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Dellinger Grist Mill on Cane Creek

Dellinger Grist Mill on Cane Creek

A Salute to the can-do Spirit of Americans

The Story of the Little Mill with a lot of Heart that came back!

Dellinger's Grist Mill on Cane Creek

The Dellinger Grist Mill is the only known small, private, water-powered mill, built to serve the community, which still survives in North Carolina. It posses statewide significance in the areas of architecture and social history as an intact example of a once commonplace grist mill which is now
exceedingly rare. The Dellinger Mill was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on November 19, 1998.

The mill was in continuous operation for well over 100 years, grinding shelled corn into cornmeal for the people of Hawk, Clarissa, Green Cove, the left and right hand forks of Cane Creek and other surrounding communities. The current buildings are about 98 years old. They include the mill building itself with attached shed, which contains all the original equipment including the mill wheel, millstones, pulleys, shafts and belts. The other building still standing is the apple storage house, which is a unique, double walled structure. The space between the two walls is filled with dry
sawdust for insulation. Both buildings are made of solid chestnut lumber and covered with tin roofs.

Dellinger Mill is located on Cane Creek Road (SR 1211) four miles east of Bakersville, North Carolina. Jack and Wayne Dellinger, owners of the old homeplace and the mill, sons of Marvel Dellinger and great grandsons of the original builder Reuben are restoring the mill to operational status for demonstrations, tours and cornmeal.

Jack Dellinger's historical gem at Cane Creek.

Henry Dellinger built a grist and saw mill on Three Mile Creek in Avery County, North Carolina. It was there that his son, Reuben first acquired his skills as a miller. About 1846 Reuben married Mary Jane Coffery and the couple settled on a small farm nearby. Milling provided a living for the family, but a tragic accident at the mill took the life of Mary Jane on April 11, 1859, when her dress became caught in the shaft of the mill. According to a family historical, the accident caused Reuben to leave his holding and relocate in Hawk.In 1866 and 1867, Reuben purchased three tracts of land on Cane Creek, which became his home place and the location of his new mill. He also purchased additional land from Thomas Pitman which adjoined his property. We may never know if Reuben continued to operate the Pitman Mill or built his own mill building, but he continued to operate a community mill in that location. The Dellinger Mill was a small water powered community mill that never became an entry in the sequential editions of the Brancons' North Carolina Business Directory because if its size.

Situated along Cane Creek, four miles from Bakersville, Dellinger's Mill has been in the Dellinger family for nearly 100 years and is the only small, private community mill in the state of North Carolina. In the mill's early days, locals depended on it for cornmeal. Reuben Dellinger assembled a home tract of 110 acres on Cane Creek and built a simple grist mill in the late 19th century. When the original mill, built by Reuben Dellinger in 1867, was lost in a spring freshet of May 1901 it destroyed the original mill. In the second mill the millstone timber frame work was built to hold two pairs of millstones. The second pair never installed in the mill was perhaps designed to grind wheat flour. The millstones are on a waist high platform in the typical mill fashion with a pair of steps to access the millstones, and a bin in front of the platform on ground level.

Following the flood, Dellinger's son, Dave R. Philip Dellinger, rebuilt a anew mill downstream to the site in 1901, still on family land. From 1903 until his death in 1936 David Dellinger ground corn into meal for his family, friends, and neighbors. His "toll" for grinding corn was one bushel for every ten ground for customers. While the Dellinger Cane Creek grist mill remained a water powered for its entire operating life, electric lines came to Cane Creek Valley in the late 1920's. When David died in February of 1936, he left the mill to his only son Marvel Greenbury Dellinger. Like his father and grandfather, "Marv" continued to grind corn into meal upon request. saw milling was another important cash generating activity and the saw mill was housed in a shed built across the west end of the grist mill. An apple store house was built upstream from the mill using saw dust for insulation from the saw mill. A mule powered cane mill once stood downstream below the saw mill addition.

In turn, Dave's son, Marvel Greenberry Dellinger ran the mill until 1955. When Marv died on December 21, 1955, the mill ceased operation. This new mill building survived the disastrous flooding of 1998. By this time, Dave's grandson, Jack, had chosen a career as a computer programmer, so the mill lay idle for the first time in nearly a century. Having worked on the Apollo space mission, Jack Dellinger retired in 1997 and moved with his wife, Leslie, to Florida.

The mill's original wheel was still intact.

