Preserving Our History: Local group bands together to purchase historic Chase City roller mill
Members of “Save Our Heritage,” a Chase City preservation group, gathered on Thursday night to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne and celebrate a milestone.
On Thursday, the group successfully closed on its purchase of the old South Side Roller Mill in Chase City.
The mill was built in 1912 as part of South Side Supply, a farm supply and hardware store serving the farmers of the region and supplying everything from feed to coal while the roller mill’s main product was its own brand of “Wide Awake Flour,” corn meal and more.
For generations, farmers from around the area would take their grain to the mill to be ground into flour. Farmers could either pay for the service with money or with a portion of the grain they brought. That grain became the signature “Wide Awake” brand of flour sold by the firm.
Although the rest of South Side Supply ceased operation over the years, the mill continued to operate until 1986 when longtime owner Henry Huff retired.
According to local history buffs, on his last day Huff simply locked the doors and went home. The mill has remained largely vacant ever since and is basically a snapshot of a turn of the century flour roller mill.
For the last 13 or 14 years, the mill has been owned by Harry Click, a history buff who saw the potential in the historic structure. Although Click was unable to undertake a restoration of the building, he did what he could to maintain the old mill and prevent further deterioration.
The mill drew statewide attention in 2014 when Preservation Virginia listed the South Side Roller Mill on its list of most endangered historic sites in the commonwealth. The organization described the site as being one of the most completely intact and authentic roller mills in the country.
Click, suffering from some health issues and wanting to move to be closer to his family, began looking into the possibility of selling the mill. He did receive an offer which was from an out-of-state party that planned on dismantling the mill and relocating it to a new site in North Carolina.
Word spread quickly in Chase City that the town was on the verge of losing a local landmark, and a group of citizens banded together. Calling themselves “Save Our Mill,” they approached Click.
Speaking several weeks ago, Click said that although he needed to sell the mill, he had no wish to see it dismantled or removed from Chase City. The group of citizens had offered to buy the historic site, and Click said that he had immediately called the other party and told them that he would be selling the property to the local group.
Since that time, Click has been working with the organization to ensure that the mill would remain intact and remain in Chase City.
On Thursday, after nearly a year of fundraising, the sale was completed.
Now that it owns the property, Preserve Our Heritage has plans to continue cleaning up the 105-year old building, shoring up the immediate issues with the building including work on the roof, replacing broken windows and generally sprucing up the place to become a historic tourist attraction.
Tours will be available by appointment and at announced times in the coming months.
The tourism idea for the mill has received a lot of public support, especially since the roller mill is located directly across the street from the Bondurant Brothers Distillery. The building which houses the distillery was also once part of South Side Supply, and Bondurant has been working to promote the distillery as a tourist destination with distillery tours and tastings.
The “Save Our Mill” name didn’t last long as the group soon discovered other historical projects in the community it wanted to become involved in. The group has changed the name of the organization to “Preserve Our Heritage” and has several other projects on the drawing board.