Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Indian Creek Grist Mill

About 1.2 miles up the Indian Creek trail (about 2 miles from the gate at Deep Creek) one can see a large, marshy bottomland on the right, that has been previously cleared.  A lone boxwood stands in the middle of it, one of the only indicators of the prior life of the fascinating family that knew it as home.  Here once resided the Alfred Washington and Louisa (Conner) Parris family.  Alfred was born in Haywood County around 1834.  He was a Civil War veteran, being wounded at the Battle of Malvern Hill and subsequently furloughed.  He and Louisa arrived on Indian Creek with their young family sometime prior to 1874, and were some of the first white settlers in this remote area.  On Indian Creek, Alfred became a pillar of the community.  He was a founding member of the Indian Creek Baptist Church in 1874, donated land for the church and a nearby cemetery, donated land for a community school, and was a school committeeman.
Alfred Washington Parris
Courtesy:  David Lee on findagrave.com

Louisa (nee' Conner) Parris
Courtesy:  Ancestry.com

One of the interesting things that is little known about Alfred Parris and his home place is that in addition to his home, barns and other structures, he built a large grist mill here near his house.  Corn was life-sustaining for nearly all mountaineers from those early pioneers in the area up until very recent years.  Cornbread provided daily nourishment to the body (often twice a day).  Stock were fed on it, and hats and rugs and dolls were made of its husks.  For the purposes of consumption, much of the corn had to be ground.  Mortar and pestle were laborious and  impractical for providing the volume of meal required by a family, therefore, mills were by far the preferred method of obtaining cornmeal.  Many small family mills were built on branches throughout the Smokies, but there were few community mills....hence the uniqueness of the Parris mill.

Identified as the A.W. Parris Mill
Courtesy:  Pete Prince Collection, UT

Roy McClure Holding a Piece of the Parris Mill

There seems to be some discrepancy about the type of mill this was, but all agree that it was fed by a millrace that came down to it from the nearby Queen Branch.    An oral history given by Alfred Parris's grandson, Henry Davis, indicates that it was a tub mill with the wheel on the bottom, however, two oral histories given by Emma Parris Carson and Wesley Jenkins (both of whom were raised on Indian Creek) to researcher Pete Prince in the late 1980's indicates that it was an overshot mill and that the wheel was 12 feet in diameter.  This contention would appear to be supported by a find made by my research partner, Don Casada, who has located some of the gearing and remains of a large wheel at the site.  Additionally, there is an old postcard within the Pete Prince collection that identifies an old overshot mill as Alfred's.  Regardless, it would almost undoubtedly been very busy, as it was the only known mill to serve the Indian Creek community in the park.  The next nearest community mill was at the mouth of Deep Creek, over 4 miles away.  

Andy Kitchen
Courtesy:  Macie Michael
Several men served as the miller here.  Alfred built the mill and clearly ran it for quite some time.  After Alfred deeded the land on which his home and mill sat to his daughter and son-in-law, Laura and Dillard Wines in 1916, it seems certain that they would have taken it over.  In 1919, Laura and Dillard sold the land to Laura's sister and brother-in-law, Salinda Jane and John Columbus Kitchen.  An oral history given by Andy Cline, who grew up over the mountain on Stone Pile Gap, notes that Columbus ran the mill for some time, assisted by his son, also named Andy.  This is interesting because, as his picture demonstrates, Andy was blind due to a large brain tumor that eventually took his life.   Edna Wiggins (daughter of Andy Cline) remembers a time in approximately 1928, when her 9-year old brother, Sebie, had to make a trip to the mill when his father was ill; the Reverend Gaston Griffin (who was also a pastor for the Indian Creek Church) was the miller at that time.  We know little else about the mill other than that the toll was a gallon to the bushel.

Columbus and Salinda Jane (Parris) Kitchen (taken on Indian Creek)
Courtesy:  Macie Michael
The Parris mill seems to have been destroyed by some means (most likely fire) sometime between 1928 and 1930.  The North Carolina Park Commission records from approximately 1930 indicate that the only structures left at the site by that time were a four room log house and a barn in poor repair.  The Kitchen family had left some time before to work in the cotton mills of South Carolina, and a 90+ year old Alfred Parris was likely living with relatives in Swain or Jackson County.  Today, a few rusty pieces of metal are all that remain to tell the story of the mill's important place in the once-vibrant Indian Creek community.

In a brief anecdote in his tales of growing up on Indian Creek, Henry Davis remembers, "....They used to be a feller.....out on George's Branch up yonder.  He would buy corn at Bryson City and carry it all the way to granddaddy's mill down here to have it ground, when he could have it ground down there and had it towed so it wouldn't be so heavy.  But he wanted to bring it up down there.... I reckon he liked the miller."
Signature of Alfred Washington Parris
(North Carolina Archives)
Archives of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Don Casada
Macie Michael, great granddaughter of Alfred Washington Parris
North Carolina Archives, North Carolina Park Commission Collection
Swain County Register of Deeds
University of Tennessee at Knoxville,