King's Grist Mill

  I recently had an opportunity to re-visit a place my Aunt Rose had taken me when I was small, and it brought back some happy memories. The place has certainly changed a lot since we were there many years ago, and thatís because the present owners of what was once known as the old Tinch mill have done a tremendous amount of work restoring and renovating that entire area. One of the best parts of doing this journal is the fact that I get to meet so many new and interesting people, and this is certainly true about making the acquaintance of Kenneth and Anne King, who have owned the mill site since 1994.
Kennethís sister, Helen, and her husband Harvey Cummings, share in the ownership of the property, but were not at home when I visited there recently. Sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of the Kingís log home thatís just a short walk from the mill itself was included in my visits. The weather on the October days I visited was sunny and warm, perfect fall days, and along with the peacefulness of the surroundings there, the atmosphere was one that made a person want to just move right in and stay forever.

The Kings have a lot of history they have put together about the mill and its former owners that goes all the way back to 1820. The area where the mill is located was known then as Union Hill, and according to information given to me by Susan (Harris) Pangle, who was also a visitor of the Kings on one of the days I was there, before being called Union Hill, it was known as Buckís Corner. By the early 1900's, Union Hill was a small, self-sufficient community, one that had its own grist mill, general store, school, and church. John Matthews and William Bilbrey built the first grist mill at Union Hill around 1820. A grist mill was a very important part of life at one time, the only means of obtaining cornmeal and flour which were much needed and relied upon staples. The power source for the mill was and still is provided by a tremendous spring gushing out of the mountainside. A story was passed on to me about how the water source for the mill comes across from Highland Mountain, a distance of some 10 miles away, and the reason this fact became known was that while a little ole lady on Highland Mountain was doing her wash in the creek, a pair of overalls floated away, and these same overalls were found sometime later in the spring at the old mill.


  Around 1840, a saw mill was built on the property, and in 1861, James G. West ran the mill. A story about the son of Mr. West whose name was Dock West was included in the hand written history passed on to Kenneth and Anne King by Charles Tinch. The story goes that when Dock West, son of James G. West, was a small child, he fell into a sinkhole near the mill, but was rescued by his father. The fact that the pressure of the water holding the small boy against the bank made it possible for this father to pull him out, otherwise he would not have survived. During the time James G. West operated the mill, he ground mill for the public, and he also sold meal to a licensed governmental distillery located not too far from the mill site.

General Store

(I was not aware that some stills were once licensed by the government, were you?) Another story that was included in the handwritten history prepared by Charles Tinch tells how a relative of Tinker Dave Beaty whose last name was Hammock from in the Highland community came to the mill and asked the owner James G. West if he could buy meal on credit. When his request was refused by Mr. West, and the news of this refusal reached Tinker Dave, Beaty made it known that he would go to the mill and kill West. A warning of Tinker Daveís intentions was passed on to Mr. West by Josiah Bilbrey. While awaiting the arrival of Tinker Dave, West hid in the chimney corner at the old mill house where he stayed until he learned that Beatyís trip to the mill had been interrupted when he (Beaty) encountered Josiah Bilbrey in the Hartsaw Cove area and was given a good beating. Evidently the beating was enough to make Tinker Dave reconsider his threat to kill Mr. West after all.
Some other names that either owned or just operated the mill over the years include: Andrew Bilbrey; J.B. Ledford; J.J. Laycock; G.W. Wilson; Sam Cannon; Jasper Laycock; Eddie Richardson; William Ashburn Hammock; Void Hammons; Moody Wells and sons, Rupert and Herman. In 1961, Thurman Tinch bought the mill and property from Rupert Wells for $700.00. By that time, everything was in pretty bad condition, and through the efforts of Thurman Tinch, a lot of restoration work was done. He built a museum where antiques were on display, and for a while, the famous Buckeye Family, which had been hand carved by Joseph Cummings Lee, were also on display there and in the general store too.  


(No one could have known at that time that these very same carvings would become so valuable and would travel all over the country on display at several museums along the way. At the present time, the Buckeye Family can be seen at the Frist Museum in Nashville through January of 2004.) In 1962, Mr. Tinch restored the old store and built places for picnics and recreation, and the mill site was opened to the public for a 25 cents admission charge. The mill stayed in the Tinch family until 1971 when it was purchased by Robert and Carole Wahler. The Wahler family had an antique business in the old store and stayed in the mill during the summers and on weekends.

In 1994, Kenneth and Anne King, along with Kennethís sister, Helen Cummings and her husband, Harvey, bought the property which had again become quite rundown. Immediately after the purchase of the property, Kenneth began a restoration project that continues today to be an ongoing effort. The overgrown property was cleaned up, and the millerís cabin was rebuilt for use as a residence. The museum was also restored into a residence, and the general store, which was the only original building on the site, was repaired. Kenneth tore down the mill structure because of itís poor condition and rebuilt it with old hand hewn longs on the original foundation. In Fentress County, he located an old 20 foot Fitz waterwheel that once had powered a mill in Manson, Tennessee. This wheel was rebuilt by Bill Derossett in his metal working shop at Hardyís Chapel. The wheel was transported in sections and assembled on the site. Kenneth also added pipes to carry water to the wheel, and for the first time in a long while, the mill wheel began to turn once more.

In 1996, a large dogtrot log home was built by Kenneth for Helen and Harvey Cummings. Other additions that were made included adding refurbished machinery for the purpose of grinding meal. A gazebo has also been constructed from an old well house that once stood in White County. The beautiful log home the Kings now reside in was built by Kenneth in 2001, and that same year, the old Union Hill school that stands not too far from the mill site was purchased by Anne and Kenneth, a school where my aunt Christine (McCormick) Winningham once taught. Susan Pangle told me that stick ball was one of the favorite games played by the children who attended school at Union Hill. If any of those of you who read my stories can explain the rules or how stick ball was played, I would really like to hear from you.


In 1998, the mill site observed what has since become a tradition. A community wide egg hunt was held, and has grown in the number attending with each succeeding year. Those children, as well as adults, who have attended in the past anxiously await the Saturday before Easter each year, the date the egg hunt is held. This tradition began as a family event, but was opened to the public five years ago, and has been a even greater success with each passing year.

Near one of the buildings on the property stands what is called the "blue bottle tree." The story explaining the tradition of placing bottles on a tree is that in rural areas, people have been known to hang bottles on their trees, especially blue bottles, to keep Ďhaintsí or evil spirits away. The wind blow across the top of the bottle and make a noise the spirits do not like.

The rich history of the old mill site can be seen and appreciated through just one visit there. The restoration and repair that Kenneth King has done has been tremendous since the purchase of the property in 1994. What surely must have looked like a hopeless sight at the time the property was purchased by the Kings and Cummings has been turned into a setting that allows visitors to catch a glimpse of a way of life that not only once existed there, but part of which can be still appreciated today. Thank you Anne and Kenneth for your kindness shown by opening your home and the old mill to us, and for making our visits so pleasant.

Newly Remodeled Mill


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