A Digital Journal

Photography by Tony Triolo

Glade Creek Grist Mill – Mill Tour Part 2



Glade Creek Mill at Babcock State Park in Virginia

Glade Creek Grist Mill, often called Babcock Mill because it lies within Babcock State Park near Clifftop, West Virginia was the second mill on our recent tour. From Mabry Mill (part 1) on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, we drove north on Interstate 77 for about three hours. The weather began to turn sour, and our clear, sunny skies gave way to clouds and even a few sprinkles. The conditions, however, proved to be ideal for me. The overcast skies softened the shadows, deepened the colors and eliminated the dappled light which I try to avoid whenever possible. Having bright highlights on leaves, rocks and sky really messes with the dynamic range. That isn’t much of a problem if you’re posting an image to Facebook or Instagram, but it makes printing the image a real headache. So, although it was raining and I along with my gear was getting wet, I was still loving it. An added benefit to the weather, was that it kept the tourists down to a number that I could deal with. The way the mill is situated, right on the edge of the creek, did not allow for people to walk all around it as they did at the Mabry Mill. At Babcock, visitors could poke themselves in and out the mill door, but really couldn’t go any further. Once I was done shooting the mill up close, I moved downstream where people and other distractions became less of an issue.

This shot was  literally made from the parking lot.

All the mills I photographed this particular weekend were very accessible. They were either right off the road of within walking distance from the parking lot. Usually, no long trek through the woods is required. Maybe that’s why I like photographing mills so much. That, and the fact that they are quickly disappearing from the rural American scene and need to be recorded while they’re still here. Glade Creek Mill represents over 500 mills that were once thriving in the state of West Virginia. It was constructed of three older mills which outlasted their original usefulness. The earliest original parts of the mill date back to the 1850’s while other parts date to the 1890’s. The basic structure is from Stoney Creek Mill and the mill deck and other workings are from the Onego Grist Mill, originally located near Seneca. The mill was rebuilt in 1976, so what you see today is actually only 43 years old.


Parts of the mill are scattered about the site


The fall colors were just beginning to peak when I was there

Apparently, West Virginia has been experiencing the same drought that we have been dealing with all summer back here in Alabama. The low water levels at Babcock State Park prevented the mill from operating the day I was there. I believe the mill operator told me that Glade Creek was two feet below normal, so there would be no milling until the areas received substantial rainfall. Perhaps, the rain I was experiencing was the beginning of just that. I would have liked to have seen the creek flowing better for photographic reasons. I could have used a bit more water cascading over the rocks, especially in the downstream shots. I also would have preferred to have the water wheel turning to provide some motion to the static image. Water spilling over the wheel off the sluice is always something I try to capture in a mill photo. Unfortunately, that would not be possible this time.

A view of the mill from downstream


Unfortunately, the low water levels prevented the mill from operating this day

The Glade Creek Grist Mill and the Mabry Mill (part 1) are both wonderful examples of early mill construction. They remind us of another time, one less rushed and complicated. They both represent an era when mills dotted the American landscape, much like the covered bridge which has all but disappeared.  I actually visited a third mill on our tour of the Virginias. It was the Tinger Mill located near the town of Paint Bank, Virginia. We found it totally by accident, but I’m glad we did. While it doesn’t have the old-time charm of the Mabry and Glade Creek mills, it is a wonderful example of a working mill and a reminder of why mills were so vital to the surrounding community.

Despite the fact that the Tinger Mill is not as photogenic as the Mabry and Babcock mills, it is a very nice example of a working mill, and I may post some photos of it in a few days. Stay tuned.


