West Point Mill Gets Attention
Riverdave’s Journal
This essay appeared in the Durham News section of the News and Observer on November 17, 2009

     Thirty-one years after the restoration of the grist mill at West Point on the Eno Park in North Durham, $15,000 worth of repairs are nearing completion.  These include new control gates on the mill race, building maintenance such as replacing rotting window sills and doors and cleaning of the millstone and other mechanical moving parts. .

     The work is being done by artisan woodworkers William Robbins and Donnie Evans of Raleigh. These partners specialize in refurbishing old grist mills and have been closely involved in the recent restoration and operation of the Yates Mill in southern Raleigh.  Their intimate knowledge of mill workings means that the West Point Mill is getting the specialized, high quality attention it deserves.

       The West Point milling staff grind both corn and wheat that is offered for sale in the mill store.  Receipts from these sales are then placed into an account managed by the Friends of West Point Park.  This organization decides on how to allocate the money for projects in the park.  After a number of years of saving up receipts, this year the Friends voted to give the grist mill some much needed attention and hire Mr. Robbins and Mr. Evans to give it a work over.

      I recently browsed through the visitor register in the mill and noted that during the 1990’s, an average of five hundred visitors signed the guest registry each year.  Since the year 2000, the average has fallen to less than two hundred a year.  While the number of actual visitors to the mill is  higher than this, the visitor guest book does reveal a disturbing downward trend over the past decade.

      For all the resources that the City of Durham allocates to operate this mill, are we just maintaining a fossil that is drawing less and less interest from the public?  Has the West Point Mill become yet another “brontosaurus” on our greenways?

      Veteran West Point miller Kent McCoury suggests the trend is indicative of an overall decline in park attendance across the nation. Ninety year old miller Garth Hamilton concludes that today the public has  wider opportunities for recreation to choose from and the mill has to compete along side these new attractions.

     In an age when dirty carbon based energy resources must be imported from around the globe with a negative impact on the environemnt, I believe that it is helpful to our community to be able to pause and ponder this local clean energy operation.  Instead of micro or nano technology, the West Point Mill uses macro mechanical parts that are powered by the natural pull of gravity on water. 

      With the the attention of the world now focused on developing  renewable energy sources, perhaps the West Point Mill may come into vogue once again.  What might have seemed old fashioned and out of touch to many young people as we crossed into the twenty-first century, might now just as easily become an inspiring model for sustainable living. 

      But Josie McNeil, the vice president of the Friends of West Point Park who persuaded her board to take on the present task of mill repair, warns that more care for the mill is needed.  “With our present repair work we are meeting the mill’s most pressing needs.  Better routine maintenance is required.  A permanent mill endowment should be established to ensure that necessary funds will be there for repairs in the future.”

      McNeil further emphasized that “the Friends would particularly welcome new board members who have a strong interest in helping run the country mill store. Citizens with creative, retail marketing skills are especially needed.  Volunteer millers, tour guides and those who would help with important routine sweeping are urged to contact us as well.
      Janet Warner, president of the Friends, states “I think sometimes we forget how unique the mill at West Point Park is and how fortunate the citizens of Durham are in having this piece of history so accessible to our community.  It is a working mill, maintained by a tight city park budget, a handful of  volunteers and donations to the Friends of West Point Park. I would like to see more community involvement in the running and upkeep of the mill.”
     The West Point Mill is open from 1-5 PM on Saturdays and Sundays.  Supporting the mill by purchasing freshly ground grains for this season’s holiday gifts is another great way to be involved!

Photo by Riverdave: West Point on the Eno Mill with tailrace reflection