2008 Newsletters

Newsletter Articles from 2008

As Yates Mill was restored, Yates Mill Associates published and mailed a paper newsletter to keep supporters informed of the progress and historical discoveries.

Here are some articles from 2008:

  • History Revealed: Lea Family Lends Mill Artifacts to Park by Leslie Hawkins
  • The Miller’s Corner – How Long Does a Millstone Last? by William Robbins
  • The Miller’s Coner – Tools of the Trade: Jack Stick by William Robbins
  • Millponds and the Environment by John Vandenbergh
  • Grain Wagon Acquired and Moved to Park by Rebeccah Cope
  • Early Land Grant and Mill Research by Rebeccah Cope
  • The Miller’s Corner – Hopper Boy by William Robbins

History Revealed: Lea Family Lends Mill Artifacts to ParkJohn Daniel Lea, Sr. was the the miller at Yates Mill from approximately 1898 to 1963. His granddaughters, Debbie Hunter and Ann Pearson, have lent two small ledger books and a skeleton key used to secure the door at Yates Mill to the park. The ledgers provide a detailed glimpse into the everyday work and finances of Mr. Lea. Entries in the ledgers include the price of 100 pounds of corn crushed for Earwin Lawrence in 1933, and the purchase of a cow from Earwin Lawrence for $45 in 1937. The cow was paid for in pigs over a three year period, because pigs were only worth $5 each. Mr. Lea paid rent to Thomas Wadford, the Secretary-Treasurer of Trojan Sales Company to use Yates Mill. He hired his nephew, J.J. Champion for $1 per hour to work on his house and noted how much he paid for supplies to build his home as well as when pigs and calves were born. In addition to running Yates Mill, Mr. Lea also rented boats and charged people to fish in the millpond.


A common question asked by visitors is how long does a millstone last. A properly set-up pair of millstones never touch each other during the grinding process. The gap between the stationary bed stone on the bottom and the rotating runner stone on top can be adjusted, also know as tentering. The grooves on the millstones are called lands. Over time, the friction from grinding grain polishes this area of the stones smooth. Mill picks, which are special hammers, are used to roughen, or dress the stone. Each time the stones are dressed, approximately 1/32 of an inch is removed from the stones. The stones at Yates Mill are 16 inches thick and 48 inches in diameter. If these stones were dressed once a year, the stones would still be about 8 inches thick after 256 years.
Millstones are used in pairs. The bottom stone, or bedstone, is stationary and the top stone, or runner moves to ground the grain. A drive shaft, or stone spindle, passes though a hole in the center of the bedstone and powers the larger and heavier runner. The faces of the millstones never touch but are set up to be parallel to one another and the faces must be exactly perpendicular to the stone spindle. A jack stick is used to verify that the perpendicular arrangement is exact. The setting is known as tram. This verification process, called tramming, takes place before the runner millstone is put in place as part of the set up before grinding begins. The jack stick is installed onto the stone spindle and the feather on the end of the jack stick is lowered until it is just slightly above the face of the bedstone. The stone spindle is slowly rotated and the feather will drag and make a scratching sound wherever the bedstone is high. The bedstone can be adjusted or the base of the stone spindle can be moved until the feather on the jack stick can be rotated completely around without touching the face of the bedstone.

Some of the information in this article is from an article in the The New York Times dated June 24, 2008. Millponds were an essential source of power to permit grinding, sawing, and other mechanical actions. But they also changed the landscape. Before colonists, stream valleys were marshy with streams flowing over gravel beds. Colonists built thousands of mills in the mid-Atlantic states. In Wake County NC, it was estimated there were 70 mills is operation at some point. Sediment trapped by these millponds built up as the land was cleared and farmed became 3 to 20 feet deep. When the millpond became too shallow to operate the waterwheel, due to this sediment, many mills were moved downstream. As mills were abandoned and the dams were breached, the faster flowing water cut deep channels in the sediment, leaving layers of silt visible on the stream banks. Efforts are underway the restore streams in an attempt to improve water quality. At Yates Mill, the millpond was re-sculpted by removing 40,000 cubic yards of silt after Hurricane Fran demolished the dam leaving an extensive swamp area to reduce future silt deposits.x
The wagon on display at the park was bought from Ricky Nugent, He bought it from an antiques dealer in Mount Airy, NC, who said he acquired it from a barn in Pennsylvania. It was used to haul grain, but there is no other information about the wagon or a maker's mark on the wagon. Volunteer researcher Jim Jones has been delving into land grants and related documents issued in the mid 1700s to Yates Mill founder, Samuel Pearson. Jim offered the following information as the "current most likely scenario" for the mill's early history. 1750-1754 Pearson moves into the area south of Walnut Creek near Wildcat Branch and buys a tract of land from John Monk. April 1756 Pearson enters for a Granville grant on Shingles Branch off Steep Hill Creek - this is not the mill tract. April 1756 Pearson sells his Wildcat Branch tract to Theophilus Hunter. 1761 Pearson receives his Granville Grant for Shingles Branch. 1763 Pearson enters for a second Granville grant - this entry describes where Yates Mill is located. While no Granville grant is ever issued for the tract, the entry establishes Pearson's rights to the land and provides an owned site on which to build the mill. 1763 The Earl of Granville dies and his land office operations cease. 1763-1778 No land grants are issued in the Wake County NC area. 1776 After Independence the State of NC confiscates the Granville District. 1778 Pearson enters for a NC State grant - the entry indicates his mill exists. In summary, Samuel Pearson is thought to have settled in the Steep Hill Creek area around 1756 and may have established a homestead in addition to the dam and pond. Construction of the mill most likely took place around 1763.

Technology tours at Yates Mill cover the mechanical details of Yates Mill as well as the construction of the building and the restoration of the entire system to working condition. Visitors are taken from underneath the mill all the way to the third floor. On the third floor is a reconstruction of a machine patented in 1790 by Oliver Evans known as a Hopper Boy. Freshly ground wheat is delivered to the third floor by a bucket elevator that deposits the meal directly onto the floor. The Hopper Boy is designed to spread, stir, and cool the wheat meal before it is fed into the bolter for sifting. Before Oliver Evans invented this machine, a young boy was employed to use a rake to spread and cool the wheat meal on the floor. This required the floor itself to be clean enough to eat off of. The young boy was known as a hopper boy. When Oliver Evans invented a machine to take the boy's place, he kept the name hopper boy.

To see more information about the history of Yates Mill and the role Yates Mill Associates played in restoring the mill, visit the A.E. Finley Center at Historic Yates Mill County Park to see displays, view artifacts, and watch videos of the mill in action.