Raleigh Nature

June 29, 2008

Lassiter Mill and Raleigh mill history

This post was originally published April 28, 2008.

I remember the day in my high school years when they closed Lassiter Mill bridge. It was old time rickety but somehow made it to modern Raleigh – the 1970s- before being closed and then destroyed. I had conscientiously driven my 68 VW carefully over the twin tracks several times, fully aware I was testing out a soon-to-be piece of history. The iron on the right is part of the original bridge structure – iron and wood, and a thing of beauty it was. That bridge gave off an air of classic American architecture of a century past, and was fun to drive across as well, following old Lassiter Mill Road off of the new one.

***********

The site was originally called the “Great Falls of Crabtree” and was used by succesive mills starting about 1780, a decade before Raleigh’s creation. Cornelius Lassiter purchased it in 1908 and built two 40-horse turbine wheels to mill grain and lumber. It burned in 1959, but the family continued to make use of the property until current times.

Well-heeled homes now surround the entire site, but the area south of dam and lower pool, and downstream to (the new) Lassiter Mill Road, constitutes a small city park. There are picnic tables, a canoe put-in, and truly fine fishing – I have watched fly fisherman work below and above the dam many times. This is the spot where the city animal control folks bring misplaced snapping turtles for release – I’ve seen them wrestle some real monsters out of their truck. The fishing is also perfect for young ones, as my own can attest. Dorian’s first small-mouth bass came from just below the tailrace, and he had the enormous satisfaction, not only of helping to clean, cook, and eat it, but make his sister sick to her stomach as well. Below is his lucky fishing hole.

You can also put a boat in very easily just off the cul-de-sac, and paddle your way as far upstream toward Crabtree Valley as the downed trees and water levels will let you. The deep water above the dam is like a linear lake right through the backyards of million dollar homes. As the water get shallower, you start to see some really nice slate deposits on the banks and realize you have climbed out of East Raleigh’s muddy ditch sections of Crabtree and gotten into some cool Raleigh Belt geology. This reminds us that Lassiter Mill literally and precisely marks the Fall Line in central Raleigh. I’ll run pictures of that trip this summer.

This is the deep water above the dam. Dams like Lassiter Mill present a problem for migrating fish and the mussels dependent on them for reproduction (a long story we’ll get into sometime). Someday we may make an ecological choice to remove the dam. I will miss the easy canoe trip, but I understand the value of unencumbered stretches of water. Amazing to think of all the gristmills (and dams) that used to dot the Raleigh area – road names alone give you some idea – Lassiter, Edwards, Yates, Ligon, etc. A future gem of a post will explore the remains of the small mill still visible in Fallon Park. We used to live closer to nature – but we also exploited nature in ways we have given up.

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19 Comments »

  1. Very interesting the history that you have given. My brother, 2 sisters and I visited here last weekend. My brother recalled that our Grandfather, Rayford Creech once ran the Grist mill there in the 40’s. It was a nostalgic trip for all of us for sure. We also visited “Smokey Hollow”, Johnson St and surronding areas. My siblings went to the schools in that area, Lewis and Broughton. We had a wonderful time reminiscing! September 29, 2008

    Comment by Ruth Creech Grant — September 30, 2008 @ 1:55 am

  2. I’m a little late to the party here, but thanks for this excellent background information on Lassiter Mill. Being an amateur photographer, I’m always looking for new subjects for my camera. I’ve taken a lot of photographs at Yates Mill, and I think maybe I’m going to work on a series of the different mill sites around Raleigh…at least what is left of them. Thanks again for a great post.

    Comment by Tarheel Rambler — January 9, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

  3. Comments brought forward from old site:

    April 29, 2008
    I jumped off the top of that bridge many times!
    Also good to have a moment of silence for a teenager who drowned there after Fran and whose family is responsible for the plaque.
    Let me know when you want to paddle upstream. I’ve got two solo canoes that haven’t seen water in quite a while. Maybe in the late afternoon with the longer days.

