By Eric Fleming
On a beautiful fall day, 21 of us met at the Lee Gordon Mill in Chickamauga, GA at 10 am on 11/5/16 to paddle 2.2 miles up to where the Crawfish Spring runs into the W Chickamauga Creek. Despite having virtually no rain in months, the creek stayed deep all the way up due to the mill dam back up. The spring water added to the creek, which about doubles its flow. We stopped on a nice sand bar for a leisurely break before paddling back down. Then, 17 of us headed over to the awesome Choo Choo BBQ for a great meal. Another great day on the water with an awesome crew.
All of us paddlers benefit from the dedication and foresight of Mr. Pierce in his purchase and restoration of the Mill and the surrounding property. All of that could have been lost to development, including our launch access to West Chick.
History of Lee and Gordon’s Mills
Three Gordon Brothers came to Crawfish Springs from Gwinnett County, Georgia, in 1836 (the town of Crawfish Springs became Chickamauga in the late 1890’s). They each bought several acres of adjoining land. James Gordon bought the mill site from Leroy Holiway and built the grist mill with an attached store room (general store). The mill served as the first general store in Walker County. Gordon managed the mill until 1857, when he turned it over to his son-in-law, James Lee. Mr. Lee passed the management of the mill to his eldest son Gordon Lee in 1889. Gordon Lee gave up the management of the mill to his younger brother Tom Lee. Tom Lee sold the property to the Wallace brothers, Bill and Charley in 1929. They operated it until 1967. When Bill retired in 1967, he declared the mill retired as well. He refused to sell or even lease it. The mill stood empty and neglected from 1967 until 1993, when the Wallace heirs sold the mill property to Mr. Frank Pierce.
Mr. Pierce purchased the mill in 1995 where it had sat dormant since 1967. When Mr. Bill Wallace retired he retired the mill as well and closed her doors for 23 years. After purchasing the old mill Mr. Pierce had men working 8 to 10 hours per day , 5 days a week for a period of 6 years to completely restore the mill and dam and all the machinery that was used in 1836 back to its original state and working order. At this time you can still grind corn just as it was 167 years ago.Mr. Pierce completely, at his own expense, restored the mill the way it was 167 years ago, repairing the turbines and all working machinery. At the present time grinding is being done on one of the three original mills. Examples of all machinery used in building operations have been placed on display on the main floor, cleaned and repaired to their original operational condition. The dam has been restored to its original width and height which was a tremendous job by itself. After six years of continuous construction the facility is fully operational and welcomes your visit.
This Grinder was on loan and displayed at the Smithsonian Institute while the mill was under its 5 year reconstruction period.
CIVIL WAR: The mill was occupied by both Confederate and Union armies. The Confederate under General Bragg the first few days of September 1863. Later September 19, 20 1863, General Rosecrans stationed a detachment at the mill to prevent Confederates from crossing the creek.
You will be taken back into another century soon as you enter the old Grist Mill. The walls in the general store are completely covered with many different items found in one of the three floors of the mill or on the surrounding grounds. It is absolutely astonishing for its visitors. We read the register every day from visitors point of views about the beauty and nostalgia and a special thanks to Mr. Frank Pierce for his efforts well taken.
In Memory of Frank Pierce
Dec 12, 1923 – Sept. 22, 2003
Frank, as he preferred to be called, always said Mr. Pierce was his Father. He was born and raised in Chickamauga, and owner of the mill. Frank was a car enthusiast and had over 70 in his private collection, which is breath taking, and to have had the honor to witness. He was also the former Mayor of Chickamauga for over 24 years, and owner of one of the largest companies (Crystal Springs Print Works) in the area, a well respected business man and local historian and a leader for Walker County Georgia. Frank would not flaunt or acknowledge his accomplishments but the restoration to the old mill is just one among many that he left us in remembrance of him. I have always said its not what you have when you leave this world, but what you leave behind, so I’d say Frank did very well.