When word got out that the historic Sheppard Mill near Danbury was going to be auctioned off, many history buffs feared a Stokes County treasure would be lost. But the new owner bought it to prevent just that.
Bill Neese of Greensboro has property in Stokes County and has long been a supporter of the Stokes County Historical Society. Neese offered the top bid for the mill at an auction Saturday. The mill and old mill store were sold in combination for a total of $150,700, which included a 10 percent premium fee.
“I just wanted to save it,” Neese explained.
Patti Dunlap, president of the Stokes County Historical Society, said she is glad that Neese bought it for the sake of preservation and continuation in Stokes County. “We applaud Bill’s efforts,” she remarked.
Neese said he bought the mill in hopes that the historical society or county could later raise enough money to buy it. He wants the county landmark to be preserved.
The historical society was interested in buying the property several years ago, but the asking price was about $400,000 at that time.
But this go-round, the highest bid was much lower. Neese said he was a little surprised by the lower amount, but that is why he was able to buy it. He faced competition from a few bidders, one who came all the way from Pennsylvania.
The absolute auction was conducted by Hall Auction and Realty Company of Elkin. Troy Hall, the auctioneer, said about 100 people attended the event and several bids came in. The open house on May 16 for the site also attracted a fair number of people.
As for the lower bid, Hall said, “We know the market right now is tough.”
Hall said he received inquiries from across the U.S. about the mill — from as far away as Florida, Washington, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
Neese described the moment he realized he had gotten the mill: “It was cool, because (I knew) we had it protected.”
The new owner said he will not move the mill away or sell it to be moved.
Neese can envision many things in the mill’s future. “I’d like to see it operating and selling product and having tours,” he said. “If it was put back into operation, you could do a lot of things.”
He can even envision someone opening up a country store there and getting the lumber yard operating again.
“There’s so many possibilities,” he noted.
The 109-year-old mill is located just off Sheppard Mill Road past Danbury headed to Sandy Ridge.
“It’s probably one of the last like it in the United States,” Neese noted.
The old mill store, which sits on a one-acre lot and has now been turned into a two-bedroom, two-bath residence, was offered separately and in combination with Sheppard Mill. Neese bought both parcels.
Sheppard Mill was built on the banks of Snow Creek in 1904 by Calla “Kelly” Hill Sheppard. The mill became known as “The Snow Creek Roller Mill and Woodworking Plant.” It functioned primarily as a gristmill but also as a furniture-making establishment.
Through its history, the mill was expanded three times. After Sheppard passed away in the 1950s and Hurricane Hazel floodwaters washed away the millpond’s wooden dam in 1954, the mill closed. It never reopened.
In following years, the owner of Hennis Freight Company, Shirley Mitchell, who was also Sheppard’s grandson, came into possession of the mill and began efforts to preserve it. Where the old wooden dam once sat, Mitchell built a concrete one. By the early 1990s, the mill was in the possession of Frank Blount, a partner of Charles Parnell, owner of the Old Mill at Guilford. After that partnership ended, Blount became sole owner of Sheppard Mill. Blount labored eight to 10 hours daily to further restore the mill.
Currently, Sheppard Mill still has its two millstones, a sawmill, three water turbines and a woodworking shop. The dam on the 25-foot deep millpond has three openings: a drain, a mudgate and a turbine gate. According to more recent owners of the mill, its workings would still be operational if well-lubricated.
Inside the mill, there are many treasures: 14 wooden elevators to carry buckets of grain, a cyclone separator which uses a fan to separate the wheat from the chaff, sawmill equipment made as far back as 1893 in either Winston or Salem when the two towns were separate and custom-made equipment in the woodworking shop.
Leslie Bray Brewer contributed to this article.