By Dan R. Manning
The gristmill that John Boegel and Joseph Hine built in 1883 was a place where people around Fair Grove came to get grain ground and to catch up on the news. Today, nearly 130 years after it was erected, the mill continues to be a center of community togetherness. It is important for everyone to realize, that bringing the building from near destruction to its present operational status has been a long and tedious process.
When Clifford Wommack died in 1969, Ethel, his long-time workmate and beloved wife, sadly latched the doors. Alongside her husband, for twenty years she had helped grind animal feed for local farmers, while both of them visited with their many friends. Ethel’s plan was to leave the structure for an inheritance to her children, so with “Keep Out” signs painted on its locked doors, the weather-worn structure struggled to survive the effects of time and nature. In a first-aid effort, a few individuals led by Jerry Thomas nailed down loose roofing tin just to keep pieces of it from flying away with the wind.
In 1984, for $6,000 the old mill along with two acres of adjacent land was purchased by the Fair Grove Historical & Preservation Society. Immediately, with the help of money from many community fund-raisers, procedures were undertaken to keep the building from simply collapsing. Members began working on the crumbling rock foundation under the structure’s north wall that was raised several inches with jacks and a steel beam by an Amish crew. The north office room and south shed were renovated from the ground-up, and the building’s previously patched rooftop was removed and then replaced with recycled corrugated tin. Much of the interior—studs, joists, rafters, and heavy weight-bearing timbers—was replaced or repaired over the next few years. Original exterior lumber was weathered beyond use, so it was replaced by rough-cut oak bias-boxing covered with ship-lap siding. New windows were installed on the front of the mill, and recycled ones from a demolished school house were put on the rest of the building. Most of the original flooring on the main level had deteriorated from weather, so boards were removed from the upper story to replace them. That is, all except for those original ones just inside the double front doors that had been rubbed smooth, and told a proud story of work and wear. The basement was lowered and covered with a new cement floor. The mill’s front loading dock along with its porch roof was erected. New tin roofing replaced the corrugated tin when it began to leak. Before the boiler room was added to the mill’s east end, a steam engine room that had disappeared over time was resurrected in 1987. Using the remains of a rock foundation and an original roof-line for guides, massive limestone rocks were brought from the Joe Thomas farm by Navy Sea-Bees and put into place. Both rooms had concrete floors poured to match the pad outside the steam engine room’s north door. Youngsters shell ear corn there to be ground on the original burrstones during the yearly Reunion.
Since 9-11-2001, an American Flag has flown day and night on the front of the mill. It is a vital sign of Fair Grove’s support for troops who fight for our freedom. It replaced the original Wommack Mill sign that was removed and restored by E. A. Martin Caterpillar Company in Springfield several years ago, and is kept inside for protection from the weather. Another sign, created by Tim Walker, has been placed near the old mill’s entrance on Main Street. It is an open invitation for everyone to enjoy the restored mill that remains a source of activity and life in our community.