Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Gritty Trip to Timms Mill

Last weekend, I took a little trip to a gritty place. 

Actually, if you are a southerner, or a southerner at heart, this would be viewed as a good thing.  You see, I visited a gristmill that grinds corn into corn meal and grits.

It is one of many that once existed all across the country.  Apparently, they used to be only a few miles apart, so farmers could take their grain there to be ground and bring back the meal in a reasonable period of time.  Remember that the roads were poor and horses provided the motive power. 

I visited Timms Mill on Six and Twenty Creek near Pendleton South Carolina.  Mr. Isaac Timms first built a mill on another site on the same river in 1784. The current one is its third location, the other two having been washed away in floods.  This one is pretty old though, built in 1898 (not by the original Mr. Timms, however!).  This mill was in continuous use until 1960, and now since the 2004 renovation, the fourteen-foot overshot waterwheel is once again turning to power the stones in the mill.

In 2001, David and Lisa Wortham bought the run-down gristmill with some surrounding property.  You might think that farm folks would become the owners of a place like this.  David, however, is a doctor, a gastroenterologist to be exact.  That means he checks out places you usually don't see, from the top and from the bottom, if you get my drift*.

The good doctor saw that the mill was in pretty bad condition, and the waterwheel was mired in mud, but he decided to restore the mill rather than tear it down.  It took a lot of restoration.  In fact, much of the structure has been replaced, so this was not a trivial project.  A before picture:

Copyright ©2012 Timms Mill

Since the restoration, they have been grinding fresh grits and cornmeal for local (or not so local) restaurants and produce stands.

A little education is in order here:  Grits and corn meal are the same thing except for the particle size that results during grinding.  Grits are coarsely ground while cornmeal is very finely ground, like flour.  You separate out the coarse from the fine afterward using a rotary screen separator. 

Every first Saturday of December they have an open house. It was to start at 1:00 PM, but I got there at 10:30 AM.  As it happened, I rode up and was greeted by a gentleman whose name is Carl.  He is the father-in-law of the owner.  He gave me a personal tour, and we had a far-ranging conversation over the next hour or so.

Now, I judged Carl to be about 60 years old, but found out very soon that he is two decades older than that.  Carl has been a business owner most his life, and comes out each year to help with the open house at the mill.  His children and in-laws, and a gaggle of well-behaved grand kids were busy everywhere, preparing for the crowds about to descend on the mill this day.

Carl is on the left in this view, but the other two men are the ones who operate the mill when it is working.
The number two mill operator made it very clear that he got a cut of the lead man's pay.  By the way, the lead man's miller wage is a big goose egg -- and so is his helper's.  They are successful businessmen who do this out of love for the mill, for the joy of showing people how it works, and explaining its importance to the community it served.  All were good-natured and jovial. 

Here is a photo of the mill as it looks now.
The wooden mill race is on the left, bringing water to the wheel.

This is a view from the wheel side of the mill.  The race enters at the top of the wheel from the right in the picture:

Note that the axis of the wheel is not perpendicular to the mill building's wall.  A wide leather belt in the building's basement (I was given a tour of that area, too.) drives other line shafts, and twists enough so that the driven equipment can be placed square in the building.

That wheel is the one that is fourteen feet in diameter, and it has been restored by its original maker.  There is a large segmented gear on the wheel that mates with a smaller gear on the shaft that enters the basement of the mill to drive all of the equipment by way of the line shafts and flat belts.

This picture gives a glimpse of the gears behind these kiddies:

Copyright ©2012 Timms Mill

The iron gears were worn and had to be replaced, so Dr. Wortham had wooden patterns made so new ones could be cast.

This is the horizontal mill inside the building.  The circular stones sit one atop the other. 

There are also two vertical mills that operate at higher speed and grind more per hour.  Here is one of them:

...and there is a rotary separator in another corner to segregate the meal from the grits.

You might have tasted the cornmeal and grits ground here, because you can buy them in many shops, and a few upscale restaurants serve them as well.  Two of the latter are High Cotton in Greenville, SC and Slightly North of Broad in Charleston. There is a complete list on the mill website.  They also have there a recipe for Shrimp and Grits, a low country South Carolina favorite dish.  It combines the grits and shrimp with cheese, bacon, green onions, with some hot sauce mixed in.  Tasty. 

I didn't stay for the official start of the festivities, but they were cooking up large pots of grits, and had apple cider ready to serve.  Free!

There was to be Bluegrass music by the group Tugalo Holler, and horseback rides along the river, downstream of the mill.  An original Ely Whitney cotton gin was brought in on a trailer for a ginning demonstration.

It is powered my a hit-and-miss gasoline engine, although it could just as well have been powered by the water wheel.  The soft cotton after ginning was to be used by the kiddies later to jump and play in.

Nearby is a corn shucker, also powered by this hit-and-miss engine:

Carl took me into the modern house above the mill to show me some restored gasoline pumps.  One of his businesses was gasoline distribution, so these pumps are very familiar to him.  It was while in the house that I spotted the vats of cooking grits to be fed to the crowds later in the day.

As I said, he gave me a very complete tour. 

Dr. Wortham also owns a sawmill nearby.  I didn't visit it on the day I was there, but I am told it is also worthwhile seeing. 

Oh, by the way, the road that the mill sits on is a little twisty and hilly.  It makes for a short segment of a good winter route.  I'll have to work on mapping the rest of one. The mill is at Pushpin B on the map. 

View Larger Map

The regular hours you can go to the mill are Wednesdays, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, and Saturdays, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  You will be able to buy what you want during those times, but the mill may not be open and operating.  If you want to see it in operation, then call ahead and arrange a time to visit.

150 Timms Mill Road
Pendleton, SC 29670

There are a dozen or so picnic tables and a few benches next to the mill so you can bring your picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery while you eat it.

For me, it was an enjoyable day out on a warm fall afternoon, with good conversation, and friendly people.  

*    Colonoscopy, Endoscopy, Esophagoscopy, Esophagogastroduodenoscopy, Electrogastrogram, Barium Enema, Colostomy, etc. if you must know.  


Charlie6 said...

Good history lesson! I love grits with a bit of salt on them. Never had them till one breakfast while in the Army, good stuff.


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