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Restoring ‘The Grist Mill’

Donations sought to help with project

The historic Rice Grist Mill on Lower Clear Creek Road in Norris Dam State Park is undergoing renovations designed to restore it to the way it looked when it was moved to this site in 1934 from Union County. (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
The two-centuries-old Rice Grist Mill in Norris, which was moved to its current site on Lower Clear Creek Road in 1934, should soon be grinding corn and making meal again.

Located within the boundaries of Norris Dam State Park, the old mill is being restored to at least the condition it was when it was moved to the site from its original home in Union County, said park Ranger Joseph Gamble.

“Our goal is to get the grist mill fully functioning again,” Gamble said, noting that it last ground corn for meal in the early 2000s.

“We also hope to get it back to looking like it did when we acquired it,” he said. “It was built in 1798, but I don’t know how much of it is original. It was moved here in 1934. It was still grinding corn meal in 2001, and a few years after that. It was before I came to work here.

“I don’t really know why they stopped using it,” he said. “Maybe there was no one on the park staff familiar with running it.

“What we do know is that we will have to replace some of the buckets on the waterwheel,” Gamble said. “We will probably have the grindstones checked and sharpened.

“When we get that work finished, we will turn it on and make sure everything works, piece by piece. We’re already in the process. We’ve already replaced the wooden siding (on the outside of the mill), and now we’re in the midst of a donation drive for the windows and fixing the bucket wheel.”

Among other aesthetic restorations, “We’re going to replace the mill’s modern windows with 1930s-era 12-pane windows,” Gamble said.

People can contribute to the restoration project by going to the website

“We don’t know yet how much it will cost, as there may be issues we won’t know about until we start the work,” Gamble said.

“We still don’t entirely know what will have to be done.”

The mill is open part of the year for visitors to come in and look around, and there is a gift shop on the second floor. But the waterwheel is not turning, and the large grinding stones are not grinding corn.

Even when the mill begins operating again, it likely will not be producing corn meal to sell to visitors, Gamble said.

“We probably won’t be selling meal out of it, but we will use it for programs,” he said. “Exactly when that will happen, we don’t know yet.”

“There are certain issues we may not know about until we start the work,” he said.

The mill originally was at the Rice family farm and home in Lost Creek, which was one of the properties taken over by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the early 1930s to make way for Norris Dam and the resulting Norris Lake.

“The owner at the time, Rufus Rice, didn’t like TVA, but he became friends with a caseworker, Marshall Wilson,” Gamble said. “Rice gave the mill to Wilson, who wanted to move it to the park.

“Marshall Wilson called National Park Service rangers and told them what he wanted to do,” Gamble said. “They loaded up CCC workers, dismantled it, and rebuilt it along Clear Creek where it is today.”

As for the restoration, “A part of this is taking our cue from Cade’s Cove (in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park),” Gamble said.

“They grind meal for show, and they do sell meal there, but it is not ground there.

“We could grind meal for show or give it away, but we would not be able to get FDA approval to sell. … As a government entity, we can’t sell it for people to eat.”