By: Chuck Hatcher May 3, 2006 edition of the Times
Uncle Jack's Waterdriven Grist Mill, one of the oldest known working water-driven grist mills in the Southeast is located in Jackson County on Mill Road. Just two mile west of Highway 231 and 2 miles south of Alford, this historical treasure is named for its restorer, Jack Sexton, better known as "Uncle Jack".
Currently owned and operated by J.W. and Sue Dilmore, Uncle Jack's Water-driven Grist Mill was built originally by Alex Kent. According to Mr. Dilmore, the mill became fully operational in 1884 and was operated by Mr. Kent until the 1920s. At that time, the mill was purchased by Jack Sexton, Sue Dilmore's father. According to Sue, her father ground mill, farmed and had a cattle operation.
Sue Dilmore recalls that as a small girl, shucking corn, the first step in the milling process was a part of her daily chores. "Daddy would leave me corn to shuck and I better have it done when he got back." While talking, Sue pointed out the "Sears & Roebuck corn shucker" she used to help complete this chore. Not really from Sears, this was actually a board approximately four feet long with a nail in the far end used to split the suck of the corn. Though old and worn, this same board is still in use today.
The second step in the process was to shell the corn. J. W. demonstrated how the corn sheller, located in the mill house worked. "You would drop the ears in the top and then turn the handle. The corn would separate from the cobb and drop to the bottom. The cobb and husks would come out the front." According to J.W., the sheller still operates like new.
After these steps, the corn was then sifted and readied for the grist mill. The grist mill was driven by water released from the mill pond. Adjustments by the operator would change the space between the grist stones changing the type of meal produced. This was easily done by turning a wheel and feeling the meal as it came out of the grist stones. Sue demonstrated how her Dad would walk up the steps of the mill to where the operator stood. Pausing at the top of the steps, she showed how he would shuffle his feet to get the meal dust from the bottom of his shoes. Occasionally, while the corn was grinding, Uncle Jack would relax with a sip of corn whiskey on his "lazy bench".
The craftsmanship of the mill itself is quite unique. The turbine of the mill itself included bearings made of lighter knot wood. Also, the bushings of the turbine were made of corn cobbs. The two grinding stones themselves were made from granite believed to have come from nearby Georgia, but possibly from as far away as England, which was then transported up the Choctawhatchee River to Vernon. Each stone was 36 inches in diameter. The stationary bottom stone was called the bedrock, while the top stone called the runner, rotated. This stone had
grooves carved into it which allowed the meal to filter into a sifting box where Uncle Jack tested the texture. There is also a floor underneath the water flow. J.W. mentioned how he had replaced this floor with the help of a fabricated bolt which allowed him to drive nails through the water, which had prevented him from hitting the nails. When questioned about leaks, J.W. said, "no problem." His solution included putting wet sawdust in the water where any leak occurs. The flow of the water pulls the wet sawdust into the crack, effectively stopping the leak.
Restoration of the mill by J.W. and Sue began in 1975. J.W. spoke of how he would work on the mill and how his father-in-law Jack, then in his 90s would tell him how to do certain things. With hard work, J.W., his family and friends have been able to return the mill to a fully operational status.
Both J.W. and Sue are retired and stay busy with antique refurbishing and collecting. They are also proud to continue to produce corn meal "the way it used to be done."
Tours of Uncle Jack's Water - driven Grist Mill are available by appointment only.