Historic Hamlet: Two-century-old mill, post office and general store are a step back in time
TAMWORTH – At this hamlet in Cumberland County, a little over 40 miles west of Richmond and two miles east of Cartersville, is writ the story of a historic water-powered mill that operated on Muddy Creek for two centuries before the wheels stopped turning.
The local post office and general store persisted for an additional 20 years before they, too, closed. All were victims of changing times and tastes. What was once a thriving spot for life and commerce has since become stuck in time.
Now the 1753 mill, which operated until the 1950s, is for sale, along with the miller’s renovated 2,000-square-foot home, the combined old post office and general store (circa 1792), a barn and assorted outbuildings.
Buy them, and you essentially purchase a pre-Revolutionary War community and its history.
ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER
If he were a little younger, the owner – Dr. Julian Metts, a retired orthodontist now in his late ’70s – says he would probably restore the mill, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Metts purchased Tamworth at a foreclosure sale after a German owner gave up on his plans to restore the property.
As a younger man Metts, who lives in Cumberland County, says he remembers visiting the post office and the general store, which offered an assortment of dry goods and other sundries for rural families.
He says the picturesque hamlet is still a popular spot for history buffs and photographers. Metts came down one Saturday and found a bride posing next to the imposing four-story mill, as water lapped over a nearby dam.
“It’s a very peaceful sort of thing; a nice place to be,” Metts says.
Henry Bradbury, another Cumberland resident and a retired carpenter, says he replaced windows and timbers in the mill for years as a previous owner worked to maintain its appearance.
“My mother [Alice Tucker] worked over at the store and the mill when she was growing up,” Bradbury said.
The Moon and Blanton families owned the mill for much of the 20th century, Bradbury recalled. At one point, the Blantons lived in a manor house on the property, and their son ran the post office and lived in the miller’s home.
FROM 18TH-CENTURY WATER WHEEL TO 20TH-CENTURY TURBINES
In one report, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources notes that the mill, marked by prominent dormers and a steep gable roof sheathed in Buckingham slate, traces the movement of early American technology fromthe water wheel that powered it in the late 18th century to the water-powered turbines that replaced the water wheel in the early 20th century.
Some of the mill’s early wooden movements are still visible along with worn millstones and markings where the water reached during periods of historic flooding. The James River and its confluence with Muddy Creek are about a mile away.
When the mill first began operations, it catered to riverboats and bateaux moving up and down the James River, from farm to mill to market. Later came horse-drawn wagons and finally motorized vehicles.
A reminder of the mill’s working life can be found in an upstairs office, where yellowed receipts are bunched on a long sharpened spike.
Stoney Marshall of Coldwell Banker Dew Realty Inc. in Ashland says the property (as of December) is for sale at $489,950, which includes 24.6 acres, the store and old post office, the nearly 15,000-square-foot mill and waterfall, a barn and the restored and updated miller’s home.sharpened spike.
The store, house, mill, waterfall and barn could be purchased on 5.8 acres for a reduced price of $439,950.
According to Marshall, the miller’s house lies in a flood plain, and a new property owner would need to purchase flood insurance. The mill itself has a landmark conservation easement on it and would be subject to restrictions on how it could be altered.
But governmental agencies that enforce the restrictions are “open to discussion” about possible future uses for the mill, which Marshall said might include everything from a restaurant to a bread & breakfast.
Henry Bradbury, who has seen the mill in better times, hopes someone will bring it and the Tamworth community back to life.
“That little place used to have a lot of hustle,” Bradbury says.
Gary Robertson has been a disc jockey, a college instructor and a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Today, he is a freelance writer, a professional speaker and a Mark Twain impersonator.
— BY GARY ROBERTSON —
— HISTORICAL PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF VIRGINIA —
— OTHER PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF STONEY MARSHALL —