Restoration of the Francis Mill

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

AiP has supported restoration work at the Francis Mill since 2003. The Francis Mill is a water-powered grist mill that was built circa 1887 by William Francis. Still owned by his descendants, it is thought to be the only grist mill still in existence in Haywood County. The mill remained in operation for nearly 90 years and to this day uses much of its original equipment, including overhead belts and pulleys, wooden gears and a variety of grinders.

Francis Mill before restoration workThe structure was on the verge of collapse when Tanna Timbes contacted AiP for assistance. The resulting partnership between Adventures in Preservation, then known as Heritage Conservation Network, and the Francis Mill Preservation Society generated hundreds of volunteer hours at the mill during week-long hands-on building conservation workshops in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Several significant, and costly, tasks remained. Nonetheless the FMPS was committed to their goal of having the mill operational and open to the public in 2007, 120 years after it was built.

2004 Workshop

In 2004, the primary task was to replace the heavily deteriorated east side sill beam in order to stabilize the building. Work also included documenting the sill beam to be replaced, creating measured drawings of the east side of the building and putting in five new posts. Participants spent hours cutting and chiseling mortises and tenons on the new beam and posts. Serious effort was required to put in those posts, and in the end a crane lifted the 26’ replacement sill beam into place, marking the highlight of two solid weeks of hard work to save the building.

2005 Workshop

rafter repair Francis Mill volunteer restoration projectThe 2005 workshop focused on three main issues: the east side framing, the building’s siding, and the beam that supports the millstones. Participants repaired the support beams under the mill stones and installed new posts in the east wall framing. They made joist end repairs and installed new floor joists and floor planks for the machine room floor, matching the original size and locations. They then reinstalled old siding and battens on the south side, including securing old siding on the east end of the north side. Other work included restoration of fascia and eave moulding on the south end of the east side cornice. The last major task was the layout and installation of new siding on the upper east wall.

2006 Workshop

learning preservation carpenty skills Francis Mill Waynesville NCIn 2006, the emphasis was on finishing repairs to the mill building and beginning reconstruction of the flume. Volunteers were able to lay out and cut the bridge timber, which is the support for the mill stones; repair the summer beam supports; repair mortise and tenons in the north and west beams; install blocking boards on the west side; replace siding on the front of the mill; and begin to build the supports for the flume.

The original flume stood until the 1980s, when it collapsed under a heavy snow. The flume tower foundations were cleared, excavated and poured. Volunteers completed five of the flume towers during the workshop.

After the Workshops

The Francis Mill Preservation Society continued to marshal volunteers, resources and funders to the cause. In June 2007 nine volunteers working with a crew from the Water Wheel Factory installed a new steel water wheel. The flume box was installed the following month. A great cheer went up at noon on September 22, 2007 as water ran from the mill pond, through the flume and over the wheel, turning it for the first time in 31 years. Seven months later, on April 26, 2008, the mill was in full operation, grinding 150 pounds of corn meal.

Support for the Mill

Restoration of the Francis Mill has benefited tremendously from the support of the 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 used for the restoration work itself.

Francis Mill fully operational in 2009 after volunteer restoration effortFunding for restoration work at the Francis Mill has been 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. AiP continues to provide technical and organizational support to the FMPS.

Learn more about the Francis Mill Preservation Society by visiting

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