Location: 1489 Murray's Mill Road, Catawba NC 28609
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Tours are available in the off season for groups of 10 or more.
Please call for details: (828) 465-0383
the grounds are open during daylight hours.
A ten-minute hop, skip, and a jump from I-40, the Murray’s Mill Historic District, in the rolling countryside of eastern Catawba County, nestles just as it was a century ago along the banks of Balls Creek. It's perfect for an afternoon picnic or a quick leg-stretcher. A placid pond slips over a mill dam, and the 28’ waterwheel of this National Register Historic Site makes its slow way round. Nailed to a door-frame in the general store, an old coffee can catches bottle-caps, and a porch swing awaits you out front, as does a chat with a friendly guide before beginning your tour.
Preserved intact are the 1913 mill itself, the 1890s Murray & Minges General Store, the 1880s Wheathouse, used as an exhibit gallery, the 1913 John Murray House, furnished to the period, and numerous outbuildings. Run by three generations of the Murray Family, who abandoned operations in 1967, the picturesque structures and surrounding land form the last milling complex in the county, meticulously preserved and interpreted by the Catawba County Historical Association since 1980 when restorations began, Governor James G. Martin attending the opening ceremony in 1988.
The centerpiece of the historic district is Murray’s Mill, built by John Murray, whose father, William, had operated a mill on the site since 1883. In 1906, William deeded the property to his sons, John and O.D. In 1907, John Murray acquired a 5/6 interest from his brother O.D., who would take over operation of the general store. In 1913, John replaced his father’s mill with the current two-story structure, adding a 22’ overshot waterwheel, in lieu of the former turbine. Making room for the mill’s expansion, the Murrays moved the general store to its present location. In 1938, John’s son, Lloyd, raised the dam six feet and installed the 28’ waterwheel. (It’s said that William’s original wooden dam stands beneath the surface of the present pond.)
Inside Murray’s Mill, visitors will find William’s original one-ton French buhr millstones for grinding corn, as well as Sprout & Waldron roller mills that John installed for grinding wheat into flour. All of the mill’s storage bins, each partitioned by tongue and groove sheathing, have been preserved, too. When the CCHA overtook the mill’s restoration in 1980 the bins still held flour from the day Lloyd Murray shut the doors due to bureaucratic red tape and increasing taxes.
The Murray & Minges General Store
Inside “the mercantile department of O.D. Murray and Company,” the two-story, gable-front general store (later assuming an additional name, Minges, through marriage), visitors can crack the lid of an antique Coca-Cola refrigerator and grab a drink in a glass bottle. The store is also stocked with old-fashioned wooden toys, such as yo-yo’s and finger tops, as well as pioneer folk toys. Sweet tooths will find local honey, Mary Janes, Cow Tails, Striped Coconut, as well as a mix of modern candies. Old-fashioned soaps and salves and Happy Home Flavorings (some popular with fish, according to the fisherman who stop in), are joined by locally made bonnets and aprons, and Murray’s Mill t-shirts, bags, magnets, and mugs. The store is also a convenient way to pick up one of the CCHA’s many historical publications. Bead-board ceilings and walls are notable architectural elements, as is the ceiling’s octagonal opening, used by Murray to keep an eye on the register while re-stocking the upstairs.
The Wheathouse Exhibit Gallery
The 1880s wheathouse, with two-stories, a board and batten front door, and six-over-six sash windows, was originally used to store extra grain or damp grain. Inside, the building still contains the original grain hopper and elevator used to move wheat up to the attic, then down a pipe into the mill (the pipe no longer exists). On the first floor visitors will find exhibits devoted to architectural elements from historic houses in the county and the legacy of C. H. Lester (1849-1940), the area’s most significant early architect. The second floor has examples of furniture made in the county and other folk art. During the Murray’s Mill Harvest Folk Festival, the wheathouse hosts local artists and their work and welcomes traveling exhibits and events throughout the year.
The John Murray House
The fourth substantial structure of the complex open during the Harvest Folk Festival and other special events, the John Murray House is a period-furnished, large bungalow and former residence of the miller. Built in 1912, the house’s notable exterior elements are the flared roof and half-timbered gable ends. Exhibited furniture includes the Punch-Seitz suite in the everyday parlor and the Lowrance Family’s tufted leather suite in the Sunday parlor. Locally made furniture from the Harold Carpenter Estate is found in the dining room, and the house’s garage and basement are used as exhibit spaces, the former offering machinery from the Startown Cannery and interpretive photographs.
For further information, call the mill at 828.241.4299 or the Catawba County Museum of History at 828.465.0383.
Don't forget the Annual Harvest Folk Festival held each year on the last Saturday and Sunday of September.