Healan’s Head’s Mill is on the way to becoming a 100-acre park.
Hall County received a $300,000 grant for the project in late summer. That money will be used to buy about 100 acres surrounding the 170-year-old mill property on Whitehall Road near the North Oconee River, according to Jim Syfan and Jane Hemmer, two leaders of the Friends of Healan’s Head’s Mill.
The foundation of the mill has been steadied and the exterior of the building repaired, putting the project at the end of the first of four phases. Buying the land around the mill is the second phase and marks a major step forward for the property. It will also allow the county to close the road to the mill to through-traffic, setting the stage to convert the area to a county park.
The grant was awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The land in the sights of project leaders includes the mill pond up the creek from the mill and land underneath the aqueducts that feed the water wheel. Hall County already owns about 4.5 acres around the mill.
Members of the executive committee and the county will meet in the next week to discuss a path forward on purchasing the additional land and getting an update on the overall timeline for the project, according to Hemmer.
It’s been a long road for the committee and about 100 volunteers who have worked for decades to restore the former water-powered grist mill, saw mill and powerhouse.
“It’s the only standing grist mill left in Hall County, and of course now we’ve learned it was not only used to grind corn, it was used probably to grind wheat and it was used as a saw mill at one point,” Hemmer said on Tuesday.
“My family is from that area. We’ve been on the same piece of property for 200 years, and my ancestors took their corn up there to grind. I’m sure they probably cut wood — who knows, maybe even buildings on our farm, the wood was cut there. To lose that would just be a real travesty.”
The project picked up steam in 2003 when Hall County signed on to the effort and bought the mill and the land beneath it.
“We started this thing in the late ’80s, early ’90s,” Syfan said on Tuesday, “and you’ve got to wait and wait and wait and plan and plan and plan until the public has an appetite for it.”
Now the county and the executive committee want to take the next step: expanding the bounds of the property as the groundwork to a fully fledged park.
Syfan said the additional 100 acres will be used to build a welcome center, which will also be a museum, to serve as a “gateway to the mountains” as well as a network of walking, running and horseback riding trails.
“In the welcome center, there’s an attraction that a local family have agreed to give the county: a rather extensive collection of farm and farming equipment,” Syfan said, noting he couldn’t reveal the identity of the family. “I can say that, and people can kind of think in their mind what that is, but until you see it you can’t get the full impact. This family has been collecting this stuff for years and years and years.”
As imagined by the leaders of the movement, Healan’s Head’s Mill would not only preserve North Georgia’s frontier history, but give residents and visitors a place to unwind in nature.
For now, the next step is to lock in the land needed to create the park. After that, project leaders will focus on gathering the funding to build the welcome center, trails and, most importantly, restore the inside of the mill to its working state.
“I remember as a child how picturesque it was,” Hemmer said. “It’s just so beautiful, and it’s going to continue as we work on the area around the river, creeks and the landscaping — it’s just going to be one of the prettiest places anywhere around.”