For one Hall County family, Healan’s Head’s Mill in Lula is not just the site of a future 100-acre county park; the old grist mill is a part of the family.
Becky Ruffner, who works in marketing for Hall County parks and leisure, remembers playing at the mill with her relatives while growing up. Fred and Burnice Healan, her aunt and uncle, purchased the mill in the 1960s and were its last private owners before selling the property to Hall County in 2003.
“My uncle would turn the wheel on and the water would fall over the wheel to get it to start turning,” Ruffner said. “My cousins and sisters and I would actually get in on the inside of the wheel like little hamsters.”
The mill, which was built in the 1850s, is being restored by the county, backed by fundraising efforts from the Healan family and community members combined with special purpose local option sales tax funding and grants. The county has received grants for the project from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Watson Brown Foundation and the Garden Club of Georgia, and Hall is continuing to apply for funding for the mill, county spokeswoman Katie Crumley said.
The project is now in its third of four phases, with work focusing on getting the 28-foot-wide steel wheel running again by repairing the wheel and the flume. A fundraiser at the mill Saturday, June 30, helped support the efforts and raise awareness of the mill’s historical significance.
After the third phase of the restoration is complete, plans for a new county park will move forward. The park will have almost 100 acres of green space and hiking trails, and the mill will be preserved as a historical site, Ruffner said. She said the county has a five-year plan for the project, but the timeline will depend on funding.
The mill has also been the home of several Healan family members, including Ruffner herself, who lived there with her husband when she first got married. They lived in a former Boy Scout cabin that Fred and Burnice Healan had built for a troop they sponsored through their church.
“It was an adventure for a young couple. Our water was spring water, our heat was fuel and wood, and we had a little garden up on the hill where we grew a lot of vegetables,” Ruffner said. “It was somewhat of a rustic, rural way to live at that time, but it was a sweet time for us.”
That cabin is no longer there because it was not maintained over the years, and its more modern design did not fit with the historical site, Ruffner said.
Fred and Burnice Healan’s son, Fred “Chip” Healan, also briefly lived at the site when he was growing up. He said his childhood was filled with family time at the mill, going fishing and having picnics.
Healan said the mill has not been running for almost three decades, and the building sat for about 12 years in disrepair.
“We’d just like to see it preserved as a part of history ... for it to be a place to enjoy like we did,” he said.
Healan said he hopes the park will be a gathering place for the community.
“I’m glad the county is going forward with this project, and I hope it turns out to be a nice place for visitors to go and learn something about history and enjoy our natural beauty,” Healan said. “We’d like to have a gateway to the mountains for everybody to enjoy our neck of the woods.”
Ruffner’s second cousin and Chip Healan’s daughter, Tiffany Grindle, co-chairs the fundraising committee of about 100 members, along with her brother, Tyler. Their sister, Hayley, also helps with the project.
Saturday’s fundraiser, a gathering called Boots and Bows, was one of three events planned this year. In September, there will be a 5K run at the mill, and in October, the committee plans a haunted hayride event, Grindle said.
Like Ruffner, Grindle spent time at the mill during her childhood years and remembers the spot fondly.
“We just grew up knowing the mill, loving the mill, having our family be a part of that,” she said. “It was absolutely amazing.”
Grindle said she hopes her grandparents would be proud of the family’s work to preserve the mill for future generations.
“It’s just truly something we are doing for our grandparents. Then, for our own children, too,” she said. “My kids go out there and play to this day. ... It’s a really great opportunity, and we’re excited to be part of that for them.”