CHILDERSBURG – Returning Kymulga Grist Mill to its historic glory is the goal of the Childersburg Historic Preservation Commission, and step by step the group is making progress in stabilizing what’s certainly Talladega County’s oldest industrial building.
Construction of the mill was started in about 1860 by Confederate Army Capt. Forney, who died before the mill was complete. His widow allowed the contractor, G.E. Morris of South Carolina, to complete the mill, and it started operating about 1864.
Morris was building three other mills at the same time, but those mills were burned by Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Forney eventually sold the mill to James Baker, who owned it for many years, according to the mill’s website, kymulgagristmill.com.
Baker sold it to a dentist, Dr. Hurd, who sold it to John L Carter in 1949. Carter operated it as an active mill until it was sold in October 1973 to Ed Donahoo.
Wood to build the structure, which is three stories tall on the front and four on the back, was cut from the mountains across the creek, the website says. The covered bridge a few hundred feet upstream from the mill was also built in 1860, providing access to the Georgia Road, a Native American trade route used by frontiersmen and settlers coming into the area.
But time has taken a toll on the 150-year-old mill, as the water of Talladega Creek has eaten away at the building’s foundation.
America’s longest continuously operating mill of its kind, Kymulga Grist Mill closed in 2012 when officials realized the severity of the foundation’s condition and set about to stabilize it.
“We’re building a steel platform to hold up the mill,” said Gene Piatkowski, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission. “If we keep it from falling in the creek, then we can reopen it and restore it. We’re basically building a table of steel with six legs going down to the ground.”
Local businesses Reeson Welding and Maintenance, Peoples Sanitation and Conn Equipment have donated untold amounts of labor and support to the project, and structural steel has been fabricated to build the support table.
Most of the work to stabilize the foundation is being done by volunteers who do the work in their spare time, “so we can’t push too hard,” Piatkowski said. Some emergency repairs were done last month, though, when the rain-swollen creek washed away two external supports, causing the floor of the mill to drop a few inches.
“We had this emergency and they responded quickly to get it done,” Piatkowski said.
Weather and free labor permitting, “Our realistic objective is to hope to get it finished this summer. We appreciate everything they do. They have priorities, but we’re just blessed that we have people in the neighborhood who are willing to donate their time and talent.”
Piatkowski said the mill ran on water power into the 1970s, but something got out of square in the turbine that caused the building to rattle, so electric power has been used to run the mill in recent decades.
“It would be nice to go in there and put it all back together like it originally was,” Piatkowski said.
He said it would be an ongoing project that may take forever to reassemble the system of conveyors that brought corn from storage under what’s now the store up to the husking machine, which would take it off the cob, then up a lift to a cleaning machine that separated the corn from the chaff, sending the corn to the grinders and outputting the meal to hoppers for bagging.
Meanwhile, Piatkowski is putting the final touches on a state tourism brochure about the mill.
“We’re been doing a few cosmetic things, but it’s all set to go to the printers,” he said.
CHPC got a state grant of about $1,600 to cover half the cost of printing 15,000 brochures. A fourth of them will be placed in welcome centers around the state, and the remainder will be available for mill guests.
“A lot of people come by and visit, and they ask for a brochure so they can tell their friends about it,” he said. “It’s an ongoing advertising program. We want to advertise and promote the mill to increase participation and visitors.”
Piatkowski is excited about reopening the mill after the foundation is repaired.
“People want to see the mill,” he said. “There are a lot of historical things. There’s some handwriting on the walls from the original owner who designed the thing.”
He said he’s been told there used to be another corn storage structure on the right side of the mill, equal to the building where the mill store is located on the left. “Trains would stop and unload corn to the mill, and one of the turbines pumped water into a tank to fill up the steam engines’ water tanks. There was a derailment in 1909 or so where a freight car ran into that part of the building and demolished it, and they never rebuilt it.”
CHPC uses the annual Grits Festival and a 5K run to raise money for the ongoing restoration effort, and donations are always welcome. The organization also makes money for continued preservation and operation of the mill park by selling grits, corn meal, souvenirs and T-shirts.
The City of Childersburg bought the mill, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 2011.
CHPC members say the city has put considerable effort into clearing trees out of the creek to help the flow of the creek, clearing the trails and improving the campgrounds on the site with new plumbing and wiring.
For more information about the mill and park, visit kymulgagristmill.com.
Contact Bill Kimber at firstname.lastname@example.org