Sunday, May 28, 2017



The Murray's Mill Historical District is located in Catawba County, near the town of Catawba off the aptly named Murray Mill Road.  The mill is a historically complete 1913 grist mill.  The story goes that when Lloyd Murray decided to quit, he simply closed the doors and went home. When the Historical Association gained possession of the mill, there was still grain in the bins waiting to be ground.

The Catawba Historical Association operates four sites in the county.  The Murray Mill site has several buildings in addition to the mill.  The John Murray House and the Wheathouse Gallery are also open to the public. 

The Murray & Minges Store is where we found the site director who provided us with great information and history of the mill.  The Murray family operated a mill on this site since the 1880's. In 1906, William Murray, gave the mill to his sons, John and O.D.  A year later, the sons divided their interests with John running the mill and O.D running the store. The current mill was constructed in 1913.

The original mill located at this site was constructed by William Murray around 1883.  The mill was on Ball Creek and was one of many that served this area of Catawba County.  As the story goes, a mill upstream from the Murray Mill was operated by Mr. Edwards who on occasion would interrupt the flow of water to the Murray Mill causing him to have to bring his grain to Mr. Edwards to mill.
After paying to grind the meal, Mr. Edwards would also extract a "toll" from Murray and his other customers.  Jennifer, the site director of the Mill, holds the Edwards Toll Box.  From each bag of grain milled by Edwards, he would scoop a toll by using the toll box.

Karma had a way to even things out as the Edwards Mill was washed away in 1913, That same year John  Murray tore down the original mill and built this structure.  He replaced a turbine with a 22 foot diameter water wheel.  In 1938, his son, Lloyd, raised the dam by six feet and replaced the water wheel with the current 28 foot diameter metal wheel.  It was at this time the store was built in its current location.

On the banks of the mill pond is the 1820 home of George Huffman.  This house is currently unopened but would make a great bed and breakfast or tavern.  From the porch of this house is the best view of the Murray's Mill Historical District.

The Mill is often used for special events and the area beneath the dam is very picturesque.  The water spilling over the dam creates several waterfalls cascading over the rocks into Ball Creek. 
From the steel walkway on the back of the mill, there is a great view of the dam from above. 

The mill is a living historical museum.  The inside of the mill looks as it did when Lloyd Murray closed the mill.  Rarely are grist mills this historically accurate.  For a small fee, Jennifer will provide you a guided tour.  There are three floors of vintage equipment and tools. It is apparent that Mr. Murray had quite a business.  The mill is currently operational and I want to return and see what it looks like when these machines are running.
From the windows of the mill, you can see the mill dam and the waterfalls.

The basement floor is the gear room. It is very interesting and informative to see how the massive wheel transfers the water into power to operate the machinery of a grist mill.

The tool room boasts over a hundred vintage tools of all sorts and sizes.  It reminds you how self reliant the miller had to be.  

There is a small museum and class room on the first floor with a model of the mill and several wonderful pictures of the mill in operation.

Across the road is the Murray & Minges Store which is a vintage country store with ice cold bottled drinks.  It is adorned with shelves of product and memorabilia. 

The store was operated by O.D Murray who by reputation was an astute businessman who trusted few people.  Unique to the store is the large ornate hole in the ceiling.  It served two practical functions.  First to ventilate the second floor, the second was to allow Mr. Murray to keep an eye on the cash register while working upstairs. 
The store is also a museum of sorts containing all types of memorabilia about the mill village the surrounding area.  Jennifer, the site manager seems to be the resident expert mixing historical facts with interesting anecdotes.  

Spending time in a rocking chair sipping on a bottle of pop, I could envision how many tales were told around the old pot belly wood stove.
The store contains a large operational soda fountain which annually is the site of an ice cream social which raises money for the Murray's Mill Historic District.  This year the event is on July 9. Think it might cause the FBWG and his Faithful Hiking Companion to take another trip to Murray's Mill.

The Mill may be one of the best kept secrets in the Piedmont.  It is a fascinating and beautiful site that has been meticulously maintained. It is a wonderful destination for a weekend afternoon road trip.  It is also a great place to take young folks and others who are interested in history.

It is nice to see a site like this restored as it gives me hope that folks will follow the example of the Catawba Historical Association in the preservation and repurposing of old historical sites.  A job well done!

Another special place to visit on a road trip to Murray's Mill is  Pop's Old Company Store and Tavern in downtown Catawba.  

Pop's is the creation of the late Wayne "Pops" Hyatt who opened this place a few years back.  It is now operated by his son and daughter in law.  Located in a restored 1895 building.  The tavern and restaurant is a hidden gem.  Great food, cold beer, and warm welcome accompanies every visit. Make sure you stop by and tell Trish that the Fat Bald White Guy sent you! 

Saturday, May 27, 2017



Lloyd Murray had enough with rising taxes and bureaucratic red he just closed the doors to the mill his father built in 1913 and went home.  In 1980 when the Catawba County Historical Society secured possession of the mill, there was still grain in the bins waiting be ground.  Open today as a historical education site, the mill is a marvel of a bygone era.  Located at 1449 Murray Mill Road near the town of Catawba, North Carolina, the Murray Mill Historical District is a hidden gem of the North Carolina piedmont.

