You have to be a true old-timer to know about this one, as Robinson Mill, near Annapolis, burned down about 45 years ago. That’s a view of it from the Annapolis side of Big Creek; it sat on the west side of the creek, a little upstream from town.
Nowadays it’s commemorated only by the name of the road that once passed it; even photographs of it are hard to find, and I had to dig these out from the 1971 Annapolis centennial brochure. The mill was operated by Elmer Robinson and his son Homer, about whom I recall very little. They also smoked and sold hams and bacon. I remember visiting the mill and occasionally having some of their corn meal around the house; the mill was operated by a water wheel that turned from a long millrace that diverted water from the creek. Whenever the Robinsons wanted to grind some grain, they would crank up the sluice gates at the head of the millrace, and down would come the water. I believe it used a horizontal turbine underneath the mill—not as picturesque as an external water wheel, but more efficient.
A few mills still exist across the Ozarks, and I’ve been heartened to follow the progress of the restoration of the old mill at Greer. Not so long ago, having a mill nearby was essential to the economic life of a region, one of the first steps in moving from a life of strict subsistence to one where extra cash could be obtained. These structures link past to present in a tangible and physical way that brings folkways to life. I’ve never believed in nostalgia for its own sake; things of the past don’t necessarily gain value just because they’re old. But watching a grist mill grind corn is a wonderful window into a way of life—and a way of living—that is both surprisingly near and astonishingly distant.