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Baby, it’s hot outside – and inside Yates Mill

There’s nothing we at Yates Mill Associates like better than showing visitors around our favorite gristmill. It’s not just that your tour fees help us pay for upkeep to the building and machinery. It’s because we’re always happy to meet a neighbor who appreciates our shared, living history as embodied in Yates Mill.

That’s why we plan to have Yates Mill open to you every weekend from the beginning of March through the end of November. We work with staff at Historic Yates Mill County Park to make sure we have enough volunteers to guide tours and run the mill machinery.

Gary Coates gives a tour

Gary Coates gives a Mill Heritage Tour in the spring of 2012. (Photo by Hunter Krauss)

On corn-grinding weekends – the third Saturday and Sunday of each month – we add costumed interpreters to explain each station of the tour. Our head miller and his assistant grind corn on our restored machinery right in front of you. And more volunteers are on hand to sell you some of our delicious cornmeal or other souvenirs of your visit.

Of course, if you’d visited Yates Mill back when it was a commercial operation, you probably wouldn’t see the mill in action as often. Milling was a seasonal business, with corn typically ground in the fall and wheat in the spring.

These days, that schedule isn’t enough to allow us to show off Yates Mill to all the people who want to see it. So we don’t take it lightly when we cancel tours. But sometimes it has to be done …

In late June and early July, a record-breaking heatwave meant we had to cancel several tours. What does heat have to do with it?

Well, Yates Mill has never had any source of power except the waterwheel. And our restoration is true to the building’s history, so we won’t install electricity or any other form of power.

No electricity means there is no air conditioning – not even a fan. Even with all the windows open, it gets stifling inside the building during hot weather. And don’t forget that about half of our regular mill heritage tour takes place outside.

YMA volunteers in costume

YOU try wearing these outfits when it's 95 degrees outside!

On corn-grinding weekends, we may still have tours when the temperature climbs, but our volunteers may choose not to wear costume. Our outfits are historically accurate down to the skin, which means several layers of clothing (don’t get us started on the corsets). Nineteenth-century folk may have been used to the attire, and probably wouldn’t have been hanging out around the millyard in the blistering heat anyway. We accommodate our modern milling team by letting them dress in more comfortable clothes.

The opposite extreme is cold weather. Ice buildup on the waterwheel can damage it and machinery under the building. Cold (and heat) cause wooden parts to shrink and swell unpredictably. That’s why Yates Mill is closed for tours in December, January and February.

We still turn the waterwheel daily to make sure it’s evenly exposed to water and weather. But instead of starting the mill machinery in the normal way, head miller William Robbins often pushes the waterwheel by hand – or foot – so that it is moved as little and as gently as necessary.

Nasty storms generally always force us to close the mill. Heavy rain or tropical storms send water roaring over the dam, flooding the footpath that leads under the Lake Wheeler Road bridge. Have a look at flooding at Yates Mill in June 2009 in this photo gallery on the Park’s Facebook page (you should be able to view these photos even if you’re not a Facebook member).

Damage to Yates Mill from Hurricane Fran

This is what happened to our poor Yates Mill and dam during Hurricane Fran in 1996

The worst storm in the mill’s modern history came during the middle of restoration in 1996, when Hurricane Fran blew out the dam and tore the mill shed (the area where the corn shellers are displayed) away from the main building.

More pictures of the damage can be seen in the A.E. Finley Center at the park – a reminder to us all that, though Yates Mill may have survived 250 years of war, weather and other catastrophes so far, YMA will always be vigilant to protect this fragile link to our past.

 

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