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Oct. 16, 2018
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Historic mill north of Lake Lanier being preserved

By Pamela A. Keene
 
Third time’s the charm for Healan’s-Head’s Mill, the only surviving grist mill in Hall County. Nearly in ruins, it’s been rescued from destruction three times in its 170-year history – first when Fred and Burnice Healan purchased it in the 1960s, second when Hall County government bought it in 2003 through a grant from the Trust for Public Land and now thanks to a partnership between Hall County, the Healan’s-Head’s Mill Historic Preservation Trust and Friends of Healan’s Mill. 

“The mill is a hidden secret treasure in Hall County and we’re excited about saving Healan’s-Head’s Mill and restoring it to how it looked in the 1930s,” said Abit Massey, who with architect/historian Garland Reynolds, co-chairs the non-profit Healan’s-Head’s Mill Historic Trust. “We just couldn’t let this vital piece of history continue to decline.”
 
Built in 1849 by William Head, the grist mill was a hub of the community as people brought their corn and wheat to be ground there. As a young boy in the mid-1940s, Reynolds recalls going to the mill with his father to wait in line for their turn at the mill. “I played with the miller’s son on the banks of the river,” he said. “I treasure those days because it was a special time for my father and me to spend together and now I’m glad to be part of preserving and restoring this part of Hall County’s and North Georgia’s history.”
 
Rescued for first time
Located in East Hall off Whitehall Road near Lula, it had several owners over the years and was also used as a sawmill and to produce power until the end of World War II when electricity was more readily available. It seemed that the mill had outlived its usefulness and began to deteriorate. In the 1960s, Fred and Burnice Healan purchased the mill to convert it to an antiques store. “Once they passed on, it again fell into terrible disrepair,” Reynolds said.
 
Along the way, W.L. Norton Jr., who helped with the preservation of historic homes along Green Street, became involved as well in Healan’s-Head’s Mill. His work led to the creation of County Historical Society and the Gainesville-Hall Trust. About 15 years ago, the mill and four adjacent acres were purchased by Hall County through funds from the Trust for Public Land. The grant was approximately $300,000. 
 
The project came to the forefront about a decade ago, when the City of Gainesville announced plans to run a main sewer line near the area. “Common sense prevailed, and the lines were run closer to Ga. 365, where most of the development would be taking place anyway,” Reynolds said.
 
About three years ago, interest again percolated in the community for saving the mill. “Thanks to Marty Nix, our savior, money was put into the last Special Purposed Local Option Sales Tax to fund the project,” Reynolds said. “It was ready to fall down, and it was being vandalized, so we set into action to bring the project along this time.” 
 
Stabilizing a priority
Using SPLOST funds, the county spearheaded a stabilization project. “We shored up the walls, put wooden beams under the structure and levitated the mill to build a new concrete foundation underneath, then set the building on the new foundation,” said Nix. “Now the structure has been restored.” 
 
The large wooden water wheel from the original mill had been replaced by a steel wheel, 28 feet in diameter, decades before. “All the mechanical workings of the mill were still there,” Reynolds said. “Jim Syfan parked one of his 18-wheeler trailers out there and we were able remove all the machinery and milling equipment to protect it. Some of it is now in storage; the wheel and flume are being restored by a company in North Carolina.” The original wooden wheel was replaced in the mid-1930s with a metal wheel. “They used an A Model truck to bring it here,” Reynolds said.
 
Reynolds is quick to point out that the mill was powered not from the flow of the water from the nearby North Oconee River. “The mill was powered by the weight of the water that fell into the 1.25-square-foot metal pans around the wheel,” he said. “That’s about 75 pounds of water in each pan. The wheel, at 28 feet in diameter, could produce 11 horse power.” 
 
One side or the other
The site is geologically significant because it’s located close to the Southeastern Continental Divide. “The water on one side of the ridge flows into the Chattahoochee and Chestatee and on down into Alabama and that Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin. The water on the other side flows in the Savannah River Basin. “Two rivers going in opposite directions make it both geographically and geologically important.”
 
In early 2018, Hall County was able to purchase approximately 96 acres of land adjacent to the mill through a $300,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and funds from Hall County impact fees. The land abuts Ga. 365 and falls under the county’s greenspace area. 
 
Nix said that the county is currently working on its master plan for Parks & Leisure Services and part of that process will be asking for public comments and input from the Parks & Leisure Services Advisory Board about parks, recreation and greenspace.
 
Part of the plan for Healan’s-Head’s Mill is to have public access and possibly be a passive park with hiking trails and conservation space. The public comment period should be late this summer.
 
Four step process
The Healan’s-Head’s Mill Historic Preservation Trust has outlined four phases for implementing the restoration and future uses. Phase 1 included stabilization of the structure. Phase 2 involved the purchase of land surrounding the site. Phase 3 will focus on renovating the interior of the mill and restoring the functionality of the wheel and mechanical operations. Phase 4 will feature the completion of the project. 
 
“We envision a heritage and visitors center here,” Massey said. “It will become a gateway to Hall County, Gainesville and Atlanta for people traveling from the north and for people coming up from the south, it will bring people through here to the mountains and North Georgia.” 
 
Members of the Healan’s-Head’s Mill Historic Preservation Trust executive committee are Abit Massey, co-chair, Garland Reynolds, co-chair, Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix, vice chair/government liaison, Jane Hemmer, vice chair, Jim Syfan, treasurer, and Lee Hemmer, secretary. A public group has also been formed to support the project. For more information about membership in the Friends of Healan’s-Head’s Mill call Katie Crumley at 770-297-5504. 
 
“Without the county, we wouldn’t be where we are today in preserving Healan’s-Head’s Mill,” Massey said. “The county saved it this time before it slipped into the river, and it will become a lasting remembrance of our history and culture and a major destination in Northeast Georgia.”

Spring underneath mill named for legendary train robber
By Alan Hope
 
Look closely at the creek side base of Healan’s-Head’s Mill and you’ll see a small stacked-rock structure with water running from a tiny pipe. The water is coming from a spring that runs under the mill. So why is it named Bill Miner Spring?
 
Miner was a legendary stage coach/train robber who began is robbing ways in the late 1860s. He is credited with the phrase, “Hands Up!” and he robbed stage coaches and later trains from California to Canada to eventually – in 1909 – Gainesville. His “career” lasted some 30 years.  Locals in the East Hall area have said Miner spent the night at this spring prior to robbing a Southern Railway passenger train headed to New York. The incident took place a short distance away from the spring. 
 
Garland Reynolds, who co-chairs the non-profit Healan’s-Head’s Mill Historic Trust, visited the mill a number of times as a young child. He said the spring “ran through the mill’s lower level, causing the dirt floor to always be muddy.” 
 
“Sometime in the mid 1930s, a porch was constructed over the spring hiding it from view and use,” he said. “Last year, after removing the old, rotten front porch, we captured the water from the spring and ran it out” to spill into the newly-built rock structure.
 
As for Miner, he was captured a few days later in Lumpkin County and would be sent to prison in Milledgeville, Ga. Even though he was in his early 70s Miner escaped (something he did several times during his life of crime) but was captured after wandering through a swamp for several days. 

He died a short time later after his recapture. His tombstone reads: Bill Miner, The Last Of The Famous Western Bandits, Died In The Milledgeville State Prison Sept 2, 1914.

For more information about Healan’s-Head’s Mill, visit www.healansmill.org.


Posted online 5/29/18

 
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