawed the lumber from which our 1865 farmhouse was built.

  • Reply
    Patricia Page
    November 25, 2012 at 9:04 am

    My daddy loved the old ways. He was born and raised in Cherokee Cty and took his corn to a man between Brasstown and Warne to get his corn ground up until he passed away (early 2000’s). There is nothing better than cornbread made with your own corn freshly ground. We kept it in the freezer to prolong that freshness.

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    November 25, 2012 at 9:01 am

    For those who want to know all things Appalachia (in a single source, as if there were one), I recommend “APPALACHIA” by John Alexander Williams (2001). It’s long but quite readable and says of grist mills that one of the reasons they went the way of all was the growing availability of white wheat flour to the poor, a byproduct of industrialization. It used to be available only to the rich, who could afford previously labor-intensive refining processes. Once rich stuffs became available, it wouldn’t do to serve corn meal when one had affordable white flour to hand. With its less nutritious properties, white flour became another instance where going rich meant remaining poor.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 25, 2012 at 8:54 am

    There was an overshot wheel just on the western edge of Bryson City that I can remember. It would be turning when we rode by on the school bus. There was another near Cherokee that ran too (might still) but I think it was mostly as a tourist attraction. Their “fresh ground” cornmeal probably came from Midstate Mills right near here in Newton.
    There was another at the mouth of Painter Branch on the old John Freeman place, but I don’t it remember ever running. It didn’t have a mill pond. Its water ran directly from the creek.
    My grandpa Gaston Breedlove had a mill up on Wiggins Creek. Grandpa Breedlove died before I was born and I’m not sure where exactly it stood. I think Mommy told me is was an undershot wheel. I don’t know enough about that configuration to know if there was a pond associated.
    I can remember Mommy sifting her cornmeal for weevils. If she found any, the pigs got a feast. Corn meal mush with tiny bits of added protein.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    November 25, 2012 at 8:38 am

    I walked by a functioning mill yesterday – Mingus Mill, on Mingus Creek up near the Lufty visitor’s center.
    There were mills all over these mountains, ranging from the waterwheel type which you discuss to smaller, less efficient tub mills to very small pounding mills.
    Pounding mills were really unique and – at least to an engineer like yours truly, intriguing devices. Little is known about their history, but testimony to their common use is borne out by places named for them in muliple western NC counties, including Clay (Shooting Creek area), Cherokee (north of Marble), Macon (near Burningtown), and Swain (near Welch Branch on the north shore of Fontana).
    If you put “pounding mill” into internet search engines, you’ll come up with multiple references to a town in the western part of Virginia, but nary a one on the device.
    Which is exactly why Tipper needs to do her research and publish an article on it;-)

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    November 25, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Great musical togetherness! I have visited old mills and watched how they processed the corn. Of course, this was mainly to attract tourism. I wondered, however, why the farmers in this area let the corn die and left it there. I didn’t know it needed to go through the freeze process. I wonder how Mamaw’s daddy got himself shot, especially if it was a place he went to often for grinding.

  • Reply
    November 25, 2012 at 8:22 am

    great story and also a sad one to see old things disapear there was an old water wheel saw mill and grinding mill in our little town years ago i rember visiting the old place when i was a young boy we roamed around like huckleberry fin in my young days the mill is gone now and the only thing left are the grinding wheels sad in deed thanks fr. terry

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 25, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Up until the 1950s my Uncle P.P. Dehart operated a gristmill just across the river from our home at Needmore, NC just below the Swinging Bridge. Part of the Old Mill Dam is still discernable under the west end of the bridge though most of it has been torn or washed out.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 25, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Perhaps Ed could find out what happened to Jewell Elliott. He is so resourceful with things like that. He was able to find what happened to my grandparents.
    I used to be able to order fresh ground meal from a mill near Brevard. I haven’t tried to order in the last few years cause I don’t make much cornbread any more. I would call them to place the order and they would mail it to me with the postage receipt taped to the outside of the box. I would mail them a check for the total for the meal plus postage on the outside of the box. I thought it remarkable that even 10 years ago there were folks who did business like that….with trust.

  • Reply
    November 25, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Great harmony as always. I always enjoy the singing. I don’t know of any mills in our area. Years ago, an old couple did grind meal to sell, but have long since died.It seemed as tho the cornbread tasted so much better when made from it.

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