November 12, 2019 Posted by | Architecture, Mills, Photography, Travel, Virginia, West Virginia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Down By The Old Mill Stream

Sometimes I enjoy things that are spontaneous, like going on a trip without much forethought or planning. I took such was a trip recently to the states of Virginia and West Virginia to photograph a couple of grist mills. I had seen photographs of these two particular mills, and I knew that I had to drive up there and try my luck at capturing these amazingly beautiful structures. I decided to make the trip right in the midst of fall color season, but I feared that I might be too early for peak color based on the fall color maps I had seen. My wife agreed to join me on my mill tour, although she only has a passing interest in mills or photography for that matter. I think she considered it a good chance to just get away for a few days and to see a part of the country that we don’t normally get to see. This was Appalachia we were heading to, and it soon became apparent that some of the most scenic parts of this country are also among the most depressed. Even in this time of relative prosperity, we saw towns and villages that seem to really be struggling, and have been for a long time.

Our first stop was at Mabry Mill in Floyd County, Virginia. The mill is located right on the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 176. We got there a bit late just as the sun was going down, but I did want to see it’s orientation to determine if it would make a better morning or afternoon shot. As it turned out, it definitely favored the afternoon, but I was just a bit late. Part of the mill was in bright sunlight and part was already in shade. The dynamic range was too great to hope to get good tonality across the entire structure. Although it was late, I decided to try getting a few shots anyway. I played around with HDR (high dynamic range) techniques to try to equal out the shadows and highlights, but that made things only marginally better.

Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I realized that my best bet was to wait until the sun completely set, placing the mill in total shadow. I would have to adjust my exposure settings somewhat, but since the camera was on a tripod I didn’t have to worry much about the shutter speed. I could maintain my small aperture and thus, depth of field. My shutter speed slowed way down, but that provided a benefit by blurring the water wheel to give a sense of motion. I was lucky that the mill was working and the wheel was still turning. I found out that the sluice had just recently been rebuilt. The old one had rotted out a while ago, and the water had to be channeled through to an iron pipe in order to keep the mill in operation. For photographic considerations, having an operating waterwheel is almost essential. Another visitor told me that the sluice had just been put back in operation this summer, so my timing was uncharacteristically good. With the sun setting, my light was fading fast and I had to decide quick, if I wanted to return the next morning and try again.


West facade of Mabry Mill

The Mabry Mill is located about forty minutes from the town of Hillsville, the nearest town of any size. We decided to spend the night there and if the weather held, I planned to drive back to the Mabry very early the following morning. Unlike the evening before, when I arrived I was the only person on the scene. Gotta love it. I knew my luck would not last long however. The fact that I was there on a weekend during “almost peak” fall color season, guaranteed that tourists would soon be arriving in droves. I was not wrong. Now, I have nothing against tourists. One or two help to add interest and scale to a photograph. It’s when the number of people climb into the dozens, that I begin to have a problem. At a certain point, too many people in a photo creates a distraction and all you see are the people. Plus, when you’re shooting with very slow shutter speeds like I am, you run the risk of blurring the people since they are usually moving around. I know there are software programs that eliminate such distractions, but I don’t like using them.


Mabry Mill is a favorite of tourists driving the Blue Ridge Parkway


The water wheel powers the grist mill.

So, I had to work fast. I concentrated of getting photos of the mill itself from several vantage points and then planned to move to other parts of the site. Near the mill is Matthews Cabin, an excellent example of mountain architecture and workmanship. A working blacksmith shop, a whiskey still and a sorghum mill demonstrate to visitors and school children what it was like to live in this part of the country in the late 1800’s. The mill was built by Edwin Boston Mabry in 1903 and was in operation by 1908. Considered a “slow mill” due to the lack of sufficient water power, it eventually developed a reputation for producing some of the finest tasting corn meal in the area. Apparently, a fast mill runs the risk of grinding too fast and scorching the grain.

After a couple of hours, I began to realize that I reached to point where the number of visitors had reached critical mass. It was time to call it a day. I did take a few minutes to go inside the mill and I even took a few shots of the pulleys, belts and internal workings that transform the movement of the wheel into a means of grinding grain.


Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway – late afternoon


The recently rebuilt sluice once again channels water to the water wheel to power the mill

In a few days, I will post some photos from the second mill we visited, the Glade Creek Grist Mill near Clifftop, West Virginia.


Matthews Cabin is an excellent example of mountain architecture, circa 1900


November 1, 2019 Posted by | Photography, Travel, Virginia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment