Blue Ridge Parkway | MABRY MILL (MP 176.2)

Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway is an outdoor museum comprised of a mill built by Ed Mabry around 1910 and a collection of authentic farm buildings and equipment. The land was purchased by the National Park Service in the late 1930s, and the mill was restored in 1945. Most of the farm buildings in the complex were relocated here around this time as well. In addition to the mill and other buildings, a restaurant (open seasonally), gift store, and restrooms are located on the premises. If the parking lot is full, there are overflow parking areas just south and north of the mill. The north parking lot has room for RVs.

The mill is one of the most photographed features on the Blue Ridge Parkway. For the best photos, plan to visit in the afternoon when the sun is hitting the pond-side of the mill. The sun is behind the mill in the morning, making quality photos a little more tricky to take.

Mabry Mill is typically open daily from May through the end of October from 10 AM to 5 PM, but be sure to get the latest schedule on the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the Blue Ridge Parkway before heading out to the park. On Sundays starting Memorial Day and continuing through the end of October, free concerts are held at the mill. Also during this season, on Thursdays through Mondays park Rangers and volunteers hold demonstrations on a variety of skilled crafts used by mountain settlers. The repertoire includes a blacksmith, furniture maker, basket weaver, and a handloom weaver. The schedules rotate so that the craftsmen can have a day off, so you won’t find all four crafts being demonstrated on the same day. When I was there the blacksmith, furniture maker, and basket weaver were on duty. Products they make, despite being rather nice, are not for sale, but are instead given away to park volunteers and other people who help out on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In addition to watching the demonstrations, you can talk to the craftsmen and ask questions.

During the demonstration season, plan to spend at least an hour at Mabry Mill, and maybe as long as two hours, not counting having a meal in the restaurant.

Craftsman demonstrates traditional furniture making

Craftsman demonstrates traditional furniture making

RESTAURANT, GIFT STORE, AND VISITOR CENTER

Mabry Mill Restaurant and Gift Store

Mabry Mill Restaurant and Gift Store

The Mabry Mill complex offers visitors a rare chance to grab a restaurant meal without leaving the Blue Ridge Parkway. The restaurant typically opens the last week of April and closes at the end of October. I had lunch and found the food to be standard fare at prices comparable to those I would find in Atlanta. My lunch of chicken pot pie, fries, and water cost me, without tip, $13 ($16 with tip). Dress is casual. While not serving food at fast-food prices, the restaurant is not out to screw you just because it has a near monopoly on food service on the Parkway.

The building also serves as a Visitor Center where you can pick up information on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the true focus is on souvenirs and gifts. The gift shop is nearly as large as the restaurant. In addition to souvenirs, you can buy snacks, ice cream, preserves, and other food items typical of a country store.

MILL HISTORY

Ed Mabry and his wife Lizzy built Mabry Mill around 1910. Mabry was a handyman and ran a number of other business besides the mill, including a blacksmith shop and a woodworking shop. The mill served as both a grist mill for corn and a lumber mill for sawing logs. The building also housed his woodworking shop.

Saw for cutting a log into planks

Saw for cutting a log into planks

Ed Mabry's woodworking shop

Ed Mabry’s woodworking shop

Mabry operated the mill until his death in 1936. In his later years he had become sick and had a problem running the water-powered mill, so he installed a gas turbine to spin the grindstones and power the saw. However, customers complained that the fumes made the corn meal taste bad. Lizzy ran the mill for a few years after Ed’s death, but eventually sold the property to the National Park Service, which was interested in the mill as a tourist attraction. The Blue Ridge Parkway would soon be passing by the doorsteps of the mill because it followed the same wagon road that served the mill all the years it was in service. The Parkway architects didn’t completely reinvent the wheel; they paved over many of the original country roads whenever possible.

While the Mabrys were one of the richest families in the community, they were not cash wealthy. In rural areas, much business was transacted through trading goods. Mabry could produce products, and he was often paid in farm produce or goods and services he needed. Mill owners were usually paid by a percentage of the meal ground, typically an eighth of the output. They could then take the flour they didn’t personally need to town and sell it for cash.

GROUNDS TOUR

Mabry Mill

Mabry Mill

Mabry Mill

All sections of the mill are open to visitors (grist mill, saw mill, and wood shop). The mill actually grinds corn for demonstration purposes, though the meal cannot be sold since tourists are allowed inside the building, making it impossible to meet health standards set by the FDA. However, you can buy stone ground corn that was milled at an authentic mill nearby that meets FDA regulations.

The mill was restored to its water-powered days, and you can see the flume that carries the water to the water wheel on the outside of the building.

Flume carries water to the wheel at Mabry Mill

Flume carries water to the wheel at Mabry Mill

As the water wheel spins, it turns gears that cause the grindstones and saw blades to rotate. To grind corn or wheat, two grindstones cut to fit together are placed one on top of the other with a small gap between them. The bottom stone is stationary while the top stone spins. Corn or wheat is dropped down a shoot and falls between the stones. The size of the gap dictates the coarseness of the meal. The meal or flour works its way from between the stones and falls into a sack or wooden hopper.

Grindstone display

Grindstone display

The Matthews Cabin

Matthews Cabin restored to its 1870s appearance

Matthews Cabin restored to its 1870s appearance

Matthews Cabin was built in 1869 near Galax, Virginia, by Samuel and Elizabeth Matthews. It was sold to the National Park Service in 1956 and moved to this location. By the 1950s it had been renovated many times, including having had wood siding, called “weatherboarding,” installed. Once powered saw mills made there way into the rural areas and wooden boards could be mass produced (and there were many such mills in the Blue Ridge Mountains by the early 1900s), many people simply encased their out-of-date log cabins in the wood siding, both inside and out. This gave them an instant upgrade to the latest style. The National Park Service, however, choose to restore the cabin to its original appearance, so today you see the logs. The cabin is open to visitors and now houses the loom where weaving demonstrations are done. The basket weaving demonstrations are held here as well.

Hand loom at the Matthews Cabin

Hand loom at the Matthews Cabin

A craftswoman demonstrates basket weaving

A craftswoman demonstrates basket weaving

The Blacksmith Shop

Blacksmith shop

Blacksmith shop

The blacksmith shop is used by a real blacksmith to demonstrate traditional techniques. Believe it or not, blacksmithing is still a viable trade today. There is a large market for replacement parts for antique furniture and for door hinges and other parts in historic homes throughout the country. In addition, some of these blacksmiths make a killing catering to the rich who want unique wrought iron gates, fences, and furniture for their mansions.

Blacksmith at work

Blacksmith at work

Other Attractions

An outdoor sorghum mill used to turn sorghum cane (a type of sugar cane) into syrup is on display, as is a moonshine still and a variety of farm tools and equipment.

Farm equipment on the grounds of Mabry Mill

Farm equipment on the grounds of Mabry Mill


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Last updated on November 22, 2020
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