Saturday, November 20, 2010

Run Of the Mill

Magnet # 398:  Mabry Mill in Snow Photo


Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell


Purchased By:  Me

Although not many know Edwin Boston Mabry by name, there are plenty of travelers who are familiar with the landmark he left behind - the Blue Ridge Parkway's Mabry Mill.  He was born on this day in 1867 in Patrick County, Virginia and grew up to be a strapping, hardworking individual who stood nearly six feet tall.  After his first marriage ended in divorce, he met the woman who would truly prove to be his match - Lizzie DeHart, a powerful, big-boned woman 5'10 tall who weighed between 200 and 300 pounds.  And when these features were combined with her dark complexion and handsome face, they made her into a very impressive woman.  The pair wed in 1891 and after that Uncle Ed, as he was known, spent some time working at coal mines in West Virginia until they had enough to buy the home of a family that was moving West.  There, Uncle Ed built a blacksmith shop, a woodworking shop, and turned them into the gristmill and sawmill they would become known for.  With the help of a friend, he constructed and mounted the wheel, even though the site was not a great choice for a mill.  Undiscouraged, he dammed the creek to create a pond and waited for periods of heavy rains to help him make use of his wheel.  He even bought nearby land to increase his water power.  The meal he ground there soon earned Mabry the reputation of the best grinder in the county.  His tricks were to keep his rocks sharp, the process slow, and check his product every so often to make certain it maintained his high standard.  He worked tirelessly, grinding corn, creating and repairing wagons and machines, sawing wood, shoeing horses, and performing all sorts of services for the community, most often taking his payment by keeping part of the goods he worked on.  He was a determined man and was always building onto his shop, improving it.  In the meanwhile, his wife, whom he called "Boss," had the run of the old log cabin they had purchased.  She was a hearty country woman unafraid to get her hands dirty.  In the kitchen, Lizzie undertook all manner of tasks - churning butter, canning sausage, drying berries, and beans, baking biscuits and cornbread, and cooking up pots of apple butter.  She kept a garden outside and also raised livestock, along with a pack of as many as 18 cats that she loved.  The couple never had any children.  But she didn't leave Uncle Ed alone in his shop - in fact, she became so talented at grinding corn that some said she was better than her husband.  And if he was too busy to care for other jobs, like mowing, Lizzie would do it herself, or assist him at his work.  In the mid 1910's, Uncle Ed built a new two-story, tin roofed home with a long porch in the back, doing nearly all of the work himself.  But by the 1930's, some sort of illness or stroke turned the proud man into a cripple.  Both he and Lizzie continued on the best they could, but their home eventually fell into disrepair.  And when her beloved husband passed away in 1936, Lizzie was never the same.  At last, she moved in with family until her death in 1940.  By then, the government had bought part of their land to incorporate into the Blue Ridge Parkway and Lizzie was very pleased to learn that the Park Service was going to restore the mill and make it one of the scenic stops along the drive.  Fortunately, she never learned that, against advice, they also tore down the home her husband had so lovingly created and replaced it with a log cabin that, to them, added a rustic touch.  This act infuriated some locals, who were also upset that the Lizzie was rarely mentioned at Mabry Mill after it became a tourist attraction.  The couple is buried a couple of miles away from their former home at the DeHart-Mabry-Richardson Cemetery in Virginia's Floyd County.

As many as three million people a year now visit the scenic mill the Mabrys left behind, but I'm not sure if many even know the story of the hardworking couple behind it.  I've certainly appreciated learning about them.  Perhaps someday I'll venture up there to have a look for myself and find out just how much is said about the Mabrys and, of course, take in the scenic views.  Located at milepost 176.2 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's one of the landmark's most photographed sites, and is lovely no matter what the season.  It's also home to a restaurant and a gift shop.  Even though Edwin and Lizzie Mabry didn't leave behind any direct descendants, it's nice to see that some of the home they worked so hard to create still stands and keeps a part of them alive to visitors from all over the world, even those who've never heard their names.

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