M y first perceptions of gristmills were fairytale-like images of giant millstones turning blue waters amid a lush, village green. But I am pretty sure my imagination never concocted the full beauty of gristmills the delicious virgin grain used for baking. Though the massive number of today’s small mills has been usurped by the bravado of bigcompanies, there are still three jewels operating in Middle Tennessee all with hearts big enough to keep the fairytale alive.
Janie and John Lovett, Owners
“Onceupon a time” is how Falls Mill’s most recent owners of twenty-nine years began their story. Falls Mill stands on Factory Creek in Belvidere, Tennessee, and was the site of a fortuitous 1984 picnic.
Today, owners John and Janie’s log home is situated near their lives’ work.
Built in 1873 as a cotton and woolen factory, the mill transitioned into a cotton gin and then a woodworking shop. The site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, touts a waterwheel powering millstones that produce stone-ground flour, cornmeal, and grits.
Lucky for the Lovetts, the miller of thirty-nine years, Williams Janey, came with the purchase of the mill. His art has instilled a devotion to their commitment. “We are stewards of this historic property,” Janie believes. Each month, 30,000 pounds of grain are processed utilizing wheat grown by a teacher in Georgia and corn grown in Tennessee.
The site also hosts a museum of antique machinery, curated by John, a board member of the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM) and an instructor for the miller training workshops held each year.
Advanced reservations ensure an overnight stay in a log cabin built in 1895 on the property. Meanwhile, photogenic spots about, securing constant bookings, from weddings to school field trips to historic celebrations.
Stone-ground products made at the mill—such as grits, white or yellow cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, and multi-grain pancake mix—are available for sale to the public and are sampled throughout the country by folks feasting at the Inn at Blackberry Farm; City House in Nashville; Magnolia’s in Charleston; Zinc Bistro in Scottsdale, Arizona; and the Gross Pointe Yacht Club in Gross Point, Michigan.
Tomm Brady, Owner
In 1812, Charles Ready discovered a location on the Stones River, between Murfreesboro and Woodbury, for a water-powered gristmill. His home, the Corners, was located across from the mill. Later owned and operated by his daughter and her husband, the mill burned to the ground during the Civil War. Ownership changes perpetuated a sawmill, an icehouse, and an electric generator, and together they served as the cornerstone of economic stamina in Cannon County for many years.
In 1937, TVA purchased the mill’s small electric plant, and by 1973, the Readyville Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. After closing in 1978, Tomm and Martha Brady purchased the mill for restoration because, as Tomm says, “It needed to be restored and I have an affection for millstones.” The site reopened in 2009 as an event space.
The mill complex consists of five buildings: the mill, granary, icehouse, miller’s cabin, and a smokehouse. When the mill was operational, the granary and the icehouse were used for product storage. Opening onto the icehouse, the granary now accommodates seventy-five people, hosting a variety of events.
The Readyville Mill is open on Saturdays for breakfast. Served at The Eatery, breakfast showcases whole-wheat pancakes and hoecakes made with Tennessee-grown, USDA Certified Organic wheat and corn. The Readyville also sells yellow and white cornmeal, grits, jams and jellies, molasses, and honey.
Another reward for dipping back into what was the site of Cannon County in the nineteenth century is a feast for the eyes. The mill nurtures native plants such as Columbine, Celosia Dame’s Rocket, Camanula, Joe Pye Weed, and Cardinal Wine. “Our website alerts visitors to what may be in bloom from April to October,” says Mill Manager Pat Blankenship.
Trish and Tim Miller, Owners
In a mild voice, Trish Miller says, “Tim and I just appreciate what God has given and we try to do something with it.” Ancestors of the Spencer’s Mill story would be astounded at the ever-evolving devotion for Spencer’s Mill.
Moses Parker was first up in 1804, establishing a new home and mill in the “Natchez Indian Territory.” Parker’s grandson, Samuel Spencer, operated the mill as a water turbine-driven corn and flour mill. In 1919, Moses Parker’s great-grandson dismantled the mill and moved the operation close to the railroad tracks in Burns.
But after ushering various descendants in and out,
Spencer’s Mill sat dormant for fifty years. The Millers invested in 1993 and moved the mill back to its original site on Parker’s Creek for restoration. Trish recalls a poignant family moment during the move: “The moving mill caught up to my son’s school bus. He was teased about the condition of the old mill, but as a grown man, he is very proud.”
Today, a twenty- foot Fitz waterwheel, added in 2004, produces cornmeal that is sought by accomplished local chefs. “Amerigo’s in Nashville and Cork and Cow in Franklin prefer stone-ground grains for their customers. And with a rise in celiac disease, we see an increase in demand,” says Trish.
Living history tours are offered at Spencer’s Mill, the site of many special events and celebrations. Creek-side play and a patrol of peacocks set the tone for outdoor enjoyment. White and yellow cornmeal, grits, lye soap, corncob pipes, corn-shuck dolls, and hand-dipped candles are always on sale as souvenirs from another place in time.