It's a fairly common dilemma: What to do with the now silent factories,
iron works, mills and other reminders of the industrial revolution that
have long since outlived their original purpose. In this era of restoring
these giant landmarks as restaurants, studio apartments, and even convention
centers, the Virginia Outdoor Foundation is taking a more traditional
approach with the old Aldie Mill. They intend to return it, as much as
possible, to the way it was, by making the mill a place to learn and appreciate
the simplicity of the technology of days gone by. With help from private
donations and Federal HWY Enhancement (ISTEA) funds, in the near future
the Aldie Mill will be an operating water-powered gristmill.
Visitors are welcomed to pay tribute to this awesome reminder of how
far man has come in such a short time. With no buttons to push, no flashing
lights and no screens to monitor, the mill's two smaller milestones, only
48 inches in diameter, would produce about 2 tons wheat meal a day (8
to 12 bushels every hour). Something the children of today would not understand.
Outside the mill is evidence that restoration is in progress. In addition
to the sign declaring the work that is being done, the frothy green slime
lining the stagnant water in the raceway (a canal for a current of water)
is in sharp contrast to the newly painted double wheels. It is a silent
reminder of the passage of time. It lends itself to a sense of anticipation
towards the day when the water will once again move the two giant water
wheels and breathe life and power into historic Aldie Mill. As my partner
and I walk around the building taking photos and making notes, the upper
half of large wooden split front door opens, and a friendly face peers
out and asks if we would like a tour. She then smilingly directs us to
the side entrance and just as quickly as she appeared, she was gone. Somehow
I was reminded of Dorothy asking for the Wizard at the gates of Oz. We
were intrigued so we decided to investigate further.
Upon entering the mill, we were greeted by our Tour Guide for the day.
He was a laid back Aldie native sporting an NRA cap. He begins our tour
by telling us the mill was built 1807-1809 by Charles Fenton Mercer, who
was reported to have been a friend of George Washington. The mill continued
to operate until 1981 when Mr. and Mrs. James Douglass donated the mill
to the VA Outdoors Foundation. Our guide waxes nostalgic as he remembers
when he, as a small boy, used to cart wheelbarrows full of corncobs from
the mill's basement to sell as fuel for fire to people in the community.
His casual mannerisms and gentle local humor have his audience captivated.
I learned more than I ever cared to about the lifecycle of the weevil
and the modern health codes had made the continued operation of the mill
impossible. Apparently noticing the look of disgust on many of the visitor's
faces, our host gently reminds us that he's "eaten many a cornbread made
from meal from this mill and he has lived to tell about it."
The interior of the mill is surprisingly cool. The building itself,
supported by huge solid beams has an indestructible feel. You could easily
imagine the floors vibrating with the hum of the mill wheels as the grain
was rapidly being processed. The place smells like dust and aging wood.
You can detect the faint aroma of a long extinguished fire from the fireplace
located in the basement. Descriptive signs hang from every noteworthy
item in the mill for visitors to obtain additional information not provided
by their tour guide.
An old desk located in the office upstairs allows you to envision a
ghost from a bygone day carefully logging entries with a quill pen in
its ledger. (Here our guide interjects that in one of the remaining ledgers
from the mill is reportedly an entry stating that the mill owes James
Monroe $5). As for real ghosts, Aldie Mill reportedly has none. Other
than one tragic incident in which a man was crushed by a giant mill wheel,
the mill enjoyed a relatively safe history. The only "almost" ghost story
appears to be a rumor that Yankee soldiers once hid in the mill and were
covered with flour giving them the appearance of ghosts.
For those searching for connections to simpler days, those interested
in historical locations, architecture, mechanics of a mill, or those just
appreciating a nice building with great acoustics in a calm surrounding,
the Aldie Mill is a natural stopping point.
39401 John Mosby Highway, Aldie, VA 20105
Phone: 703-327-9777 Fax: 703-327-0082
Directions - Route 50, west of the intersection of Rt 50 and Rt 15
Open starting the weekend of April 28th through October 2001. Open every
Saturday 12-5pm and Sunday 1-5pm and by appointment during the week. The
official entrance to the Aldie Mill is through the Granary building. The
charge is $4.00 for a 45 minute guided tour. $2.00 for children under
12 and $2.00 for senior citizens. Call for grinding schedule and rental
Other Points of Interest - Aldie Stone Bridge - (Directly on Route 50)
historically revered but cursed by modern drivers as being too narrow.
This bridge was recently damaged and is in the process of being rebuilt,
potentially causing additional delays and a road hazard along the way.
Aldie shopping - A flea market is within walking distance and is held
on Sundays from 11 - 5 during the flea market season. Here you can also
find antiques, household goods, clothes, toys, and the inevitable Beanie
Babies. There are also several antique stores, a pastry shop and even
a bed and breakfast called the Little River Inn conveniently nearby.
Bar-B-Que - Some of the best bar-b-que we have come across in the area
can be found at the Aldie Country Store (within walking distance of the
mill). It is definitely worth bypassing your typical fast food joint to
grab a bite here. However, seating is limited to a small bench on the
front porch outside the store or an available step. Ambiance aside, it's
worth the inconvenience.
Middleburg - Approximately 3 miles west on Route 50 is a small community
known for its trendy stores lining its main street. If you are into more
upscale dining, shopping or even a classy bed and breakfast, you definitely
want to check it out. We have found that even though the area is fairly
yuppie, and known as the elite area of horse country, most of the natives
are pretty friendly to bikers. We would like to especially recommend a
brew on the porch of the Magpie Café.
Aldie Dam - Located ¾ mile west on the Little River. You can almost
hear the children of yesteryear splashing in the water.