After checking the North Carolina SPOOM mill roster, SPOOM member Jack Dellinger wanted to know what happened to his mill in Mitchell County, North Carolina. On a subsequent visit to Cane's Creek, Jack was sad to see the family heirloom in its decrepit state. He noticed that the mill components were still there, included the mill wheel, pulley, shafts and belts. Even the cornmeal scoop-with forefinger indentations made by Jack's father, grandfather and great-grandfather-also remained. Jack decided to restore the mill. In 1967, Stephen,Wayne and Jack Dellinger undertook the first measures toward the mill's stabilization and restoration. Over the years the log chestnut dam across Cane Creek had washed out. Millwright Ted Hazen first inspected the mill in March of 1997, and since then logs were cut on the Dellinger land to rebuild the log dam across Cane Creek that feeds water down a quarter mile long mill race. The new dam is almost in the same spot as the historical dam of Dellinger's Mill. Dellinger's Limited Liability Corporation was established to undertake the restoration project and the two Dellinger brothers are officers of the company.

Dellinger's project has inspired residents of Bakersville to restore their homes.

The mill's water wheel was manufactured by the Fitz Water Wheel Company of Hanover, Pennsylvania. The water wheel bears the brass plate that identifies its serial number as #13779, is believed to date to the 1870's and might have been reused from the earlier 19th century grist mill. One of the first tasks was to replace the metal on 27 buckets in the water wheel, and six of the interior pieces. This required 2,254 bolts-discounting the ones he dropped. Jack has come to appreciate the craftsmanship in the mill, like the wooden locust pegs driven through chestnut beams that have survived intact since 1901. Tin roofs shelter the mill building and its attached sheds. Jack's cousin, Ray Dellinger, has become a restoration collaborator and now, after two years and $50,000, the mill is nearly finished.

The entire grist mill machinery, including the granite 36 inch diameter millstones, have survived in good condition. They were redressed by Ted Hazen in July of 1999. Many relatives and local folks came by to view the millstone dressing process because they had never seem the millstones apart, let alone being dressed. It was Jack and his younger brothers job to dress the millstones for their father. Times had changed when Dellinger's Mill was an operating mill, the door was never locked. When the mill closed down the door still remained unlocked. Over the years that them mill sat idle someone made off with the wooden box of millstone dressing tools, the damsel, the Fitz Water Wheel gate control hand wheel, but the original proof staff and trammel still remain in the mill. Today the door now locked for the mill's own protection and for the curious passers by. Only the chestnut board sluice box which carried water from the earthen and stone mill race and emptied it onto the water wheel had deteriorated over the years. After the mill was closed in 1955, when Jack's father when home one day to the family home across the road (where the mill's parking lot is today) and never returned. Over time the sluice box eventually deteriorated, eventually collapsed and rotted away. A local carpenter undertook the building of a new sluice box to once again carry water to the top of the water wheel using the old Fitz control gate mounted in the end of the water box.

The restoration should be completed in June of 2000. Jack Dellinger has already ground a few pounds of corn meal for his friends. Because of the Restoration work, Bob Vela chose Dellinger Mill as part of his "Restore America" show which aired on March 26, 200 on the Home and Garden Television Network. Local farmers plan to once again take corn to the mill for grinding. The restoration has also inspired a Renaissance of sorts in nearby Bakersville, where restoration of homes and public buildings, including the courthouse, is now underway.

The plaque outside of the Mill is dedicated to the memory of the millers of Dellinger's Mill, 1867 to 1955. Reuben from 1867 to 1895, Dave from 1874 to 1936, and Marve from 1902 until 1955. Dellinger's Mill will be open to the public, but visitors might want to check first with the Dellingers for hours of operation.

Calendar of Events for Dellinger Grist Mill

Grinding corn at Dellinger Mill: Every 3rd Saturday of month June-Sept. Hours10:00am-5:00pm, perhaps into Oct., Hawk NC (near Bakersville on SR 1211)

Grinding corn at Dellinger Mill: Corn grinding and tours during January-May when the weather permits, Hawk NC (near Bakersville on SR 1211)

Please check with the Dellingers first at either their Bakersville (704) 688-1009 phone number, or at their Florida residence (828) 688-1009. E-mail

The Official Dellinger Grist Mill Web Site.

Sources for information and photos: personal interviews with Jack Dellinger at the Cane Creek Mill; This Old House-"Restore North Carolina" internet website for Bakersville, North Carolina; Scenic Attractions of Mitchell County, North Carolina, andOld Mill News, Volume XXXVIII, Number 2, Whole Number 111, Spring 2000, pages 23-24.

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Copyright 2000 by T. R. Hazen