As plans to restore Healan’s Mill gain momentum and the number of advocates continue to grow, the future is looking brighter for the crumbling landmark off Whitehall Road near Lula.
The 170-year-old gristmill is the county’s last surviving structure of its kind, according to Abit Massey, organizer of an advisory committee created specifically to restore Healan’s (or Head’s) Mill.
Massey said enthusiasm is indeed growing and the committee has expanded from a couple dozen original members to nearly 60 as of Friday. He said Hall County government — specifically, commissioners Scott Gibbs and Billy Powell — has also played a key role in moving the project forward.
Funding for the project comes partly from Hall County government’s most recent iteration of the voter-approved special purpose local option sales tax and partly from a trust set up many years ago by W.L. Norton.
Group member and architect Garland Reynolds has led the charge in conceptual designs and plans for the mill.
At the group’s most recent meeting, members voted on Reynolds’ recommendation that the structure be restored back to what it looked like in 1935.
“That was when the iron wheel was replaced with the wooden wheel,” Reynolds said. “At the time, they had gasoline motors and steam engines, but there was nothing like water power, because it was free.
“Back then, a community with a wheel like this was very fortunate.”
He said the wheel, which is 28 feet in diameter, will be replaced with new iron.
Hall County bought the mill and some 4 acres surrounding it off Whitehall Road at the North Oconee River in March 2003, using grant funding from the Trust for Public Land.
The advocacy group — the Head’s Mill Historic Preservation Trust — is a nonprofit offshoot of the Hall County Historical Society. They have rallied for the structure’s preservation since 2003.
Local residents once used the mill to grind crops, manufacture shingles, gin cotton and turn timber into boards.
According to Hall County records, the mill was last remodeled during the Great Depression when the wooden water wheel was replaced with metal.
By the end of World War II in 1945, electricity had become available throughout rural Hall County and store-bought dry goods became more common, eliminating the need for the mill’s hydraulic power.
By the 1960s, the mill was in shambles, rusted and covered in kudzu when then-owner F.H. Turner sold the mill to Fred and Burnice Healan.
The Healans fixed up the old building and converted it into an antique store, according to former Times editor Johnny Vardeman.