By CHAD FRED BAILEY
Special to the H&T
On Saturday, Sept. 28, the Jonesborough Genealogical Society conducted its eighth and final tour of Historic Washington County. These tours have showcased many historic sites and sounds over the past four years, within the bounds of Washington County with approximately 800 miles of county roads traveled and this tour was no different.
Four stops were showcased including the David Stuart-Jessie Moore House, an 1850s, two-story brick home in the Leesburg Community, owned by Dale Moore; the J.P. Snapp and Son House and Farm, a historic feed and seed business dating back to the early 1900s in the New Salem Community, owned by Jerry and Sharon Sayre; Tipton-Haynes Historic Site, a State Owned Historic Site dating back to the 1780s as the home of Col. John Tipton and Senator Landon Carter Haynes; and the Model Mill, built on West Walnut Street in Johnson City in 1908-1909, owned by Grant Summers.
Throughout this eight-hour tour, participants were able to see hundreds of sites on a pre-planned route that included much of the Tree Streets Historic District and the county farmland in the communities of Washington College Station, Leesburg, Conklin and others. Yet the most prolific site was the Model Mill.
Grant Summers, President of Summers-Taylor, Inc., purchased the mill from the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce in 2016 to use the building for his company’s offices. The Model Mill was constructed for George L. Carter, a famous entrepreneur who made Johnson City what it is today. The mill’s construction has continued to amaze those who work on the building and causes historians and residents to be amazed with its continual survival.
Today, the mill continues restoration work. Summers gave participants a tour of this historic mill, believed to be the first electric mill in Johnson City, and probably Washington County. Throughout the tour, the architecture of the mill was magnified and its magnificent detail in its work to keep the mill intact was displayed.
On the outside of the building, the mill was painted white, like many Johnson City buildings of the time. Summers told the group, that they tried to take the paint off the building to display the hand-fired brick that was fired on the property, yet the paint has stained the brick and could not be removed without damaging the structure.
Every window in the building was constructed on-site and were custom cut for its place. Overtime, many of these windows had been bricked and Summers had these windows opened. He mentioned that today, our windows are standardized, and custom windows are expensive, so they found ways of adding extra wood and trim in particular windows to fit. Summers also discussed the old railroad track bed that runs in front of the mill perpendicular to State of Franklin Road and an old tunnel that housed flour, meal, and feed that was transported into the railroad cars. Summers said that at one time the mill supplied special flour for KFCs all over the nation. The secret spices were brought in by train and pumped through the mill and back into to railroad car, according to some General Mills workers.
As the tour continued, participants got to see the inside of the mill. Paint had also covered the inside brick walls and wood timbers and trim, which has been removed using a baking soda solution. As the mill continues to be preserved, its beauty is continually revived as offices and modern-day plumbing and HVAC systems are added. Nearby silos are being transformed into an elevator shaft to make the building ADA compliant. Fire doors that were placed in the mill could be seen still intact.
Summers explained that the doors would have a rope attached that when a fire would break out that they rope would be burned and make the doors shut. These doors would then contain the fire to a particular section of the mill. A 2016 fire destroyed the roof and part of the third floor just after Summers purchased the building. The city fire department pumped gallons of water into the building which caused water damage to much of the wood flooring.
Much of this flooring was removed and replaced. Yet, a section of beams with burn marks still remains as a reminder. Summers said they rolled these beams over so everyone can be reminded of the fire and the buildings’ survival. The mill was built to withstand an explosion. According to Summers, flour is combustible, and the brick wall structure and arch ways in the brick helps strengthen the building and contain any protentional explosions or accidents from reaching outside the plant. It has been said through legend that Carter’s building couldn’t be destroyed, and that might be just true.
Throughout the tour of the old Model Mill, while looking out of the new windows, participants could can see the downtown Johnson City landscape including the John Sevier Center. The John Sevier Center is Johnson City’s next big preservation project, that could open up Johnson City to heritage tourism and preservation, like Jonesborough had performed decades ago.
Through private business owners, Johnson City’s preservation history has been revived in the past 10 years or so, providing for a more stable and presentable future for historic structures in the city. Projects like the Model Mill continue to provide a unique outlook of business and history to Johnson City, with plans for the headquarters of the Summers-Taylor Inc., office space for ETSU, a bakery, a potential restaurant space and outlet stores, the mill structure continues to strive as it over looks the Tree Streets Historic District and is a gateway to the West Walnut Street Corridor and Downtown Johnson City.