April 7, 2013

Volunteers clean up Prater’s Mill

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— VARNELL — Over the past several years, Prater’s Mill has become a “wedding mecca,” according to Prater’s Mill Foundation President Judy Alderman.

“We really haven’t been trying to market it that way, but many young women want an outdoors, back-to-nature wedding,” she said. “So we are trying to accommodate them and make it more attractive for them.”

On Saturday, as part of that effort, several volunteers were refurbishing the barn that stands on the historic property, one of many projects that were being carried out at Prater’s Mill.

The Prater’s Mill Foundation has helped keep the mill in shape for more than 40 years, and on Saturday it organized an effort to spruce up the mill that drew more than 30 volunteers from across Northwest Georgia and Eastern Tennessee.

The Prater’s Mill cleanup was part of Park Day, a national effort to help restore America’s Civil War sites. Volunteers in 25 states were expected to clean up more than 100 sites on Saturday including Dalton’s Confederate Cemetery in West Hill Cemetery

“This is a perfect day to be out here. We’ve got the sunshine, beautiful weather and all these volunteers,” said Alderman.

Alice Newgen, from Ellijay, helped clear out the barn.

“We come here to the festival. I’m in a tractor club, and we have tractor shows here. We are going to have one May 18 actually,” she said. “It’s good to see people really interested in volunteering and preserving their history.”

John Pitner and his son-in-law Ben Prater built the mill in 1855. Upon Pitner’s death, Prater inherited the mill and the land around it.

On Saturday, a youth group from Salem Baptist Church hacked away at Chinese privet, an invasive shrub that crowds out native plants if not cut back.

“We are trying to help out. Several of out kids go to Coahulla Creek High School, and they come past here every day,” said youth pastor Noel Caldwell. “They want to give back to the community.”

Jack Kreis, from Ringgold, was also helping trim privet.

“I come to the festival every year, and I really love this place. I just wanted to help keep it up,” he said.

The Prater’s Mill Foundation has hosted a country fair and festival at the site since 1971. The fair brings in some 200 vendors and 8,000 to 10,000 visitors each year.

Marc Boring’s family owned Prater’s Mill for over 40 years before donating it to the county in 2009. On Saturday, he was cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for all the volunteers.

“The history of the place is amazing. Many of the machines that started the carpet industry were similar to what’s inside this mill. I’m very proud that my family helped preserve it. I’m glad to see so many people out here today, and I’m happy to help out in anyway I can,” he said.