Saturday, July 5, 2014

In the Mountains of West Virginia, Post 4: The McNeel Mill at Millpoint

About 8 years ago I met a young man while I was storytelling at the Clifftop Old Time Music Festival. He said he was restoring an old mill, and when he told me the location I knew exactly which mill he was talking about. I'd seen it several times, and noticed it slowly deteriorating over the years. I ran into him a few years later and he said he was still at the mill and making progress. While I was in Pocahontas county last week, I got a chance to see the results of his work first hand. The mill was open! And it was looking good.


We were met by the official greeter, who seemed a little young for his duties so we put him back inside the pen where he belonged.


The back of the mill shows an ongoing project: replacement of the mill race, or the wooden trough that feeds water from a nearby stream to the wheel. The constant stream keeps the wheel turning, which turns the gears that turn the millstones...you get the idea. Currently the mill is being powered by an electric motor while the race is rebuilt. 

Inside I was delight to see that Matt Tate was still there, and we listened as he explained the mill's workings to some other visitors. 


His passion for the project is evident, as is the depth of research he has done on how mills operate. 


This mill was in operation until the 1940's and the owners, the McNeel family, kept up with repairs for the most part, but by the time Matt arrived the roof was going bad--and that usually spells the end for any building. The structure is now on the register of historical buildings and as such qualifies for grant money for some repairs, such as replacing the rotting portions of the roof. Just in time. The original equipment is still in place and surprising in good operating condition. 


Other reminders of a bygone time are everywhere in the mill.



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I was happy to discover the use of one odd-looking, long piece of wood. There is exactly such a piece--two of them in fact--at the Riverbend Antique Mall in Ravenswood and I puzzled and puzzled over what it could be. There were several of them in the McNeel mill, and Matt explained that these were grain augers, used for pushing grain from one place to another.


The little wood paddles were all craved by hand; they could have used metal ones, but Matt said that with wood so plentiful, and travel in the mountains difficult, it was easier to make the pieces from wood so that they could be easily and inexpensively replaced.  Makes sense to me. There was a stack of extras on hand, and it made me wonder, who was the last person to touch this bit of wood before me? I bet it was a long time ago.


This piece of equipment is fascinating. It is a flour bleaching machine. Matt explained that flour was bleached by trapping and using the ozone created during the milling process. Somehow the ozone was fed into this machine and when the flour passed through it was bleached. The method was risky, however: several mills burned when their ozone machines blew up and this method was quickly abandoned. 


The current mill was built in 1848, but there have been other mills on the site since the 1700's. Here you can see the pegs used in construction; using wood instead of metal again since wood was so abundant.


Other visitors enjoyed a close look at the mill wheel just outside the stair window to the second floor.

The view from the third floor.



I hope we will be able to visit again when the race is complete and the wheel is turning on water power. Until then, I wish Matt well as he continues this labor of love. We are all benefiting from his work.


Here's  a link to the website for the McNeel mill

Contact information if you'd like to plan a visit: 

Phone: 304-653-8843
Contact e-mail: biodiesel_wv@yahoo.com
Latitude: 38.128938
Longitude: -80.225938

Along Rt 219 In Mill Point In Pocahontas County. Latitude: N38 15.40 Longitude: W80 18.01

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

6 comments:

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

That's great, Sue. I'm really enjoying this series of posts. The mill looks quite spacious compared to some of the mills I've visited in this country.

Quinn said...

This is one of my favorite posts ever, Sue! I wish I could visit and talk to the miller, as I am both fascinated and ignorant. In my part of New England there are literally dozens of old millsites, usually seen only as remaining stonework along streams in what is now (again) the middle of the woods. I have taken probably thousands of photographs, and spent many hours pondering and trying to envision what used to be.

Quinn said...

Sue, is there a website for the mill? Or since it is open for visitors, could you post an address? I'd like to add this to my 2014 Dream Roadtrip list :)

Granny Sue said...

Quinn, here's contact information for the mill: Contact phone: 304-653-8843
Web site: http://mcneelmill.googlepages.com
Contact e-mail: biodiesel_wv@yahoo.com
Latitude: 38.128938
Longitude: -80.225938

Along Rt 219 In Mill Point In Pocahontas County. Latitude: N38 15.40 Longitude: W80 18.01

And here's a website. I will add this information to my post. Thanks for asking!

It's a fascinating place to visit and Matt can tell you so much about milling.

Jenny said...

A great post. I'm really enjoying this series as well.

525757f6-d4a8-11e3-a0cd-000bcdcb5194 said...

Really enjoyed this and adding itto my ever increasing "list"-

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