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Ask a Ranger: Yates Mill Pond

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Ask a Ranger: Yates Mill Pond

 

 

Click the player above to listen to the episode. Read the article below to learn more about mills in North Carolina.

 

Mill Sites

 

Millstone at the Company Mill Site at William B. Umstead State Park

Millstone at the Company Mill Site at William B. Umstead State Park. Photo by J. Brown.

 

How is water power used to run machines?

Machines such as a watermill can be run by harnessing a source of hydropower like a waterfall or tide, or by damming up a creek to create a storage pond such as the one we have at Yates Mill. A waterwheel or turbine, made of wood or metal, can be connected to a system of simple machines with drive shafts, gears, pulley wheels with belts and more. The weight of the water is used to turn the waterwheel or turbine, which in turn runs a connected system of working machines, including sets of large millstones that can grind grains like corn and wheat into meal and flour.

How are North Carolina's watermills connected to the natural landscape?

In many cases, watermills were situated at the "Fall Line" that divides the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions. The Fall Line is distinguished by the occurrence of falls and rapids where rivers and streams cross it. Mills tend to be situated where a creek crossed an erosion-resistant rock such as the Falls leucogneiss that we have at Yates Mill. There were tide and windmills along the coast, while in the mountains waterfalls were sometimes used. Water power comes from the mills' watersheds — high ridges of land that separate water flowing to different river basins. Yates Mill's creek flows over its 16-foot-tall stone dam then downstream, where it first joins Swift Creek at Lake Benson. It flows into the Neuse River near the town of Smithfield.

How were the mills powered using renewable sources and relatively sustainable methods?

Scattered custom mills provided value-added products to small communities located within a few miles from the mill. Farmers traveled by mule or ox and wagon at about 3 miles per hour to go to the local mill. Merchant mills, larger and more factory-like, took over. Textile mills served as the launching point for larger factories and the Industrial Revolution.

What value-added commodities were provided by these old mill sites and what other ways did they support their communities?

Mills like Yates Mill produced meal and flour from grains like corn and wheat, made lumber from logs (e.g., pine, oak, hickory and walnut) and carded wool for spinning yarn and weaving cloth. They were places of business, but they also served as social gathering places to exchange news, swim, boat, fish and meet your sweetheart down by the old mill stream.

What mill sites still exist in North Carolina?

Just a few mills still exist in our state and are open to the public. Popular mills include: Yates Mill, Ole Gilliam Mill in Sanford, Old Mill of Guilford in Oak Ridge, Murray's Mill in Catawba and Mingus Mill in Cherokee. Several others are still open for business, such as Atkinson Milling Company, House-Autry Mills and Lindley Mills. Once upon a time, there may have been several thousand mills across the state. Wake County alone had over 70 gristmills and 40 sawmills by the late 1800s. Today, Yates Mill is the last of its kind in the county of North Carolina's capital.

What kind of wildlife are attracted to the natural wetlands and ponds typical of a Piedmont mill site?

Yates Mill Pond was the historic center for gray squirrel and wood duck research at N.C. State University. Dozens of duck nest boxes have been, and continue to be, maintained and monitored for productivity. Over the years, hundreds of wood ducks have fledged annually. Hooded merganser also raise young on the pond.

In the winter, look for hooded merganser, bufflehead and ruddy ducks. Check the tops of trees for ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warbler, yellow-bellied sapsucker and northern flicker. Watch bushes for white-throated, song, swamp and fox sparrows.

Prothonotary and yellow-throated warblers, gray catbird, red-eyed vireo, summer tanager, grasshopper sparrow, red-headed woodpecker and yellow-billed cuckoo all nest in the park. Wood ducks and their young become more visible in early summer. Look for green heron along the edges of the pond during the summer as well.

Besides many squirrels, some of the other mammals that are found in the park include the American beaver, muskrat, river otter, mink and groundhog.

What unique fish (eels) tend to be found in association with millponds?

River eels have historically appeared near watermills and their dams. They tend to hide in the wooden boards and other milling machinery. Eel spears are a common artifact to see around old mill sites.

What is unique about eels in terms of their unique lifestyle?

The American river eel has an incredible ability to breathe through its slimy skin. The "elvers" (young eel) are brought to the river mouths by the currents. Their mysterious breeding make this fish not well-understood.

 

About the Ask a Ranger Podcast

Ranger Crystal and Ranger Jess host the North Carolina State Parks Ask a Ranger Podcast series. Their guest this episode is Ranger Rebeccah Cope from the Historic Yates Mill County Park, which is operated by Wake County.

Email them at askaranger@ncparks.gov.

For a full list of episodes, visit our BuzzSprout page.

Click here to subscribe to the podcast with Apple iTunes.

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An inviting trail at William B. Umstead State Park
Contact:

8801 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27617

919-571-4170
william.umstead@ncparks.gov

 

Map of North Carolina

GPS: 35.8905, -78.7502

 

CRABTREE CREEK (GLENWOOD AVENUE ENTRANCE):
  • November to February:
    7:00am to 6:00pm
     
  • March to April:
    7:00am to 8:00pm
     
  • May to August:
    7:00am to 9:00pm
     
  • September to October:
    7:00am to 8:00pm

Closed Christmas Day

The gate at Crabtree Creek opens at 7 a.m. daily as part of a pilot program to allow early access to the trails system.
Campers: from March 15 to November 1, the family campground gate will remain open an additional hour after the hours posted above to allow campers access in and out of the park during that time. Please note that once the gates close, they are locked until the park reopens the following day. There will be no entry or exit permitted, except for law enforcement or medical emergencies.

 

REEDY CREEK (HARRISON AVENUE ENTRANCE):
  • November to February:
    8:00am to 6:00pm
     
  • March to April:
    8:00am to 8:00pm
     
  • May to August:
    8:00am to 9:00pm
     
  • September to October:
    8:00am to 8:00pm

Closed Christmas Day

 

VISITOR CENTER:

8:00am to 5:00pm daily

Closed Christmas Day

 

EXHIBIT HALL inside visitor center:

9:00am to 4:30pm

Closed Christmas Day

 

TENT AND TRAILER FAMILY CAMPGROUND:

Open March 15 to November 1