A mill was originally constructed on Ball Creek in 1883 by John Murray.  By the turn of the century, his son, William had taken over operating the mill. In 1906, he conveyed the property to his two sons, John and O.D.  The next year the brothers decided to divide operations.  John would handle the mill and O.D. would operate the store.

In 1913, John Murray replaced his father's mill with the current building and constructed a dam that allowed him to operate a 22 foot diameter waterwheel that replaced a turbine as the power source for the mill. In 1938, John Murray's son Lloyd raised the dam six feet and installed the current 28 foot diameter water wheel. 

This site is not only a historical gem, it is a photographer's dream and it has a 2.5 mile trail for the Fat Bald White Guy to get his hike on!   On a hot Memorial Day weekend, we were among the few afternoon visitors.  The site manager, Jennifer, operated the store, provided guided tours and answered many of my questions in a friendly and most informative manner.  She even told us a few tales too. 
She is holding the toll box from a neighboring mill operated by a fellow named Edwards who from time to time would interrupt the flow of Ball Creek causing John Murray to have to bring his grain to grind in the Edwards mill.  Each bag of grain so ground was not only charged a price, but also had a "toll" extracted.  Mr. Edwards would use the box Jennifer is holding to scoop from the bag his "toll".   Seems that karma had a way of dealing with the Edwards Mill as it was washed away in 1913 and was never rebuilt.  This resulted in more business for the Murrays whose mill was a centerpiece of the community for over 50 years.
We were surprised to learn that a hiking trail around the millpond and along Ball Creek had been constructed by the Carolina Thread Trail.
It is a part of a longer trail that is detailed on their website.   But having already walked nearly three miles on the Faulkner Flats trail in the Linville Gorge we were only interested in a leisurely walk along a flat trail and that is what Murray's Mill offered. 

We hiked the trail in a figure 8 keeping the millpond always on our right....beginning beneath the dam, capturing a wonderful waterfall.

This site is often used for wedding receptions and photographs for all occasions.  I really think that a wedding at the base of these falls with the bridal party adorning the rocks would be very picturesque.

Leaving the dam, we begin our loop by 
trudging up to the George Huffman house that was constructed in 1820.  The view from the front porch of the house was also most interesting. I captured a wonderful reflection of the mill in the old window panes.

As we walked around the mill pond, we noticed that everywhere there was a wooden bench there was a scenic view to take in. Especially the white mill silhouetted against the blue green surface of the pond.

The trail borders a large corn field but is very well marked and maintained.  As the pond narrows into a marsh, the trail leads into the woods but not before you get one last look at the distant mill.

The trail crosses a long wooden bridge over the marshy end of the millpond and emerges at the edge of the Shiloh Church cemetery.
Then it returns to the edge of the pond. 

At one of the bench views, I spotted a couple of ducks.  We got to watch them for awhile as they interacted with each other.

 The Carolina Thread trail ends at Shiloh Church road but the millpond loop trail continues on the other side of the highway bridge at the water hydrant.  

The trail allows for additional views of the mill pond and the surrounding corn fields.  
The trail emerges at the edge of an adjacent farm that boasts a large white barn on the hill overlooking the mill pond.

The adjacent outbuildings of this farm on the banks of the mill pond captured my interest.  The oldest shed had a couple of old wagon wheels and plows.


From the farm side of the mill pond, there were more great views of the mill and the Huffman house.
The trail led to the back of the mill and there were stairs leading to a walkway across the back of the mill overlooking the dam. 

The view from the walkway of the dam offered yet another great photograph of this iconic old building

While I went into the mill, the details of that part of the day will be in a blog on the mill.  We picked up the Ball Creek portion of the trail on the other side of the bridge.  As I climbed down the trail I could not resist another picture of the mill from beneath the bridge.

We picked up the Ball Creek Carolina Thread Trail that follows the creek north.  The trail is a typical wooded creek side trail. 
At the bridge the Ball Creek Trail continues but we opted to cross the bridge and loop by the Store.
The trail ends at the Murray Minges store.  In there is a soda box full of ice cold bottled drinks.  While drinking my cold soda, I listened as Jennifer described the history of the mill.
There are few perfect trails but this one comes very close only because of the Murray Mill.  It is picturesque and the various angles that you can see the mill and its accompanying buildings from the millpond trail makes a visit to this place special.

Access is a 9...only 15 minutes from I-40 at exit 138...the first exit west of the Catawba river bridge....the trail is well marked and maintained...a short 2.5 mile loop can be expanded if you take the Carolina Thread Ball Creek Trail...9...the scenery is a 10...the mill is unique piece of history and immaculately maintained and presented....effort to view is skewed to the view...a pretty easy hike that anyone can take...overall a 9+ hike....props to the Jennifer the site manager for making our trip special.