Not your Run of the Mill Hobby

A History of the Beloved Gresham's Mill

by Bruce Baker

In the very center of Cherokee sits the most photographed and painted structure in the County. It has been there in one form or another since the mid 1800’s just after the removal of the Cherokee Indians from the land; it’s been built and rebuilt and moved from one side of Toonigh Creek to the other and back again. It’s changed names a few times. Many today refer to it as the Sixes Mill, even though historically this area was actually Toonigh, and not Sixes.

There is a claim that the earliest mill on the site was actually built in 1820 by gold prospectors when the land was still in the possession of the Cherokee Indians (an 1830’s report claims around 400 Cherokee living in the area).In fact the remains of an Indian village were found at the place where Toonigh Creek empties into the Little River. At some point later a federal army camp, called Fort Hinar, was constructed in attempt to keep miners out of the Cherokee’s territory; some say this was later converted to the Fort Hinar Sixes Fort, where some of the Cherokee themselves were rounded up for removal, and then still later used by the Georgia Militia to protect the half dozen gold mines in operation nearby (one of which was called the Sixes Mine).

Lewis Gresham came to Cherokee County after mustering out of the army in 1950. His second great grandfather, Jack Perkerson, had owned a mill on Sweetwater Creek in the mid-1800’s, and the young man decided he wanted a mill, buying the property and the mill on it in 1963. What followed was over a quarter century of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, as Lewis set about restoring the mill to full operability. To say it was in rough shape would be an understatement. Lewis saw that being on the western side resulted in flooding into the mill itself when the waters rose; it needed to be moved back to its original location. It’s hard for me personally to believe that he undertook this “hobby” and restored it completely, in his spare time; it’s a massive undertaking and he did most of the work himself, along with some of his family members. The wooden dam upstream was replaced by a concrete one; the mill itself returned to the eastern bank, and was totally rebuilt.

Inside the Mill is actual vintage equipment, everything from a pea thrasher to a corn miller to a pot-belly heater. The corn mill consists of two granite rocks, one stationary on the bottom and a second rotating one atop it, each 40 inches wide and over a foot thick. The coarseness of the meal can be adjusted by moving the top rock. Two mills can be set up inside the building, and if a different set of rocks were installed there, the mill could be used to grind wheat as well, using an old flat drive belt to switch from one mill to another to change what is being ground. When the wheel is turning, it produces energy by making a full rotation in a little less than ten seconds.

Lewis Gresham passed away in 2016. He is buried in the nearby Georgia National Veteran’s Cemetery, and we owe him a debt for his military service. But we also owe him an incalculable debt for his tireless efforts to save, restore, and preserve what is almost certainly the single most iconic piece of Cherokee County’s History. His family still owns and caretakes the treasure he recreated, and while it has been called by many names, it is now and hopefully will forever be known as Gresham’s Mill.

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