Henry County

Snowbird Mill – Historic Mill on Jordan Creek

29 June 2011

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On Sunday, a friend gave me some information about a historic mill on Jordan Creek in Henry County, Virginia. The mill is a long forgotten structure, swallowed up by the forest 50 years ago. After I found the mill, I also wanted to see if I could find old moonshine stills along the creek since I haven’t found any in Henry County yet.

Jordan Creek is a large tributary of the Smith River. It runs through the town of Fieldale before dumping into the Smith. Jordan Creek would be a great place to locate a moonshine still since it’s surrounded by large tracts of woods. It’s a relatively inaccessible creek, but located close to town which means the average person won’t stumble across your still – and its close enough to civilization to get materials back and forth.

The history of the area is interesting. The region was originally settled by George Waller, a Revolutionary War Colonel who operated a plantation there. Years later, after the Civil War ended, freed slaves (who took the names of their former masters) founded the community of Waller. In 1817, the Marshal Fields Company purchased 1800 acres on the old plantation site, built a textile plant, and created the town of Fieldale. Thus began the industrialization of Henry County (the furniture factories in the nearby town of Bassett would come next.)

Snowbird Mill was located near Waller on Jordan Creek, and operated at the turn of the last century. It actually operated up until 1958. The mill was then lost to time as the woods grew up around Jordan Creek. Though it’s not that far from Fieldale, the old mill is rather difficult to access, especially in the summer. I had to climb down a steep, overgrown bank to get to the creek – using poison ivy vines as hand holds. Then I had to walk up the creek itself (since it’s steep along that stretch), and then through a field of tick infested brush.

The history of Waller and Fieldale.

The mill is still sitting there on Jordan Creek and it’s in remarkably great shape for being 100+ years old. It looks just like the old pictures. You can climb up into the structure and the old mill stone is still in place.

After checking out the mill I headed upstream to look for old moonshine stills. To me, Jordan Creek would be an ideal place to set up a still. I walked quite a ways up the creek, but didn’t find any signs of old moonshine operations. Heading back I noticed a side creek running in, so I decided to walk up this tributary to see what I could find. This little creek looked like a great place too. The ravine was steep sided, but offered many flat level spots along the creek to set up a moonshining operation. I walked and walked but didn’t find anything. I have the odd habit of talking to myself when I’m alone in the woods. As I walked, I thought out loud to myself, “if this creek were in Franklin County, I would have found five stills by now” and as soon as that last word slipped off my tongue, I looked up and saw an old still.

The remains of the still are nothing special – typical of what you find in the area. Most of it is disintegrated and to the untrained eye it just looks like a rusting pile of trash in the woods. Part of it lay rusting in the creek. As far as old moonshine stills go, it’s not a significant find (unlike this one on Salt House Branch.)

It is significant to me, though because it’s the first moonshine still I’ve found in Henry County. I’ve looked for stills in Henry County in the past, but never found any. I know that they are here, just not as prolific as in neighboring Franklin and Patrick Counties. In Franklin County, you can walk up almost any creek and find an old still. I’m going to spend a little more time searching Henry County now that I’ve found a still.