As the product of a rural environment, having cut my teeth (and prompted a few more gray hairs on my parents’ heads) on winding country roads, I’ve always been aware of the stories behind the names of those roads. Family names, nearby waterways, topographical features – and mills – all figure into many a historic Kentucky road name. But that the same is true all across the southeast, and a week ago, I passed a pastoral scene while out exploring – Brock’s Millpond and Grist Mill, outside of Trenton, North Carolina.
I don’t know if I have ever seen an intact millpond, though I have seen mill races before (and I know a great many mill enthusiasts). The first dam at this site, which is fed by Crooked Run Creek and an underground springs, dates to the 18th century. The pond covers 122 acres of water and some 11 acres of land, including some small islands.
This seems incredibly large to me! By 1796, the property was known as Hatch’s Mill, and later in the mid-19th century as McDaniel’s Mill – although the mill changed hands several times in the 19th century, those two names persisted. The Brock who lent his name to the site didn’t purchase the property until 1899.
According to one source, when Mr. Brock purchased the property, a gristmill, built in 1861, was on the site.The current two-story frame building dates to the 1940s and is only open to the public a few times a year. It appears to be in good shape, with a metal roof with exposed rafter tails and brackets on the gable ends (a nod to the influence of the Craftsman style) and six-over-six windows.
The mill produced corn meal, cracked corn for livestock (including chickens), and grits. A sawmill also operated at the site until right before World War II. Mr. Brock, though, appears to have been a forward-thinking man, and before the days before the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, he installed a turbine generator at the mill to provide electricity to the town of Trenton.
This was in 1917, and late each afternoon, the turbine at Brock’s Mill churned to life to generate power for the residents of Trenton. At 10 pm “the lights blinked twice signifying that the power would be cut off in fifteen minutes. This service continued until Tidewater Power Company purchased the franchise.”
Tropical storm Dennis and Hurricane Flood severely impacted the millpond in 1999, and the dam ruptured, draining the pond. In 2004, the North Carolina Department of Transportation awarded funds for the restoration of the mill pond, which today appears untouched by natural disaster. It is a lovely site, and I am so glad that the residents of Trenton and Jones County appreciate its history enough to ensure its preservation, especially for wandering travelers like myself.
For those Kentuckians interested in mills in the Bluegrass, the Kentucky Old Mill Association is for you! Founded in 2001, the nonprofit has tons of publications about historic mills, from many different angles, and dedicated board members who have preserved an important and almost forgotten piece of our industrial past. Long before mills became waypoints and then graced road signs for the modern automobile age, they were an integral part of community life, and generations of stories exist in their names.
 Ivy Reid. “Did You Know…Brock Mill History.” On https://jones.ces.ncsu.edu/2013/04/did-you-know-brock-mill-history/. Accessed September 2015.