Hall County Protects Head’s Mill (GA)

3/5/2003 — Hall County today purchased historic Head’s Mill from the Georgia office of the Trust for Public Land (TPL). The structure is the last remaining gristmill in Hall County and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located on the North Oconee River in East Hall, the mill was built in 1852 by William Head. It operated for more than a century, using a river-powered water wheel to grind crops, manufacture shingles, gin cotton and turn timber into boards.

“Seeing the county acquire Head’s Mill is one of my proudest legacies as a commissioner,” says Hall County District 3 Commissioner Stephen Black, one of the local leaders who led the charge to save the site. “It is imperative that we save the mill for our children, who might not otherwise know what a gristmill is. Through its preservation, they will be able to learn about the central role the mill played in the lives of their grandparents. Beyond saving time and labor through grinding grain and sawing timber, the mill was the heart of the community.”

The mill was last remodeled during the Great Depression by then-owner F.H. Turner, who replaced its wooden water wheel and millrace with metal. By the end of WW II in 1945, however, the availability of electricity throughout rural Hall County, combined with a booming manufacturing economy and increased availability of store-bought dry goods, had all but eliminated demand for hydraulic power. When Fred and Burnice Healan bought the mill in 1967, it was in danger of rusting and rotting away. The Healans cleaned and repaired the old building before ownership passed to Burnice’s daughter, Delaine Quinn.

A series of meetings and negotiations began in 1999 involving Quinn and Hall County administrative and elected officials. They were joined in their efforts to protect the mill by Commissioner Black, Hall County Historical Society officers including Jim Syfan, Hall TLP&G General Partner John Gornall and TPL.

Last April, Hall’s Board of Commissioners contracted with Atlanta architect Jack Pyburn to prepare a detailed report for restoration of Head’s Mill. In January 2003, the firm presented its evaluation of factors and costs involved in restoring the three-story gristmill, raceway and millpond. Contributing to the analysis were Dale Jaeger, a specialist in preservationist landscape architecture, and Dan McGill, an engineer knowledgeable in the dynamics of waterwheels and dams.

Commissioners anticipate that the Gainesville/Hall Trust for Historical Preservation and the newly formed Head’s Mill Trust for Historical Preservation, both subsidiaries of the Hall County Historical Society, will take over restoration and fundraising efforts respectively, leading to the eventual public opening of the historic site. According to Hall County Historical Society Chairman William L. Norton, Jr., the organization is committed to raising $600,000 for preservation and restoration of the mill, and then assuming its long-term management.

TPL Project Manager Chris Deming, meanwhile, says the public-private partnership’s effort will make a lasting impact on the county.

“The Trust for Public Land is proud to have been able to work with the landowner and Hall County to preserve this historic site,” Deming says of one of the first sites targeted for possible acquisition when Hall County’s Greenspace Program began three years ago. “It’s wonderful to see that after eighteen months, the vision of the community, Hall County Board of Commissioners and staff is becoming a reality. I’m excited to watch the restoration process and await the day when parents and children will be able to visit the mill and learn about our agricultural history.”

About TPL: Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land specializes in conservation real estate — applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. Across the nation, TPL has saved more than 1.4 million acres of land. In Georgia, TPL has helped protect land throughout the state – including nearly 70 miles along the Chattahoochee River. It has also conserved land on Georgia’s coast and rivers, and in urban centers.