Share Dick Thompson’s lifelong love of Yates Mill

We’re a lucky bunch at Yates Mill Associates. Our organization’s leadership includes many people whose memories and family ties to the Yates Mill community stretch back generations. Their love for this special place helped save it when they formed Yates Mill Associates in 1989, and it keeps us strong today as we carry out the mission to preserve this 250-year-old treasure. In our upcoming 25th anniversary year, we’ll celebrate their dedication by telling you some of their stories. Please read this letter from Emeritus Director J.D. “Dick” Thompson and hear why, at the grand age of 97, he’s still at work helping us protect, celebrate and share Yates Mill with you.

Dear friends:

Dick Thompson

Dick Thompson on the park visitors’ center porch named in his honor, where you can enjoy a scenic view of Yates Mill. Photo by Marc Hall, N.C. State University

I fell in love with Yates Mill more than 75 years ago.

When I was a young man attending N.C. State University, a good friend invited me to his home. On the trip, we stopped by this wonderful place – still a working gristmill. I heard the sound of water over the dam and the rumble of the old machinery as the miller, Mr. John Daniel Lea, ground corn. I was hooked.

On that day in the mid-1930s, I would never have imagined that I would still be visiting Yates Mill today, still enjoying food made from cornmeal ground on those old stones, still introducing new friends to this beautiful place as a board member and supporter of Yates Mill Associates.

I visited Yates Mill many times over the years, first as a student on class outings and then in my business life, working with farmers in the area and later as an employee of A.E Finley, who owned and protected the mill from the late 1940s until it was purchased by N.C. State in 1963.

Over the decades, I watched Yates Mill change from a quaintly popular old business to a crumbling relic ready to collapse into Steep Hill Creek. But there were plenty of other people who loved Yates Mill and kept it standing until at last, in 1989, a small but strong group of friends took action.

Yates Mill Associates took charge of the old site, marshaling private resources and working with N.C. State and Wake County’s government to turn this mill, built in the 1750s, into the public landmark it should rightfully be.

I was proud to be part of that effort then, and I am proud to still be part of it today. Because the work isn’t over, and never will be, to maintain Yates Mill as a living connection to our shared history.

Yates MillYates Mill Associates works every day to keep the old mill running and open to our public. Its leaders have been trustworthy stewards for nearly 25 years. The mill and park draw more visitors every year. Each visit is a chance for a young person to make a tangible connection to the people who began more than 250 years ago to build this community, county and state into the home we share today.

Each year, with your help, Yates Mill Associates must raise tens of thousands of dollars just for basic maintenance and operation of the mill. We must also marshal the resources to pay for periodic major repairs.

Last year, YMA raised more than $17,000 to pay for a new roof, one that’s guaranteed for 30 years. This year, the job is much bigger: We will replace the forebay – the “box” that channels water from the pond to the waterwheel – with a price tag of more than $55,000. That’s on top of the annual repair budget, not to mention basic operating expenses and our ongoing need to save for future repairs.

Yates Mill Associates is solely responsible for funding the mill’s repair and operation, and we rely on private donations to pay for our work. As Yates Mill becomes increasingly popular in our community, our need for support increases as well.

This year, we’d like to ask you to help in three ways:

  • Make a generous gift to Yates Mill Associates by visiting our membership page to download a donation form you can mail with a check or make a secure online donation that can be broken into manageable monthly installments.
  • Volunteer your time. We can always use tour guides, ticket and merchandise sellers, front desk greeters, and more at the park. Yates Mill Associates itself can use administrative help, from serving on our board to helping write our newsletter to managing small fundraising projects. Send a note to if you’re interested.
  • Tell your friends about us. Bring a friend, a neighbor, your children to take a mill tour or just to walk around the pond. My friend’s hospitality in the 1930s gave me a life-long affection for Yates Mill. You can do the same for someone you love.

I cherish Yates Mill. I cherish the friends I have made working with Yates Mill Associates, friends who share my passion for saving and celebrating this piece of our shared history. I cherish the knowledge that some young person who visits Yates Mill today will feel the same connection I did on that visit so long ago, and will join us in protecting it for the next generation.

Please help Yates Mill Associates maintain this legacy from our past as a gift to our future. Make your gift today, and come see us soon at Historic Yates Mill County Park.

Happy holidays,

J.D. “Dick” Thompson
Emeritus Director
Yates Mill Associates


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