A historic gristmill may get new life after years of decaying off a dusty road in rural East Hall County.
Officials are looking at using proceeds from the five-year special purpose local option sales tax approved by voters in March to stabilize Healan’s Mill, which dates to the mid-1800s, said Marty Nix, assistant county administrator.
“We need to get it to where we stop the damage,” he said. “The second phase in that is coming up with a plan of what the building can be used for … and then implementing that plan.”
Nix didn’t mention a particular timeline for the work and couldn’t estimate costs, but he said the county recognizes the mill’s worth as a landmark.
“Right now, it looks like an old, rundown building, but it’s got the potential to be a very beautiful historic park or something of that nature,” he said.
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.
“It is my understanding that there has not been funding available for any capital projects in recent years,” Hall spokeswoman Katie Crumley said.
In the meantime, Head’s Mill Historic Preservation Trust, a nonprofit offshoot of the Hall County Historical Society, rallied for the structure’s preservation.
One of those members, Gainesville architect Garland Reynolds, said Monday he was excited to learn that the structure is finally back on the county’s radar.
“It’s really falling into terrible disrepair,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”
Reynolds said the restoration “should be made part of the development that’s headed this way,” referring to Gateway Village, a planned 476-acre mixed-use development off Ga. 365.
“This is not just local history,” he added. “This an American icon.”
Reynolds noted the mill’s inclusion in “Historic Mills of America,” a book published in 2000 and featuring an introduction by The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills.
Healan’s Mill, originally known as Head’s Mill, was built in 1852 by William Head.
The mill’s large water wheel was used for years by area residents as a source of power to grind crops, manufacture shingles, gin cotton and turn timber into boards.
Jim Syfan, CEO of Syfan Logistics, who also has been a longtime supporter of restoring the mill, said the building served as way more than a mill.
“It was kind of a hub for this whole region back in the early days,” he said.
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 in 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.