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Tharpe's Mill (Information taken from an article in the June 28, 1990 Journal-Patriot by John Hubbard)

The water wheel no longer turns. There isn't the sound of grains being ground into feed or corn meal. No truck is loaded with sacks of feed for delivery to stores in Wilkes and surrounding counties. All of that is in the memory of Ralph Tharpe, the owner of Tharpe's Mill property on Buggaboo Creek north of Ronda. For many, many years Ralph made a good living for his family as his father had done.

Ralph hasn't forgotten what the mill meant to his family and him. For the past nine years he's patiently built a rock wall from the dam site, past "his" building and the mill using creek rock. Paths and the grass beside the stream are well kept. Trees form a canopy beside the rushing water of Buggaboo Creek to make a cool and inviting place.

What began, Ralph laughingly says, as a picnic shelter is a large building with massive over-head beams, and a large rock fireplace. it's a place big enough for family reunions and meetings. Like the rock wall it "kinda" evolved, Ralph says.

As a commercial venture the mill in all probability will never be operated. "We opened it up again in 1981 for water ground milling and stayed open for about a year and a half."

J.K. (John) Tharpe, Ralph's father, and Avery Burcham opened the mill in 1914 and called it B.T. Milling Company. The dam, further down stream than the present dam, was destroyed by the 1940 flood. The Tharps built a new dam with over-shot water power to a big, metal water wheel which had to be transported to the site and put together because of its weight. This was in 1941. Burcham left the milling business after a few years, and J.K. Tharpe bought his interest.

Before the over-shot system was employed, with a large pipe carrying the water from the dam to the top of the wheel, the mill was subject to the whims of the creek. "When the water was low, there wasn't enough flow to turn the wheel", Tharpe recalls.

Ralph came back from the Army in 1945 and joined the mill enterprise with his father. "We delivered feed and corn meal every day but still did some custom grinding". Recalling some of the early history, he said that John and Isom Dimmette built the dam and mill in 1884. Tharpe believes that the original mill was south of the present site and that Preacher John Kennedy may have owned it. According to Judge Johnson J. Hayes' "Land of Wilkes" history, the mill probably was operated on Buggaboo Creek in 1790. Tharpe says that he has seen evidence of a dam and milling rocks down stream from his mill. "That must have been the Preacher Kennedy's mill."

At the Tharpe's Mill site, Buggaboo Creek is a wide stream which cascades down a series of small falls. Although not anticipating further revenue from the mill, Ralph Tharpe is enjoying working on the rock wall and keeping the grounds in good shape. He has made a place of beauty.

Wilkes County Heritage



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