In colonial Virginia, gristmills were commonly the hub of a community.
The technology dates back to before 71 BC, but few of the structures survived into the 1900s. Today, there are few mills still standing, let alone still in operation.
But in Berryville, one mill in particular is still grinding away: Locke’s Mill.
“It’s kind of amazing that the ones that are around are still around,” said Nathan Stalvey, the Director of the Clarke County Historical Association, who says the mills were critical parts of the local economy, especially along the Shenandoah River.
Locke’s Mill was owned by a miller Thomas Locke, who also operated a general store and a post office, according to one of the mill’s current operators Harry Lewis.
“All the mills at that time were sort of little community centers. People would gather there,” said Lewis. “They were sort of the beginning of what we would think of as an industrial park.”
But with the invention of electricity and steam power, Stalvey says, mills fell out of favor.
“Mills really, by the turn of the 20th century became obsolete. And they were very expensive to maintain. So in really quick succession, a lot of them shut down.”
Luckily, Jon Joyce and his wife Carol, bought Locke’s Mill in 1992 and began to restore the mill. The couple sold the mill to Sandy Lerner in 2016.
The general store may be gone, but thanks to Joyce, who still operates the mill, the waterwheel keeps turning, producing flour for restaurants and shops in Virginia, just the way it did in the 1700s.
Under Lerner, Locke’s Mill was certified organic in 2017, allowing the millers to produce certified-organic, non-GMO flours for sale. The mill was also added to the National Registry of Historic Places in early April.
For Lewis, who has worked at a number of mills, the restoration and preservation of the mill by the Joyces and Lerner is a blessing.
“It was caught at a good moment, and wasn’t allowed to totally be destroyed,” Lewis said. “Somebody pulled it back from almost dead and made it back to what it is today. So we all get to enjoy it.”