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.

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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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