    Jack in the pulpit’s are blooming in the woods BTW. Katie

    May 12, 2008
    Back in the late 60’s I recall the jumps and dives from the top of the iron. The metal was hot and some how encouraged you to make your leap. The cars passing below would shake the bridge and you would wonder if you were going to fall. Also, we used to go behind the falls and climb up into the discharge ‘cave’ behind the fall itself. The things boys do… Dan

    Comment by raleighnaturalist — January 11, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

  4. Lassiter Mill was indeed a special place for me. As an adventuresome 7 yr old boy in 1969 for around a
    a decade I watched the natural beauty and old style feeling gradually disappear into suburbia. I fished
    every inch of that place over lazy carefree summers. The shad runs there were incredible. The place was
    just boiling with life.There was a monster largemouth that several of us hooked but no way of ever landing
    with all the under-water obstacles and its strength. Many catfish too. Jumping from the bridge above the dam
    was fun and can never forget the cool dark damp hidden rooms under the water fall as an escape on sweltering
    summer days.

    Comment by Alan — March 11, 2009 @ 5:02 am

  5. [...] intense (and impervious) areas of commercial development before finding Kiwanis Park and then Lassiter Mill. Above the dam is a heavily wooded stretch that skirts Crabtree Valley Mall and climbs up to [...]

    Pingback by Raleigh Public Record » Featured The Natural View » Raleigh’s Greenway Outlook — May 11, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

  6. I also spent many an hour jumping off the rail by the roadbed and climbing up to the top of the old bridge for a jump. The water was only 7-8′ deep so feet plunging into the mud on the bottom was standard procedure.

    For a time there was a cable across the bottom of the millrace, enabling us to grab on and get back on top of the lower race wall after sliding down the race on our backsides. It was a fairly rough millrace surface, so some runoff current was required to push you down the race.

    If I’m not mistaken, the bridge itself was moved to the Lassiter Mill location to replace an older structure. It had previously served as a bridge over the Neuse, I believe way up in northwesternmost Wake County at Boyce Mill, so I believe it was the Boyce Mill Bridge at one point. That crossing is now flooded by Falls Lake.

    Foy Beal
    Raleigh

    Comment by Foy Beal — July 8, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

  7. Lots of very special memories at Lassiter’s Mill. When I was very young, my older brother Chris would take me there fishing where he and oldest brother Johnny would build rafts out of scrap wood and Dad’s styrofoam typewriter boxes. My dad John had served in the volunteer fire department and helped fight the fire in 1958 (a soundscape with an interview at my web site). Once I could manage it on my own, with my friends – Mike Puryear, Jimmy Harris, Matt Verlinden, Leonard Morgan, and others – we would play “army” up and down the banks of Crabtree Creek from the Mill down to Our Lady of Lourdes and Kiwanis Park. We had our landmarks – the black pipes, silver pipes, “Pee-Pee Rock,” swinging vine, the log and mudpit, and it seemed like we had treehouses everywhere, vivid imaginations, endless afternoons, cane poles, and indestructable bluejeans. Later in high school (1969-72), I was drawn back to the mill. Mary Lassiter was still running the store there, and I would spend afternoons partly swimming above the dam and partly picking up glass off the beach. (The high weeds on the north bank were also great for parking.) Once in college, I forgot about the mill until the late 1980’s. When I came back, the bridge and the store were gone, and the beautiful homes were being built. Kind of nice, but also kind of sad. I’ve gone back several times since; it may just be the times, but I never see anyone there, except maybe a man playing fetch with his dog. It would be great just to see a bunch or even a couple of boys running up and down the banks, getting muddy and shooting over their shoulders at Indians, or digging for treasure, or just sitting on the rocks, making bread balls and using the crust for bait. Good stuff… and it was real.

    Comment by Charley Norkus — November 28, 2009 @ 3:24 am

  8. [...] I had posted this but yet, it simply wasn’t there.  So, for Alison & Michael’s Raleigh Engagement Photos, we decided on a location I used to visit all the time when I was younger but haven’t been [...]

