Stepping Back in Time: Nora Mills

My sweet momma grew up the daughter of a sharecropper, traveling all over Alabama as they made a living for themselves.  All my life I have listened to the stories of her childhood as her family traveled with eight brothers and sisters from home to home for work and school.  They picked cotton, gleaned gardens, washed clothes with a washing board and hung them to dry, and despite hardship and heartache, truly loved one another.

Mama smelling cotton out in a local field

Next to the stories told by my momma, I loved my grandmamma’s stories even more.  She lived a really tough life, especially as a runaway child bride, but she could do anything, and honey, did she ever take care of her family!

This picture is of my sweet grandmamma on her wedding day in 1947.  She was just 14 years old, and my grandpa was just days out of the Army.


Grandpa and Grandma on their wedding day — 1947
My children were never able to know my grandparents, but I have tried to share with them the life and stories that are their heritage.  It wasn’t a glamorous or easy life, and everything was done by hand, but it was a quality life.  
A life that at the end of the day meant something had been accomplished, and a heritage to be proud of!
My kiddos have it easy just as I did.  When they have to clean the kitchen, they load a dishwasher.  When they want to wash clothes it’s in a front loading washer and they can then dry their clothes in a dryer.  When they want to bake a cake, I buy flour and sugar at the grocery, and if I am in a hurry we just buy a cake mix.  They ride to school in a cooled or heated car driven by their mom, and picking peppers and tomatoes in my garden is more like gathering roses.
They have it good.
Because of the stories and experiences, walks down memory lane with my mom and grandma, I have always respected the ways of the past as they have shaped my life, and I want my children to know the old paths as well.  Stories don’t always remain with them as two generations later they can’t imagine being poor or struggling to make a living or doing things without modern conveniences.  So, I look for ways to give them a glimpse of life as it once was.
While we were in Helen last weekend we discovered this quaint little “working” gristmill just outside the city limits.


Sitting right on the Chattahoochee River in Helen, Nora Mills has been in operation for over 135 years!  As a matter of fact, it has been run by four generations of the same family since it went into operation until just the last few years.  Now that is a heritage to be proud of!

The kids weren’t too keen on stopping in the mill; it was just another one of my crazy ideas.

You know how kids can be!

Instead of “crazy”, they discovered a world and an art quite unlike any that they could have imagined by just reading in a book.

The moment that the kids walked into the mill, they were greeted by Tommy Martin, who has run this operation for the last few years.  He was so excited to show the kids how everything works and teaching them how to make cornmeal for the cornbread they love and grits to accompany a full Saturday breakfast!

The corn in Nora Mills is ground on an original 133 year old piece of equipment, still powered by the Chattahoochee River.


Mr. Martin showed the kids how to swap and add corn to the mill, how it processes, and then travels to bins to be bagged for use.  I was thrilled at how all three of the kids listened and participated in all he had to say.

(hmmm, I wonder if they would listen to him if he told them to clean their rooms?)

I was impressed with Mr. Martin’s knowledge and how well he did pull the kids in.  Learning outside the classroom isn’t always an idea kids are up for.

MacKenzie opening the storage bun to release the corn


Corn falling into the conveyor



Corn as it is traveling in an “elevator” to the mill for grinding
Releasing the corn to be ground


Making sure the corn doesn’t wind up in one deep pile



Ground corn


White cornmeal

Mr. Martin prides himself in using the entire corn kernel, meaning all of the vitamins are kept and nothing is added when the corn is prepared.  Now that is true “whole-grains”; the food we should be eating.  We have lost this using commercial processing of grains which results in the government “enriching” our food.

I like this natural process much better!

We could not have had more fun during our visit to the mill if we had planned it!  Tommy Martin was a wonderful and educational guide for our children and gave them an experience that they are still talking about!

freshly ground grits …. just need biscuits and tomato gravy to go with them!

Watching the kids have fun while learning made for a really great experience.  They were so excited and couldn’t wait to call my mom and tell her all about it!  Of course we had to buy cornmeal for both sets of their grandparents and a bag of grits for me.

(I see a huge brunch in my future!)

And now my kids have their own story to share with their own children ……

“When I was a kid, I got to grind corn in a 135 year old mill in the mountains of Georgia.”

It’ll go along with the story of walking two blocks to school in the snow when we lived in Iowa.  Of course it’ll be two miles when it is retold!

If you make it to Helen in the future, make time to stop off at this historic old mill.

Stepping back in time for quality family time?  I’ll take it every day!

One thought on “Stepping Back in Time: Nora Mills

  1. This is going to come in handy on a number of levels…first of all, it looks like fun, second, it'll make a good essay topic, especially the essay that requires including all five senses. Third, good food to eat and a way to remember the importance of eating as close to the original source as possible. Great stopping choice, Mom!


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