There was a time that the local gristmill was the life blood of a community. The old familiar sights of the water wheel turning the mill stone and the creaking of the wooden floors as the miller made his way up and down the various floors of the mill are now long gone. It was here that the local farmers once depended on bringing their corn and wheat to be ground into meal, flour, and feed, often trading surplus portions of their crops for the service of the miller.
In the last few decades the old mills have largely disappeared, falling into disrepair and eventually torn down to make way for new structures. Fortunately concerned citizens and thoughtful city and county governments have saved some of these buildings from fading into the history books. In Johnson County the old Snyder Mill in Trade has already proven that people have an interest in these structures, and now another opportunity is presenting itself to preserve a piece of the countys history.
In 1994 the town of Mountain City acquired the land surrounding the small body of water known as Silver Lake. Located near the community of Laurel Bloomery, a water treatment facility was established and quickly became a major supplier of Mountain Citys water. At the same time that the city acquired Silver Lake it also took possession of the old gristmill that operated here up until the 1980s. At over a century old and containing all of its original equipment, this building is a prime example of the historical structures that were once found all over the county.
The Silver Lake Mill was first built around 1808 by early pioneer Alexander Doran. Doran was a revolutionary war veteran and was also one of the signers for Tennessees petition for statehood. By the mid 1800s Doran had sold the mill, along with the adjacent barn and farm house, to Nathaniel Nat G.T. Wills, a prominent early settler from Virginia. Wills was the first to call the area Silver Lake, changing it from its former name of Deep Springs.
The original mill burned sometime at the turn of the century and the new building, which still stands today, was constructed by 1912. The barn that sits across from the mill still shows the original 19th century design with a unique sliding door system. Wills continued to operate the mill until at least 1920 when it changed hands.
Wills was also famous for killing the legendary Kettlefoot bear, which had plagued farmers in the community by killing their livestock. Named Kettlefoot because of the large size of its front paws, the bear was eventually trapped and killed by Wills. Skinned and made into a rug, Kettlefoot adorned the Wills home for many years, and in honor of the legendary animal the Kettlefoot Sportsmans Club took its name when the organization was chartered in 1945.
Unlike other mills, which were typically operated by creeks or streams, the Silver Lake Mill was powered by a very strong and deep spring, which was blocked by an earthen dam, to form Silver Lake. The lake covers about five acres of land and sits directly between two mountains. Legend says that an earthquake at the turn of the century opened up the spring even further and that seaweed boiled up from the spring and floated on the lake before the cattle came down to the water and ate it.
For complete details please pick up your copy of this weeks, The Tomahawk, available at local newsstands today!