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,


  1. I wondered what had happened to you. I was born in Graham County and grew up in the 'Overhill' of Monroe County TN. I spent about 1/4 of my childhood in Graham County. I remember taking corn and wheat to a mill in TN on a horse beginning when I was about 7-8 yrs old. I went with dad before that but at about 7-8 it became my job. I don't know the ratio but the miller did take his fee in meal or flour. I enjoy the mountains and especially the history.

  2. That is fascinating, Jackie. What decade(s) was it that you were taking the corn to the mill? There were a few good-sized community mills still operating when the Fontana Reservoir was created in the early 1940's; I have wondered when they largely disappeared. A Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  3. Wendy, I am so glad you finally resurfaced. I hated to hear about what has happened to your husband. If there is anything we can do to help, please let me know! My mother talked about her Daddy having a mill on Wiggins Creek. I am not so sure whether the mill was for cornmeal or what, because she also told me her daddy and Charlie DeHart had been known to fight a lot and make a little likker. She told me about a time when Charlie gave Grandpa's hogs a strychnine shot for cholera and killed every one of them. I suppose a fight ensued. Anyway there is a lot more to Old Swain County than what the park and the dam took over and someone, hopefully you, will take over now and tell our story, too.

  4. That's really interesting, Ed. Do you happen to know where on Wiggins Creek the mill was? I am somewhat familiar with the area, because I lived on Licklog in the late 90's. I've done a lot of exploring in the Needmore area and plan several posts on folks living there. Also, this week's post, which will come out in a day or so, will talk about a family living in the area.

  5. If you are coming down Licklog you turn left at Hightower Church and go across Hightower Gap. Then left up Wiggins Creek, left again at the next fork. The valley narrows down with barely room for the road and the creek. The grade increases sharply and there is a curve that bears left then sharply right again and the valley opens back up. Right in that curve there is a waterfall of sorts. I think the construction of the road and subsequent improvements has filled in at the bottom of the waterfall until now it is hardly noticeable.
    That is where I think Grandpa's mill sat. I don't know if there was a pond above it but there is a flat swampy area above it that looks like it could have been a pond that had been filled in with sediment.
    Just above the curve is where Luther and Pauline Sutton lived. Their descendants live there now. After you pass the Sutton Place, the rest of the land above there belonged, at one time, to my parents Fred and Thelma Ammons.

  6. Do you know about the mill that used to the mouth of Painter Branch. I can remember seeing it in operation. I don't remember the stones turning but I remember that big wheel going around. There was a bridge over the creek and water would drip on you from the millrace overhead. I was told John Breedlove ran that mill years before.
    Where did you live on Licklog?

  7. Thanks so much for this information, Ed. You've given me some items to investigate! I did not know about either mill, actually. I had a friend that grew up on that branch and spent some time up there but don't remember the mill - it may have been gone by the time I was there. However, I am going to check into it.

    Re: Licklog - we lived at, literally, the very end. Going up past the Posey home and continuing onto the gravel, one would pass the McCafferty home on the left and take a sharp left hand turn where the road to the old boxwood farm went to the right. We were at the very end of the road to the left, up a steep hill. We had a log home there.

  8. I think I have been to your house. Sometime in the middle 90's I had to go to a house, situated as you describe, to get some documents notarized. I think it was when I sold some land to Ron Roman and Ellen Kilgannon. Do you know these people? Do you know Scott and Mary Danels? Kurt Doettger?
    There was a rock house on the right passed the Posey place where John and Lela Breedlove lived (she was called Lela John to distinguish her from another Lela Breedlove who lived down the road a piece, Lela Bob. Lela Bob was married to Bob Breedlove. Lela Bob and Bob Breedlove had several children. John and Lela John never has any. When John died, some of the Winchester-Parton clan moved in with Lela and ended up with all their property. John was my grand uncle. Next up the creek has Robert and Florence Breedlove's place. I grew up around their children Curtis, Nevil, Ann, Cathy and the twins Jay and Faye. Robert died in 1957 so I don't remember him but I do remember hearing my folks talk about him. Florence stuck it out a while after Robert died but soon moved away to Haywood County. Curtis was in the Army and when he came home he went wild. He had a '57 Chevy that couldn't go straight ahead. It thought it had to straighten every curve. We would be walking the roads and hear him coming and knew to head for the high ground. Curtis died in 1969 in Vietman.
    All of Licklog Creek used to belong to Nathan DeHart who came first from Rowan County NC then KY and Tn. The head of Licklog is where, I think, my great great grandfather had an orchard. "Old Bill" Dehart thought he was still a youngin, so he hid a servant girl in a wagon load of apples and "left the country" for Alabama. There he and Martha Tutherow married and raised a fine family, leaving Mary Ann, 4 sons and a daughter to fend for themselves.

  9. Hi Ed, I'm a little late in getting back to you! I do know Ron and Ellen, Scott and Mary, and Mary! Sue Prothero was the lady who sold us the house, and she and her husband had built it in the early 1990's.

    Interesting information on the Breedlove Clan from that area - there is an ancient home up there near the old boxwood farm that I'd like to write about. It's clearly not been lived in for many decades and is being reclaimed; I really want to know its story. Your story about 'Old Bill' is fascinating!

    I loved living there...such a very beautiful and peaceful spot.

    1. Hi, John c. Kitchen was my g-grandfather, I would like to get in touch with someone who has more info on him and his family. My father Claude Kitchen was born in Bryson City. Can you suggest anyone who might know more about my family history? Thanks, Ray Kitchen

  10. Hi, this is Ray Kitchen, you can get in touch with me at raykitch8@gmail.com Thanks

  11. Ray, my husband is the g grandson of Columbus Kitchen, gg grandson of Alfred Washington Parris. I know Columbus Kitchin lived in Bryson city.

  12. I just came across your blog last night in response to a question about the Oscar Shuler tombstone. I am enjoying learning the history of this area. As I was hiking it yesterday, I was wishing I knew more about the families that lived there. I actually stopped and looked at this exact area you described trying to imagine what there life was like so this is so providential.