Most of us purchase grits and cornmeal from the local grocery store. Think of what it was like 150 years ago when people had to visit the local grist mill with a foot tub full of shelled corn and a lot of time to wait for the miller to grind the kernels into fine cornmeal or grits. The grist mill was an important part of every small farming community in Alabama during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. At one point, grist milling was the number one manufacturer in the state.
Alabama is still home to two grist mills that were built, furnished and used for corn’s transformation in the 1800s. Rikard’s Mill in North Monroe County and Kymulga Mill in Talladega County occupy spots on historic landmark registries. They are both fully functional tourist attractions.
Rikard’s Mill was built by Jake Rikard in 1845, some 16 years before the Civil War began. It was located near Flat Creek, which empties into the Alabama River on the western side of the state. The creek runs under Rikard’s Mill. It is the only Alabama grist mill that still operates by water power. The mill was renovated in 1993 by descendants of Jake Rikard.
Rikard’s Mill is listed on Alabama’s list of Historic Sites. Rikard’s Mill Historical Park is home to the museum located inside the covered bridge next to the grist mill. The park is dedicated to preserving history and provides annual demonstrations that include making grits, cornmeal, cane syrup and blacksmith tools.
Kymulga Mill was built in 1864 for Confederate Army Captain William Forey in Talladega County. Captain Forey died before the mill was completed. Kymulga Mill was four stories high and was powered by wind turbines. Kymulga Mill was equipped with five sets of millstones. It is famous for having been furnished with French stones, considered the heaviest in the world at the time. Today the mill is still operating, though by electricity, as a part of Kymulga Park and Museum which also includes a covered bridge. Kymulga Park is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Both the Rikard and Kymulga mills were an important part of Alabama agriculture and industry during the 1800s. During the years leading up to the Civil War, grist milling was the largest industry in the state, based on value and employment. In 1860, 40% of manufacturing was tied to food in some way, putting grist milling at the top of the list of employers. Statistics and records in 1880 listed grist milling as the number one common industry in the state.
Location of Rikard’s Mill: 4116 Highway 265 North, Beatrice, AL 36425, Monroe County Heritage Museum 251/575-7433 firstname.lastname@example.org
Location of Kymulga Mill: 7346 Grist Mill Rd # 180, Alpine – (256) 378-7436
Flint, Wayne. Mine, Mill and Microchip: A Chronicles of Alabama Enterprise. Windsor Publications, Northridge CA, c.1987.