Wake Landmark Brought Back To Life
Posted April 16, 2003
WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — The wheel first started turning on
more than 200 years ago -- 30 years before George Washington became the nation's first president.
After a 50-year rest, Wake County's last surviving water-powered gristmill has come back to life.
"It's almost musical in its rhythms. We can change the speed of the wheel by changing the amount of water over it and that changes the rhythm of the whole building," said Dr. John Vandenbergh, a mill volunteer.
At one time, Wake County had dozens of gristmills and each was the center of a small community, like Lassiter Mill, Edwards Mill and Whitaker Mill.
Yates Mill's beauty, rarity and history moved a group to action about 15 years ago.
"Our goal was, at that time, to stabilize the mill and keep it from getting any worse," miller William Robbins said.
The original structure and almost all the machinery have been preserved, along with signs of times past. A beam boasts the name of Robert E. Lee Yates, the son of the man who ran the mill for a long time. The signature is dated 1882.
John Daniel Lee ran the mill from 1898 till 1955.
Robbins brought his skills as a wood worker to the restoration project. He said he fell in love with the mill, staying on to run it.
"It has a personality," he said. "There are days when it's wet and humid and things swell up and it doesn't like to operate like on dry days."
On a good day, Robbins said the mill can still grind about 500 pounds of meal an hour.
The mill is in the center of a new park being developed along Lake Wheeler Road. The 500-acre site is scheduled to open in 2004.
The Yates Mill restoration project is a joint effort between the nonprofit Yates Mill Associates, Wake County and North Carolina State University.