By Cory L. Higgs
After a summer of repairs to the historic gristmill at Mabry Mill, water is once again turning the wheel. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, National Park Foundation, and the National Park Service in conjunction worked to restore the historical landmark’s water flumes after they fell into disrepair.
At a ribbon cutting Thursday, Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee thanked those who had a hand in helping restore “the most iconic landmark on the Blue Ridge Parkway. As one of the most iconic and recognizable locations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mabry Mill is a destination for visitors from all over the world.”
Carylon Ward, CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, who helped raise funds for the restoration effort, said that Mabry Mill attracted more visitors than national parks that include Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon combined. Ward noted it also operates on a fraction of the budget of those parks.
The mill’s popularity is partly due to the fact that “Mabry Mill allows visitors to step back in time and relive mountain history,” Ward said in a release. The recently completed “essential repairs to the mill will ensure this picturesque location remains a place of learning for years to come,” she added.
Willa Mays, the foundation’s chief development officer, said the foundation raised about $200,000 for the project, and is still working to raise funds for a remaining $50,000 needed to finish the project.
The water flumes, which channel water to turn the grist mill wheel used to grind grains and generate energy, and wooden roofs on some of the other buildings, were included in the restoration project.
The National Park Service matched funds donated by the National Park Foundation through a Centennial Challenge grant.
“Some of these structures have been here for over 70 years, and we try to repair them in a historical way,” Mays said, as she joined Lee, Ward, other officials and a number of National Park Service employees to help cut the ribbon to commemorate the repairs and celebrate the partnerships between the three organizations that made them possible: the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, National Park Service and the National Park Foundation.
The parkway doesn’t receive the funding it once did, and that’s where the foundation steps in, Mays said. She explained the foundation raises funds with private philanthropists and then directs funding to restore landmarks that would otherwise rot away.
Ed and Lizzie Mabry built the gristmill in the early 20th century. The Mabrys where known as skilled blacksmiths and carpenters, building and operating the mill mostly on their own.
The park service acquired the mill in 1938. A first round of repairs was in 1942.
The repairs unveiled Thursday are expected to last for the next two decades, barring a catastrophic event, Mays said.
The foundation is continuing to raise funds to help not only Mabry Mill, but other landmarks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Those interested in donating can find more information at www.brpfoundation.org.