This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Friday, February 05, 2010

Old Grist Mill of Guilford

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

All Grist mills were important to our local historical communities, but the old Grist Mill of Guilford County, NC has always fascinated me. I can't help but imagine what it was like when this place was the center of so many lives back then. Most everyone loves to eat bread, but back in 1764 when Daniel Dillion was granted a license to build a public grist mill, people grew the grain on their land, then they had to grind it into flour before they could bake bread. Before the grist mill, they used a wooden mortar and a pestle to grind the grain by hand. It was a long tedious process. I can imagine an aching back and a sore arm by the next morning. 

When enough people moved into an area, they built a grist mill to ease their work load. Everyone in the community participated in the effort. Most grist mills were located along the bank where fast-moving water was available like a river or a waterfall. A location that was also near a wooded area for the timber to build the grist mill was ideal, and also because the trees soaked up moisture and helped prevent flooding.They would build a dam across the water to create a small millpond. It not only provided a home for fish and birds, but created a beautiful scenic spot.

Most earlier grist mills looked like huge barns. Most were made of Oak because it is a solid, sturdy piece of wood and termites dislike Oak. Wooden pegs were more common in the building process because in early America nails were hard to come by. Many grist mills were three levels. The top stored the grain and flour. The middle level is where the grinding occurred and the shop was located. The bottom level contained the gears to operate the machinery. The mill wheel was most often outside the building and turned through the water to create power.

The miller was a skilled tradesman. The position would be advertised in neighboring cities and towns. Many were trained in Europe and transferred to America. Now there is a story idea! He would work from sun-up to sun-down. Everyone in the community was the miller's customer. The miller was often well-respected and elected to political positions after his mill began to earn significant wealth. 

The old Mill of Guilford County was where my ancestors took their grain. My 7th great-grandfather, Henry Safewright, purchased his first tract of land on Beaver Creek in 1763, a year before the license was issued to build the grist mill on the mouth of Beaver Creek. Daniel Dillion attended New Garden Friends Meeting Church, where my Quaker ancestors also attended church.

The photos above were taken by me in the late-90's. The Grist Mill of Guilford County is still in operation and so is the store where goods are sold. 

Don't be surprised if a village grist mill becomes a central location for the backdrop of one of my Carolina historical novels.