Local News

April 3, 2011

Volunteers turn out to clean up Prater’s Mill

VARNELL — It seemed like a family reunion at Prater’s Mill Saturday, as members of several families with ties to the historic mill joined other volunteers to help spruce it up.

“I’ve got a lot of memories of this place, and I just want to make sure that other people will get to know about it,” Billie Prater said.

Prater, 80, said he first came to the mill, just east of Varnell, when he was a child with his family to have their corn ground into meal.

“We’d come once a year, load all of the corn on a wagon, and we’d bring back enough to last us until the next year,” he said.

Prater is the descendent of Charles Prater, a Cherokee who escaped from being removed by the federal government from his people’s lands during the Trail of Tears, when his family voluntarily became the slaves of a white man named John Pitner. Pitner and his son-in-law Ben Prater later built the mill in 1855. Upon Pitner’s death, Prater inherited his slaves.

Prater built the mill, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with what was then the most technologically advanced grain cleaning, grinding and sifting machinery. The mill is powered by Coahulla Creek.

Betty Harden lived near the mill more than 50 years ago.

“This is part of our heritage. It’s important to keep it here and to let people know about its history,” she said.

Inside the mill, several bags hang that contained corn meal sold by the mill when it was operating. Harden points to one that depicts the mill with a pickup truck parked outside.

“That was my dad’s truck,” she said.

Gertrude “Tut” Manly McFarland also came by to support the cleanup day.

The Manlys are part of the extended Pitner-Prater family.

“I love the history of this place, and I’ve spent a lot of time writing it down. My mother was the family historian, and I guess I inherited the job from her,” she said. “She would spend the summers up here with her family. And when I was a child, we had a corn field behind our house, and we’d load up the car with corn and bring it here. Our cousins lived in the old Prater home, so we’d sit on the porch and visit with them while our corn was ground.”

For Maggie Manly, the cleanup was especially important. The Dalton resident plans to get married in September at the mill.

“I’ve grown up out here. My family helped build it, and we love the country atmosphere, so when we started planning our wedding, this seemed like the perfect spot,” she said. “We are trying to get it cleaned up for the festival later this year and also for my wedding.”

The Prater’s Mill Country Fair has been held at the mill since 1971 and attracts about 10,000 people. It is hosted by the private, nonprofit Prater’s Mill Foundation.

The Boring family, who owned the property, donated the 13-acre site to Whitfield County last year

Judy Alderman, president of the Prater’s Mill Foundation, says that historical tourism can be a big economic boost to the area. The mill is located on the Cohutta-Chattahoochee Scenic Byway, and Whitfield and Murray counties are using a federal grant to draw more attention, and hopefully more visitors, to the byway by putting up interpretive kiosks and other amenities at the mill and at each end of the byway at the Cohutta Fish Hatchery and on Fort Mountain.

The Prater’s Mill cleanup was part of Park Day, a national effort to help restore America’s Civil War sites. Volunteers in 22 states were expected to clean up more than 100 sites on Saturday.


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