Nora Mill Granary is a 141 year-old operational gristmill which sits alongside the Chattahoochee River in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains. The mill stone grinds and produces many corn and wheat based products such as grits, corn meal, pancake & waffle mixes along with complementary products.
Adjacent to the mill is an old-fashioned country store and gift shop named “Nora Mill Next Door,” that is stocked with thousands of complementary items and a large kitchen for cooking and serving samples.
The mill was built in 1876 by native Californian John Martin when he relocated to Georgia to mine for gold. After making Sautee-Nacoochee Valley his permanent home Martin purchased French Burr Mill Stones weighting approximately 1,500 pounds from Paris, France and a water turbine from Rome, Georgia.
Over the years the mill changed ownership several times until in 1902 Dr. Lamartine “Lam” Griffin Hardman, a native of Commerce, Georgia purchased the mill and changed its name to Nora in honor of his late younger sister.
In 1927, Hardman was elected the 65th Governor of Georgia and served two terms in office. After taking office he employed various millers to take care of the day to day operations of the mill.
White County native Tommy Martin has been the miller for Nora Grist Mill for over 35 years and explains an interesting event which took place under Hardman’s ownership.
“At the same time Lam was Governor and Herbert Hoover was Secretary of Commerce before he was president. Well, Herbert Hoover inspected our mill one time because he had heard that there was a white biscuit coming out of Helen, Georgia and no one had produced flour yet. And so he came down here himself to investigate and he found out that there was rice being grained here on the roller mills. But it was such a big deal he wanted to come himself and not send someone underneath him to find out what they were doing!”
The discovery of gold and the Unicoi Turnpike also brought an influx of European settlers to the White county region and the farmers would stand in line for hours to use the mill to grind their corn.
After a succession of millers throughout the years, in the early 1980s, Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ron Fain worked with the Hardman family and leased Nora Mill. Working alongside his parents as the miller, the Fain’s brought the old mill back to life.
Nora Granary miller Tommy Martin says after a period of time the Fain brothers made the mill a family affair.
“When they started out George and Betty Fain got the old store part going for grandma Fain, and Ron got the old mill going for grandpa to give them something to do in their later years because grandpa lived to be 94! When I started working for the Fains in 1989, grandpa Fain taught me the rhythm of the stones sitting in a rocking chair.”
Nora Mill remained in the Hardman Family until 1998, when it, along with 300 surrounding acres, were purchased by a group of investors associated with Nacoochee Village, Ltd.
Over the years with the growth of the Nora Mill Granary’s popularity the mill became a part of what is now known as Nacoochee Village. Martin says restaurants in many major cities like Chicago, New York and Maryland serve the mill’s grits and fall tours’ beginning with Oktoberfest brings visitors from across the globe to taste and purchase many of the mill’s grains and other specialty items.
Have you ever wondered where the saying nose to the grindstone originated? Martin says, “While I’m grinding and I’m smelling for that grindstone that is where the term ‘nose to the grindstone’ comes from. As long as I keep my nose to the grindstone and stay focused everything will be alright. So periodically I’m coming by and I’m smelling to see if I’ve got enough corn running through to keep the two stones separated.”
Although many changes have occurred over the years, Nora Mill Granary’s original 1876 pink granite stones and water turbine are still used to grind fresh grains free of additives or preservatives.