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Fully operational grist mill at Fiddlers Grove this year

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By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post

It is entirely possible that you’ll work up an appetite while visiting this year’s Wilson County Fair, and if you do you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy some grits and cornbread muffins, made fresh, at the Livesay Grist Mill at Fiddler’s Grove at the fairgrounds.

The Livesay Grist Mill at Fiddler’s Grove is fully operational and has acquired new equipment. The mill will make and sell bagged grits and corn meal as well as cooked grits and cornbread muffins for the first time during the fair, set for Aug. 21-29.

Livesay Mill was built in 1879 on the Clinch River at Kyle’s Ford near the Tennessee-Virginia State Line in Hancock County. The Grist Mill was water powered using a pair of grinding stones to grind corn for meal and wheat for flour. According to deed records, S.W. Carter and John Livesay along with other family members settled in Sneedville prior to the Civil War.

The millhouse was built in Fiddler’s Grove in 2006 and the Grist Mill was installed and became operational during the Wilson County Fair in 2007. Jerry McFarland acquired the mill and donated it to Fiddler’s Grove in 2005; however, that was not his first time to see the Livesay Mill.

When McFarland worked with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in 1977, he said he received a call from the Clinch River area that they had received intense amounts of rain and the communities were flooded. Homes were being washed off of their foundations as flood waters rose quickly.

“We got a couple of Hueys (a popular military helicopter) and two rescue helicopters from Ft. Campbell and we went over to help them (the Clinch River area residents),” McFarland said. “Mrs. Livesay had climbed up on top of her porch at the mill where she lived. We put the skids down and she climbed in with us.

“When I came back here to check out the mill in 2004, I felt that I had been there before,” McFarland said. “Turns out, I had.”

McFarland said that back in the days before refrigeration, there was a grist mill within 5 miles of every home. The Grist Mill was one of the most needed facilities in pioneer days and was always busy.

“Before refrigeration came along, corn meal would only last for a few weeks before it got oily and ruined,” McFarland said. “So folks would have to make a trip to get new meal every other month. Refrigerators killed the mills.”

The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills is an international organization which is dedicated by its constitution to "promote interest in old mills and other Americana now quickly passing from the present scene. It reports to its members through a quarterly magazine...keeps files and maintains a library on mills...and acts as a clearing house on milling information among all those interested," according to its charter.

The Society, also known as SPOOM, was chartered in Maine as a non-profit organization in 1972. Its members include mill owners, old mill buffs, museum curators, conservators, writers, teachers, artists, photographers, equipment supply firms and institutions such as libraries.

Membership is open to any individual who shares the interests and purposes of SPOOM. The Society shares common interests with the International Molinological Society (TIMS) which is a worldwide organization of old mill enthusiasts and scholars with headquarters in England.

McFarland, along with Dr. Roger McKinney and others, use original equipment from 1879 from the Livesay Mill. It took seven goose-neck trailers to bring all of the equipment from Kyle’s Ford to Lebanon.

“It’s a labor of love,” McKinney said of the whole process of setting the mill up and adding on to it.

“Everything is authentic,” McFarland said. “We just want to bring a piece of history back.

 “We don’t have a real steam whistle because the steam engines are unpredictable and can explode,” McFarland said. “I hooked my ShopVac up to a pull cord and a pipe to make a whistle. When we see people walking by, we can pull the whistle and entice them to come over and check us out.”

McFarland and McKinney said they really want to show their mill to as many people as possible to keep the history in people’s minds.

Staff Writer Ben Dudley may be contacted at ben@wilsonpost.com.

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