Prater's Mill is one of the longest operating mills in the United States. It is located in Varnell, GA, about ten miles northeast of Dalton on Georgia Hwy 2.
The mill was built in the mid 19th century by Benjamin Franklin Prater in 1855. Powered by water from nearby Coahulla Creek, the mill was used to clean, grind, and sift grain. Later Benjamin added a cotton gin, saw mill, a wool carder, syrup mill, general store, and a blacksmith shop. For nearly one hundred years farmers lined up in the early morning hours to use his services.
The mill is located on the Blue and Gray trail. During the Civil War, the grounds were used as a campsite for both the north and the south. The Union army did not destroy the mill because it was a plentiful source of food for the soldiers. In the years 1862 to 1863, Benjamin Prater sold corn, hay, fodder, bacon, and split rails and planks to the Confederacy for $1591.17.
In the 1940's, a man by the name of Jess Kile found an ax estimated to be several thousand years old. He found it directly across from the mill. After his death, his grandson donated it to the Prater's Mill Foundation. The ax weighs about four pounds, and is about seven inches long and four inches wide. It would have been used by native Americans for chopping trees and other wood work.
In May of 1995, someone intentionally set fire to the mill. It damaged the inside of the building and blew out most of the windows. Two people were arrested and convicted of arson.
Today Prater's Mill is known for its Country Fair that is held twice a year. The first festival was held in 1971. The fair consists of mountain music, arts and crafts, southern food, and many other activities. Visitors can take a tour of the gristmill, country store, cotton gin, and Westbrook barn. Many visitors enjoy canoeing on Coahulla Creek. There are several activities available for kids, such as pony rides, face painting booths, and a petting zoo. The mill's stage hosts cloggers, gospel singers, and live bands. There are several choices of food available, and a local church provides authentic southern meals at the store consisting of cornbread, pinto beans, and turnip greens. There are over 150 artists set up with items such as paintings, homemade quilts, knives, jewelry, and many other unique items. At the general store you can buy wheat flour and corn meal that was actually ground at the mill. Visitors can also see blacksmiths work and learn about the history of the mill.
The fair is sponsored by the Prater's Mill Foundation. Tickets are $5 for ages 13 and up. Children 12 and under are free. All proceeds go to the upkeep and restoration of the mill. This is outdoors, and partly gravel, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Prater's Mill is a beautiful place for outdoor weddings. The stage area is a covered outdoor building and will seat quite a few people along its rustic wooden benches. The mill is also a great place to fish, cookout, or host a family reunion. The grounds are available for private use for weddings or family events for a donation. For more information please call the Prater's Mill Foundation at 706-694-6455.