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Yates Mill
Photo by Jerry Blow, courtesy of Raleigh Historic Development Commission
Yates Mill, one of the oldest buildings in Wake County, is the region’s only surviving operable gristmill. For nearly 200 years the water-powered mill produced lumber, milled corn and wheat, and carded wool. The land on which the mill is situated was surveyed for Samuel Pearson in October 1756, and granted to him by the Earl of Granville, one of the North Carolina colony’s Lord Proprietors. The original mill was probably built around that time. Pearson steadily increased his land holdings, and owned more than 600 acres at the time of his death in 1802. In 1819, accumulated debts forced Pearson’s son, Simon, to sell the mill and its surrounding acreage at a sheriff’s auction. William Boylan, a prominent Raleigh businessman and director of the State Bank, bought the property, and over the next 30 years modernized the mill several times, adding a sawmill in the 1840s.

In 1853 Thomas Briggs, John Primrose and James Penny acquired the mill. A decade later, in the midst of the Civil War, the partners sold the mill and surrounding 94 acres to Phares and Roxanna Yates, James Penny’s son-in-law and daughter. Penny’s involvement in the murder of a Mr. Franklin may have brought on the sale. According to legend, Franklin was a Northern sympathizer who Penny killed for not paying a $700 mill debt. In 1865, Franklin’s widow supposedly told Federal troops occupying Raleigh that her husband’s death was due to his support for the Union. The soldiers tried to burn the mill by setting fire to the entrance. Charred wooden beams today attest to the unsuccessful attempt. In 1866, Penny was acquitted of Franklin’s death.

[photo] Historic photo of Yates Mill, c. 1890-1920
Photo courtesy of Yates Mill Associates and Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space

Yates and his descendents operated the mill until 1948, when businessman A. E. Finley acquired the property. Finley constructed a retreat lodge by the millpond for the use of his family and employees. Due to lack of demand, however, the old mill was closed in 1953. Ten years later, North Carolina State University acquired the property, consolidating it into a larger tract to be used as an experimental farm. The mill was mainly used for storage until 1989, when Yates Mill Associates was formed to marshal its restoration. The mill narrowly escaped destruction in 1996, when rains unleashed by Hurricane Fran burst its 250-year-old stone dam. In 1996, Yates Mill Associates and Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space unveiled a public-private partnership to rehabilitate the dam and mill as part of a 574-acre historic and environmental park.

Yates Mill is a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark.

Yates Mill is located at the intersection of Lake Wheeler and Penny rds., south of the City of Raleigh. The park is open seven days a week from 8:00am to sunset. Park office hours are 8:30am to 5:00pm. For further information call 919-856-6675 or visit the park’s website.

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