    Pingback by Raleigh Engagement Photos | Alison & Michael — January 4, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

  9. I remember back in the late 47 – 49 my Dad worked at the mill, and we lived about a half mile up the road, I recently returned (2010) and tried to find the place, but so much has changed. There was a restaurant/dance area across the bridge where there was dancing on the patio Friday & Saturday and as a kid my brothers and i had a tire tied to a tree and we would swing out to the middle of the river and turn loose and fall in to the river, yes those were great times in my life, I was was drafted in 1957 and ended out in California where I have resided since them only to return to visit relatives and unfortunately funerals. Bill Williams

    Comment by Bill Williams — January 18, 2011 @ 12:27 am

  10. Thank you for this post and the pictures. I’m a family historian and was doing some research on a great-uncle of mine, who lost his life in these waters back in 1922. He was only a 17 year-old “schoolboy”, so I can imagine that he was probably enjoying himself, most likely with friends, on that fateful day (September 5, 1922) when he drowned. I’ve searched and searched for any news articles for years now, but to no avail. However, coming upon your posting tonight has given me an inside look at the place where my ancestor, John (Lil Johnny) Green took his last breath. Thank you.

    Comment by Renate — February 21, 2011 @ 3:41 am

  11. I’m a descendant of John Edwards that purchased land from Hardy Lassiter in 1800. Does anyone know if the Edwards Mill Road near N.C.State University had an Edwards Mill about this time, because it is near the Lassiter family property?

    Comment by Harold Edwards — July 10, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

    • Harold, I have consulted Elizabeth Reid’s Wake Co. history to no avail with John Edwards and Hardy Lassiter. Many of the area mills discussed in her book predate Raleigh itself: Yates Mill in the 1750’s and many in what was to be central Raleigh through the 1760’s. History is not my thing but I would love to know more about the history of Edwards Mill. If I find more ( or if a reader posts more) I will let you know.

      Comment by raleighnaturalist — July 13, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

    • Yes, I can confirm some information on Edward’s mill from old Archives maps & books of history on Raleigh. Edward’s mill was located more or less where House creek empties into Crabtree Creek at Crabtee Mall. (Specifically the people at the Edwards Mill Grill say it was located at approximately where the McDonalds is on Blue Ridge Rd. near the intersection with Glenwood ave.) When Crabtree mall was built, Crabtree Creek was moved back a bit, closer to Kidd Brewer’s hill & further away from Glenwood Ave. It does a sort of 45 degree angle turn (at about the point of the meeting with Hourse Creek) to go out towards Glenwood & flows underneath it.

      If you go look at the online NC Archives maps, look for the Fendol Bevers 1871 map, that shows the mill. It is unclear whether the mill was on the far side of Crabtree creek, out closer to the right side Glenwood, if you were heading to Durham, in otherwords across the street from the mall. There is an old stone abuttment there near a wooden walkway as you come out from under the bridge on the Leadmine side. The old Bever’s map also shows a public mill on that side (probably for the country poor farm that existed in Parrish Grove, near Brooks School). The Edwards Mill restaurant & grill has a picture of the old mill, more images may be at down at Archives.

      According to Elizabeth Waugh’s book, “North Carolina’s Capital Raleigh” Edward’s mill & it’s neighbors, of Lassiter & Whitaker’s all pre-dated the founding of Raleigh and all were situated on Isaac Hunter land, about 2 miles apart. (Isaac Hunter of the famous tavern, which helped locate the capitol city within 10 miles of it, since it was a well known landmark & located on the Old Stage Rd. from Petersburg Va to Cross Creek (Fayetteville) NC.

      Edward’s mill was originally constructed in 1766, Lassiter’s in 1776 and Whitaker’s in 1777. Whitaker’s was built by Isaac Hunter and for a number of years operated as a paper mill run by Elihu Sater. During the Civil War it or a mill on/under today’s Anderson Drive was converted to a Confederate gun powder mill. (The first gun powder mill – near or on House Creek, had blown up in 1862.) =See Elizabeth Reid Murray’s book, FMI. Yankee soldiers destroyed the second powder mill in 1865 (& themselves in the process.) Ms Waugh’s book says that Edward’s mill was bought around 1866 by J.Thomas Edwards and his son, Demetrious M. Edwards from the estate of Scott Tucker, who had bought it from Hines Whitaker. The title at the time was searched back a hundred years, dating the dam to 1766.

      If you go to the Olivia Rainey history library there is a map of former grist mills of Wake county on the computer room wall & there is more information on them (a former program given at one time at the Joel Lane museum) & now viewable on a series of computer discs.

      Comment by Elizabeth Hunter Amos — April 8, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

      • House Creek Civil War powder mill

        The former site of the mill dam itself passes diagonally under the Raleigh Beltline. Some of it was still intact during the early 1970’s but since then storm water runoff as well as sewer line construction has all but destroyed most of what was left of it. The creekbed itself was also lined with rocks stacked along both sides its banks downstream from the former dam, but increased runoff water has destroyed most of this since then too.

