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The Old Mill: a piece of history shared with our North Carolina neighbors

Old Mill Cabin, now located in Banner Elk, North Carolina, once called Jonesborough home.

(Editor’s Note: The following article is used with permission from Carolina Mountain Life and copyrighted in 2018. The story about the log structure originally built near Jonesborough appeared in the Spring 2018 Edition of CML. The magazine is published four times a year and is available by subscription at a yearly rate of $35. The address of the magazine is Carolina Mountain Life, P. O. Box 976, Linville, NC 28646; by email —[email protected]; on the web – or by telephone at 828-737-0771.)


Special to the H&T

These days, we tend to forget how thin the line is between North Carolina and Tennessee, especially here in the Appalachian Mountains. Our Common Core textbooks have compartmentalized and homogenized too many details of our collective past which occurred on both sides of that arbitrary border, integrally intertwined and effortlessly crossing back and forth along this historic corridor.

Understanding that the “big picture” of Appalachian culture does not fit well within the confines of any single-state or municipality makes the opportunity to touch the collective history of our mountains within the walls of an existing structure a rare and inviting treat.

I recently discovered one such unique bit of the history-not just of North Carolina, nor just of Tennessee, but of Appalachia, and it is located right in our backyard on Beech Mountain in North Carolina.

Old Mill Cabin 2018 Inside Cabin.

Currently known as “The Old Log Mill,” the original log structure of this dwelling was constructed near Jonesborough (Tennessee’s oldest town) in 1797 by the Rubbles family. Jonesborough, the county seat of Washington County, was established in 1777, and at that time was still part of North Carolina. Its origins are rooted in the Watauga settlements, established in the early1770s in the vicinity of what is now Elizabethton.

In 1799, a daughter of the Rubbles married a Dr. Hill and for generations, their descendants lived in this log home. When this house was constructed, it was the largest structure in the valley, consisting of four floors of 750 square feet each.

Following North Carolina’s cession of western lands in June 1784, settlers west of the Appalachians found themselves without government. They remedied the situation by organizing the State of Franklin at Jonesborough. In August 1784, John Sevier became the governor of this “Lost State,” which continued until 1788. The constitutional convention and the first legislative sessions of the “State of Franklin” were held in Jonesborough until 1785.   

From the beginning, Jonesborough was a planned community. No ramshackle cabins were permitted; the owner of each lot had to build “one brick, stone, or well-framed house, 20 feet long and 16 feet wide, at least 10 feet in the pitch, with a brick or stone chimney.” Failure to comply with this provision brought forfeiture of the land title. In May 1788, commissioners reported in favor of Jonesborough as the best and most convenient location for the Washington County courthouse, prison and stocks. It is known that at one time, magistrate business including court hearings were conducted in this, the home that eventually was to become “The Old Log Mill.”

In the early 1900s, ownership of “The Old Log Mill” was conveyed to the Hicks family, and new additions were added to make a total of 11 rooms. The Hicks occupied the home for 45 years.

At the time, heat for the structure came from a 12-foot-wide fireplace that burned logs so large they had to be dragged in by oxen. According to historical accounts, Indians were fired upon from gun ports that were built into the dwelling, one of which is preserved on the second floor of the structure in its current location.

In 1980, Dr. Ed Calvin (one of the original developers of the northridge of Beech Mountain) purchased the building and had the structure dismantled, match-marked and shipped by truck from Jonesborough to Beech Mountain. Dr. Calvin was a survivalist, and he reconstructed the structure like a bunker in its new location.

The basement now contains walls and ceilings of concrete and steel that are three feet thick. The dwelling was fed at the time by an artesian well, which required no source of electricity (and which still exists on the site). During Calvin’s painstaking restoration of the log home between 1982 and1987, other modifications were made to the dwelling, including resizing the fireplace and enlarging the windows.

New wood elements were incorporated into the reconstruction and included a fireplace mantel, a bar, walls and flooring, some of which were sourced from trees felled on the Beech Mountain construction site. Waterfalls emanating from Buckeye Creek feed three ponds that were created on the property and stocked with rainbow trout. Calvin demonstrated a remarkable and unique vision in his creation of this tranquil and serene mountain compound. Among the most interesting modifications to the structure, he added a fully functional steel waterwheel by the Fitz Waterwheel Company that he acquired at a cost of $8,000 from a grist mill in Mountain City. His intention was to grind flour on premise but he never fulfilled that dream.

Dr. Calvin’s wife, Jan Calvin, was one of the Beech Mountain Club’s most beloved recreation directors. She especially enjoyed entertaining at the old mill and hosted programs that she developed for all ages and interests, including pig roasts, wine tastings, craft classes, wildflower walks and ladies’ luncheons.

In 1999, ownership of this historic structure transitioned once again, this time to the Biondo family. Upon acquisition of the home, the Biondos completely gutted the basement bunker and converted it into an office and playroom.

Ten years later, they added a 2,700 square- foot addition, being careful to keep the integrity of “The Old Log Mill.” Today the home is over 5,000 square feet, with five bedrooms and four and one-half baths.

The 700 square-foot covered rear deck is built adjacent to Buckeye Creek and faces a 10-foot streaming waterfall.   

“The Old Log Mill” property, located mere minutes from the heart of Beech Mountain Town Center, feels completely off the grid with sweeping long-range views. The simple notion that history was most likely created by legendary figures such as Sevier and Tipton within the walls of this structure merits a look inside. It isn’t every day one encounters this caliber of rustic mountain luxury steeped in so much of the culture and history of Appalachia.

“The Old Log Mill” is located at 130 Spruce Hollow Road on Beech Mountain and is currently available for viewing by contacting Premier Sotheby’s International Realty in Banner Elk, North Carolina.