|photo courtesy of Atkinson's Mill website|
Visiting Atkinson's Mill is quite a different experience than seeing Yates Mill. Atkinson's is still a commercially operating grist mill - it's actually the last operating commercial, water-powered grist mill in eastern NC. The Mill operates 24 hours a day, four days a week. So instead of the peaceful, wooded surroundings you'd find at Yates Mill, Atkinson's looks more like an industrial site. There's a weigh station for tractor trailers at the gate and plenty of giant grain hoppers.
The other big difference between Yates and Atkinson's is the kind of mill they are. Yates is an upright water wheel mill, whereas at Atkinson's, gates are opened to allow water to turn gears and these gears are mostly hidden underneath the structure. A small upright water wheel was installed on the outside of Atkinson's to satisfy tourists who expected the traditional wheel. Even though Atkinson's original structure was built in the mid-1700s, the current structure is circa 1950 and the dam was built in the 1930s. It's not a bad idea to visit these two mills consecutively because they provide such a stark contrast to one another and you will be able to remember what you learned from the first one to ask questions at the second one.
On one of the hottest days of the summer, I was looking for something to do that didn't involve a lot of time spent outdoors. Unfortunately, the Mill wasn't the best idea because it's definitely not air conditioned. On the bright side, because it was so hot, the mill workers stopped work early and we had the whole Mill to ourselves to see with our personal tour guide, Andrew. Ownership of the Mill runs through Andrew's grandfather and father so getting a tour from Andrew is like getting the insider's perspective.
After we stopped at the office, Andrew met us down by the actual mill building. He led us through the process of turning corn into meal. Atkinson's makes several mixes for hushpuppies and seafood breading. They even have a warehouse on site where they store their frozen food products. Andrew showed us the high water mark on the wall of the Mill when Hurricane Floyd brought the Little River inside of the facility. The damage caused by Floyd got the Mill's proprietors thinking about moving their grinding operation away from the river. Andrew says that even if they moved the operation they would still grind corn by stone and they would turn the existing mill structure into a museum.
My toddler was enthralled with the workings of the mill and Andrew's presentation. I didn't know he wanted to be a miller's apprentice. He liked the fact that there was a fine, white dust on everything that he could run his hands through. My preschooler was less impressed; she just wanted to go home. I hate to think their difference in interest has something to do with the difference between males and females.
If you're on the eastern side of Raleigh, the Mill is a short trip and the tour takes a half hour. I would recommend seeing it if you have an interest in commercial grist milling.
To get to Atkinson's from 64 or 264, take the NC 39 exit and go South for 13.2 miles. At the intersection with NC 42 take a right to go west for a half mile. The Mill site will be on your right, before you cross the Little River bridge.