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.