        A link to a photo made last year:

        http://www.triangle.com/your_photos/?id=153922831

        Comment by Robert — April 20, 2013 @ 12:49 am

  12. Nice write up. I would contend, however, that the Fall Line is technically east of Lassiter Mill, where the eastern border of Wake County crosses the Neuse River.

    Comment by Bryan Wiggins — July 10, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

    • Bryan,
      Thanks for your comment and what a fine controversy! I agree with you totally in some respects: the line with Johnson County is the beginning of the true coastal plain, and the approximate line for the range of water moccasins, for example (which are actually fairly rare in Wake). The Fall Line is not an arbitrary border but a haphazard, or at least irregular transition from Piedmont to Coastal Plain. Falls of the Neuse clearly marks it in northern Wake; I contend that Lassiter Mill, more correctly the rock outcrop that supports it, marks the transition on Crabtree from Piedmont creek to sluggish tributary of the Neuse. Crabtree’s water does not encounter any further dramatic rock exposures before joining the Neuse at Anderson Point. Just before reaching the Neuse, Crabtree slides over flat rock (with inches of depth) at a spot visible from the bridge over the creek on Roger’s Lane. The Neuse itself flows over a category 1 rockfall (you can paddle UP it with moderate effort) just fifty yards below Anderson Point. But those exceptions don’t keep the two waterways from being essentially coastal plain in nature by that point.
      Thanks so much for reading and sharing!

      Comment by raleighnaturalist — July 13, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  13. Lassiter Mill Dam Park is a fantastic spot for an afternoon outdoors. If you are looking for bathrooms and picnic tables, etc. you’ll be disappointed. There are about 10 parking spots, one picnic table, and no facilities. Nevertheless, it’s worth a visit. It has a nice sand and gravel beach, plenty of shade, and easy access for most people. There is a real nice historical marker, and the remains of both the mill and the old bridge are clearly visible. I really enjoy it for the catch-and-release fishing. I have caught Largemouth Bass, Black Crappie, several types of sunfish, Bowfin, Catfish in the 5-15 pound range (others have reported much larger ones), Shad in the spring, and one Long-nose Gar. I have also used a seine net and found several different shiners, darters and unknown species. The variety of fish is incredible, and that is what makes it so enjoyable. I think the fish congregate there because the dam blocks them from going further upstream, and the falls continuously dig large, deep pools to support them. I see lots of people there using it for photography, too. It’s really a picturesque spot, and makes a great background for portraits too. So, if you want to get a line wet, walk the dog, take some photos, or sit in the shade and enjoy a book, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

    Comment by David — February 1, 2012 @ 2:42 am

  14. I grew up right above the mill in Country Club Hills, and remember my sisters awakening me when I was three to go watch the mill burn. The mill was three or four stories high and it was a massive fire. I remember Miss Mary Lassiter in tears. At that time, the land where Aldert Root school is was a rickyard, where Otha Lassiter dried lumber. My father would take his bird dogs across the street to the rickyard and work two coveys of quail that resided there. As I grew up, the dam, bridge, lumberyard and millpond were my playground. Miss Mary would let me tie bags of corn meal they were bagging for market, in the building back of the little store. Mr Otha would give me and my friends wood scraps to make our wooden boats and carts from. I remember some old gentleman had a large (35′) wooden boat that was under construction for years in a shed on the lumberyard….I wonder what happened to that boat….maybe it set sail for the sea in one of the epic floods of the early 70’s….

    Comment by Chip Cohoon — January 25, 2013 @ 2:49 am

  15. Around 1969 I played guitar in a band called Sounds of Time and we had a very good band photo shot aken from the burned out remains of the mill and in the background you can see part of the bridge and existing store at the time. I lived in Wilmington and when playing in the Raleigh area I stayed with a band mate at his parents house in the North Hills area. It was a great place for taking girlfriends for some cuddling and when I went back years later it was pretty much changed and no bridge or store or cuddling areas! I would love to post the band photo if I could attach the pic. I always thought it was a special place and very rural in the middle of a growing section of Raleigh.

    Comment by Walter Bowden — February 28, 2014 @ 2:31 am


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