When the air is tinged with the unmistakeable approach
of autumn and the leaves begin their colorful transformation, a small
army of volunteers is diligently preparing for one of the Southeast’s
most popular Fall festivals - Prater's Mill Country Fair - sheduled for
Oct. 14 and 15, 2006. A family-friendly jaunt through
history, the Fair is centered around the old water-powered, still-operational
gristmill. This year's Fair marks the 150th anniversary of the Mill,
established in 1855 by Benjamin Franklin Prater and T. H. Pitner to grind
wheat into flour and corn into meal.
The Fair, begun by volunteers in 1971 to raise funds to restore the
mill and surrounding buildings, has grown into a full celebration of
Appalachian traditions featuring live music, Southern food, living history
exhibits, and handmade crafts and original art created by nearly 200
talented artists and artisans. Demonstrations include blacksmithing,
quilting, weaving, woodcarving, rug hooking, and hand tufting, the precursor
to the famous machine tufted carpet industry of Dalton, Ga.
Additionally, educational exhibits of interest include a living Civil
War encampment, antique engines in operation, antique cars, and “Peacock
Alley,” a clothesline display of handtufted bedspreads.
In addition to self-guided tours of the mill, visitors may also enjoy
shopping in the country store, investigating the Shugart Cotton Gin,
or acquainting themselves with farm animals at the Westbrook Barn with
a Petting Zoo adored by children and adults alike. The whole family can
experience canoe rides on Coahulla Creek or take a short hike down the
nature trail; and pony rides are always at the top of kids’ to-do
A continuous entertainment schedule on two stages offers traditional
fare such as clogging and square dancing exhibitions, country bands,
and gospel singers. A contingent of Appalachian-Style wandering musicians
- including dulcimer players - roam the grounds entertaining the throngs
while storytellers keep folklore alive with their captivating tales.
In many minds, the highlight of the Fair is the food. The Dalton Pike
Church of God serve authentic Southern dishes - chicken and dumplings,
collard greens, and cornbread cooked on a wood stove - near the 1898
store (located just across the road from the mill). Other regional favorites
are served at various points on the festival grounds. These include
delicacies such as John's Family pit-cooked barbecue, Cochran Family
fried apple pies, North Georgia apple cider, and even Miss Ruby's fresh-churned
The Prater’s Mill Country Fair is sponsored by the Prater’s
Mill Foundation, a non-profit organization of volunteers dedicated to
historic preservation and education. Nearly 40 civic clubs, churches
and schools also participate in the community event. The Fair is a featured
destination in the National Geographic MapGuide to Appalachia, NationalGeographic.com/Appalachia.
Prater's Mill is also a member of the Society for the Preservation of
Old Mills (SPOOM), an international organization chartered in Maine in
1972 dedicated by its constitution to promote interest in old mills and
other Americana now quickly passing from the present scene. The Society
reports to its members through a quarterly magazine, keeps files and
maintains a library on mills, and acts as a clearing house on milling
information. A wealth of information and links to mills internationally
can be found at the Society web site, SPOOM.org.
Fair hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Admission is $7; children 12 and under enter free. There is no charge
for parking. Visitors are urged to dress casually and wear comfortable
Prater’s Mill is located on Georgia Hwy. 2, 10 miles northeast
of Dalton and about 30 miles south of Chattanooga, Tenn. Interstate travelers
should take I-75 to the Tunnel Hill-Varnell Exit No. 341; drive north
4.5 miles to the intersection with Georgia Hwy. 2 at Varnell; turn right
and continue 2.6 miles to the Mill, a total distance of 7 miles from
For more information or to inquire about sponsorship and volunteer opportunities
call 706-694-MILL (6455) or visit the web site PratersMill.org.