2020-10-01 – Road Trip to Prater’s & Ketners Mill

Dateline: October 1, 2020

The three “Phototeers” visited both Prater’s and Ketner’s Mill on the same day.  It was a great day to go because there were very few other visitors roaming around to photobomb our shots.

We enjoyed our visits to both mills, and I got a few good shots that are at the bottom of the page.  I have also included some of the histories of the two mills that have survived the ravages of time.

Prater’s Mill, Varnell, GA. History (From Pratersmill.org)

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Prater’s Mill’s heritage runs back to the days of the Cherokee Indians. Built by Benjamin Franklin Prater in 1855, the water-powered mill was originally fitted with the latest in grain cleaning, grinding, and sifting machinery, all powered by the Coahulla Creek. 

As the mill’s popularity grew, Prater added a cotton gin, a sawmill, a wool carder (a device that combs sheep wool), a syrup mill, a general store, and a blacksmiths shop. For almost a century, farmers lined up their mules and wagons before dawn, waiting for their turn with the millers.

 During the Civil War, the mill was used as a campsite by soldiers from both sides. While occupied by the Union army, the mill was considered a valuable resource for food and was not destroyed. The Prater family operated the Mill until the 1950s. A succession of millers ran it until the 1960s. In 1971, the all-volunteer Prater’s Mill Foundation took over the Mill and began its extensive restoration and preservation efforts. Today, the mill is best known for the arts and crafts festivals held each October. Throughout the year, the grounds are a popular site for fishing, cookouts, and family reunions.

Ketner’s Mill, Whitwell, TN. History (From ketnersmill.org)

Ketner’s Mill has been a site that not only shaped the lives of one family but also the lives of all those who settled in the Sequatchie Valley of Southeast Tennessee. The story is one of beginnings, growth, progress, and community all told at once through Ketner’s Mill.

1824 - Orphan David Ketner arrived in the Sequatchie Valley with his two siblings. He operated a mill near the base of Suck Creek Mountain, in what is now known as Ketner’s Cove. Along with the grist (cornmeal) mill, a blacksmith shop operated on that first site. Meanwhile, early settlers built a dam and mill at the current site.

1840 - A wool carding machine, also powered by water from the dam, was purchased and set up for operation near the mill.
1868 - David Ketner’s son, Alexander (affectionately called “Pappy” by his family), bought the “new” or current mill site on the Old Sequatchie River. The family began construction on a brick structure and completed the project by 1882. A water-powered sawmill also operated on the site during this period.
Early 1880s - The Ketners moved a wool carding mill from the original site in Ketner’s Cove to the current site, where it was restored to working order. It is one of only three of its kind still running in the United States today.
1955 - The last year of operation for the sawmill.
1974 - A family reunion brought family members to the mill, where they agreed to embark on a three-year restoration project.
1977 - The first Ketner’s Mill Country Fair celebrated the completion of the restoration project. Ketner’s Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1992 - The last year of full-time operation for Ketner’s Mill. Until his death in 1992, Clyde Ketner, grandson of original owner David Ketner, continued the daily production of quality, old-fashioned cornmeal. The family has continued the time-honored tradition by bringing the mill into production each year for the annual Country Arts Fair. The proceeds of the fair are used to preserve the historic site.
2010 - Ketner descendant and current owner Frank McDonald restored the old family house to its original design.
Today, Pappy Ketner's great, great-grandson Frank McDonald and his two sons, Clay and Miles, continue the family tradition by organizing the Fair each year and ensuring that the old mill structures and ground are preserved for future generations to enjoy
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