Grinding back into action

Staff WriterMay 20, 2006 

  • WHAT: A historic gristmill, visitor center, university research facility, wildlife refuge and hiking trails.

    WHERE: About three miles south of Raleigh's I-440 Beltline, off the west side of Lake Wheeler Road. It's about halfway between Tryon Road and Lake Wheeler.

    WHEN: Grand opening today and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Festivities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. will include history lectures, musical performances, storytelling, self-guided hikes, picnicking, fishing from the boardwalks and corn grinding in the restored mill.

    PARKING: The mill's small lot will be open only to handicapped drivers this weekend. Others will park in a satellite lot off Mid Pines Road, which intersects Lake Wheeler Road less than a mile north of the mill. Buses will take them to the park.

    SPECIAL TOUCHES: Check out the millpond's dam, rebuilt with reinforced concrete after Hurricane Fran washed it out in 1996, and covered in the original dam's old stone. Hike across the pond to the second boardwalk, or "the secret bridge," as young campers call it.

Time and the elements wore down Yates Mill, the last surviving gristmill in Wake County.

Its last bags of cornmeal and flour were sold 53 years ago, before most Triangle residents were born, before Research Triangle Park existed, before Interstate 40 had been designed, much less built.

The colonial-era mill dates to 1756 -- 250 years ago, when there was no Raleigh, no Wake County, no United States of America.

Neglected for decades, "the mill that bypassed progress," as The News & Observer called it in 1957, limped into worsening disrepair.

"It still stands ... as if it's just waiting for somebody to do something," The Raleigh Times lamented in 1971.

Somebody finally did -- a lot of somebodies -- and the water-powered mill, five miles south of downtown Raleigh off Lake Wheeler Road, reopens to the public today as part of a new Wake County park and N.C. State University research center.

"The Historic Yates Mill County Park is a major addition to the cultural fabric of the Triangle area," says John Vandenbergh, chairman of the mill's private booster organization, Yates Mill Associates.

You can see it for yourself starting today.

"I want this to be a community gathering place again," park manager Rebeccah Cope says. "I want folks to slow down, come out, and bring their friends. I hope they'll feel it's their place."

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