A committee of local residents advocating for the preservation and restoration of Hall County’s only surviving gristmill, a crumbling 170-year-old landmark off Whitehall Road near Lula, asked the county Friday to close sections of the small road near Ga. 365.
Abit Massey, organizer of the Healan-Head Mill Historic Preservation Trust, told a gathering of dozens at the Hall County Government Center that the request for Hall County to abandon right of way of the mill property is “the first step in guaranteeing the preservation of this historic site.”
“As I understand it, this portion of (White Hall Road) is lightly traveled, and it needs to be closed to protect it from expected development and growth along the Ga. 365 corridor,” he said.
Other news to come out of the meeting included an announcement the county has hired a structural engineering firm to provide construction drawings to install structural supports for the mill building and to restore, secure and waterproof the exterior walls.
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 Gainesville businessman W.L. Norton.
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 is a nonprofit offshoot of the Hall County Historical Society. It has 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, which is 28 feet in diameter, was replaced with metal.
Following Friday’s meeting, Vice Chair Jane Hemmer expressed her excitement over what’s to come.
“We have an opportunity here ... beyond the mill,” Hemmer said. “The mill is so important in itself, but this could truly be a gateway experience for people coming from all over Georgia to experience an historical place, an opportunity to step back in time, take a moment to breathe and experience history. I think we are on the verge of something great.”