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The gristmill in western Limestone County off Alabama 99.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
The gristmill in western Limestone County off Alabama 99.

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Gristmill wheel finds its way home
Limestone family paid heirloom for baby's birth

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

GOODSPRINGS — Trees appear to embrace the gristmill at Mechanic's Branch, as if eager to hear the water cascading over moss rocks.

Or perhaps, Mother Nature is intrigued by the stories the mill's 97-year-old wheel could spin.

There's the story of how the wheel paid for a baby's birth 68 years ago.

Onis and Nena Harrison operated the gristmill in Goodsprings on Alabama 99 in western Limestone County during the Great Depression. They did not have money to pay a Lauderdale County doctor for the birth of their daughter, Nancy, on July 25, 1939.

"My dad sold the wheel for $125 to pay the doctor in Anderson," Nancy Harrison Gaston said.

The wheel remained in Anderson until 1996, when Gaston bought it from an Anderson police officer for $1,000.

'Rusted out'

"It had been used on a gristmill there, and then ended up left in a yard on some property the officer bought," she said. "It was rusted out."

The wheel had remained idle so long that a 2-inch sapling sprouted through one of its decaying buckets.

Gaston paid Solley Crane Services in Decatur $1,600 to move the family heirloom back to Mechanic's Branch.

"After all of that, I ended up letting it sit in my yard for a few years," she said.

The neglected wheel saddened her son, Grady Paul Gaston Jr., who used to swim and fish at Mechanic's Branch, so he had it restored and held an unveiling in 2006.

Brothers Darryl and Larry Long of Goodsprings repaired the wheel.

"I had made a replica of a gristmill, so the family asked me to do the work," Darryl Long said. "We built a dam and a flume as well."

Nancy Gaston said the wheel works, but this year's drought and a leak in the dam caused water levels to be too low for it to rotate.

"Hopefully the recent rain will enable it to work again," she said.

This story of returning home is not the only one the wheel could tell.

There's the story about a man who had a confrontation with Yankees, joined the war and later built the first gristmill at Mechanic's Branch.

According to family history, Simeon Corder moved to the nearby Mount Rozell community in 1860. Yankees bushwhacked him in the fall of 1862 as he carried corn to a gristmill on Scarce Creek Branch. The enraged Corder joined the Confederate Ninth Alabama Calvary and went to war.

At the Civil War's end, Corder and his half-brother Mace Beasley formed Beasley and Corder Mercantile Co., and Corder constructed the gristmill at Mechanic's Branch in the late 19th century.

It originally had a wooden wheel and dam. A mule train from Hanover, Pa., brought him an iron wheel around 1910, the same wheel that churns at Mechanic's Branch today.

"My parents told me stories of when they were operating it, how people came with corn in wagons and lined up around the curve in the road," Nancy Gaston said. "My dad and my mother would grind corn into the night."

Now the wheel, retired from years of labor, rotates in its shaded oasis for the delight of onlookers.

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