Restoration of the Francis Mill

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Waynesville, North Carolina, USA – July 2004, July 2005, June 2006

Francis Mill after restorationIn 2003, AiP received a plea to help save the historic Francis Mill, which was on the verge of collapse. We first organized an emergency stabilization workshop to get the structure through the winter, then helped the community form their own non-profit preservation organization, the Francis Mill Preservation Society. Since then, AiP, the FMPS, and a great many volunteers have worked closely together to restore the mill and return it to working condition.

The Francis Mill was built in 1887 and run by the same family for nearly 90 years. It is believed to be the only grist mill still standing in Haywood County, representing an important part of this community’s life for many years.

Project and Results
Francis Mill restoration underway Adventures in PreservationFor three years, Adventures in Preservation and the Francis Mill Preservation Society formed a partnership, bringing volunteers to work with a conservation expert at the mill for one or two weeks each summer. It amazed us all that the mill could be completely restored within this short amount of time, but we have since learned to never underestimate the power of preservation volunteers.

Jeff Finch, a wood-structure conservation specialist led the project work. In 2004, the primary task was to replace the heavily deteriorated sill beam on the east elevation. Volunteers also creating measured drawings, and placed five new posts, learning to cut mortises and tenons. The final day brought a crane that lifted the 26’ replacement sill beam into place; the beam and the use of the crane had both been donated by local businesses.

Sill beam going into place Francis Mill restorationIn 2005, focus was on three main issues: repairing east elevation framing, restoring siding, and repairing the beam that supported the millstones. The emphasis in 2006 was on finishing repairs to the mill building and beginning reconstruction of the flume. The original flume stood until the 1980s, when it collapsed under a heavy snow. Volunteers completed five of the flume towers during the AiP workshop and community members finished the project over the next few months.

Volunteer labor over the course of three AiP workshops totaled approximately 1100 hours. Community volunteers worked many additional hours to meet their goal – having the mill operational and open to the public (especially school groups) in 2007, 120 years after it was built.

Hands-on and Beyond
chiseling a mortise Francis Mill restorationThe Francis Mill project drew support from  both the immediate and the greater local community. Each year, FMPS members, community businesses and well wishers donated lunches and supplies for the work crews as well as lumber and other building materials. Critical funding was provided by the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM), the Society for Industrial Archaeology, the Terence L. Mills Preservation Fund for North and South Carolina, and the Haywood County Community Foundation, as well as the Francis Cove and Waynesville communities. Mast General Store was the 2006 Workshop Sponsor. Additional funding to the FMPS was provided by the Steele Reese Foundation.

Today, the mill is the site of the annual Music at the Mill festival, a stop on the Cold Mountain History Tour, and a favorite field trip for local school children, who are able to see history in action and take home freshly ground corn meal – and a recipe or two to go with it!

learning to use power tools Francis Mill restoration Volunteers from far and near were full of praise for the project and their experience. Mary Stachowiak, a historic preservation graduate student from Michigan told us: “I really liked that it was hands-on and I felt I walked away with a skill I didn’t have before. Instead of just watching people do it, I was able to do it myself.” Another volunteer, from Texas, commented, “The restoration team … was great and I have no reservations about joining this team or others on future projects.”

Ken Walton, who volunteered at the mill both during and outside of AiP project weeks was happiest of all, saying, “It was a slice of paradise to work with everyone involved with this project! It offered a wonderful and rare opportunity to work on a virtually intact mill. I’ll be back next year.”  And he was.

Learn more about Adventures in Preservation’s upcoming projects
Learn more about AiP’s previous volunteer preservation projects