Nora Mill


By Anne Amerson ©

On April 27, 2011 ten intrepid members of the Lumpkin County Historical Society defied ominous weather reports to drive to Helen in White County to visit Nora Mill and learn about its interesting history from the miller himself, Tommy Martin. Corn was being fed to the grindstones from an overhead hopper as Tommy explained to those gathered around that the lower "bedstone" remains immovable, while the "runnerstone" rotates above it. The distance between them is adjusted according to what is being ground, but the stones must never touch. Putting his hand into the stream of cornmeal coming out the chute, he sniffed it to make sure that there was no odor of burnt meal indicating that the stones were too close.

"Now you know the origin of the expression about "keeping your nose to the grindstone," Tommy quipped.

The miller---also a history buff---explained how the Unicoi Turnpike (a toll road built in 1815) had brought people into the Nacoochee area. He noted that Daniel Brown built the first grist and sawmill in 1824 and that there has been a dam and operational mill located on the site ever since.

Today's Nora Mill (located on the Chattahoochee River just beyond the Indian mound going into Helen) is still operated by water turbine just as in the past.

The grinding stones came from France and were installed in 1876. They are 48 inches in diameter and weigh 1500 lbs. each.

Why is stone ground meal noted for its superior flavor? Holding up a kernel of corn, Tommy explained that the flavor as well as the nutritional value of corn comes from the pointed end, which contains the "germ." By 1889 the demand for cornmeal was greater than grist mills could supply. At that time much faster roller mills were invented and began putting the stone-grinding mills out of business.

Pointing to an antique roller mill displayed nearby, Tommy explained that when the oil in the corn germ became heated in the roller machines, it "gummed up the works," so it became routine to remove the germ. When it was later discovered that the degerminated product was causing health problems, minimum amounts of synthetic vitamins and minerals were added to offset the deficiency and "fortify" the product.

Tommy Martin has been the miller at Nora Mill since 1989 and is proud of the fact that Nora Mill grits are shipped all over the country and are served in several New York restaurants. The mill also grinds and produces all kinds of corn and wheat-based products, including grits, pancake & waffle mixes, flours, biscuit & bread mixes, etc., which can be purchased in the 1876 mill building as well as by mail order.

To learn more about the mill's history and offerings, check out the website at And if you think you don't like grits, maybe it's just because you've never had "true grits!"

Credits: Images 2 and 5 by Margo Booth remainder by Manny Carvalho

Published Online: 6 May 2011 by Manny Carvalho