Milepost 173: Mabry Mill

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The Mabry Mill was our favorite stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was mine because it is a photographer’s dream on a beautiful fall day.

We could drive a little over 100 miles in a day and this was our second day. The Parkway changed after we left the George Washington National Forest. Now private land edged the road in many places and we could leave the Parkway to travel along a road that paralleled it. I was thinking about the joys and challenges of living in the mountains and taking time to wonder about the early settlers in this region.

Ed Mabry had worked in a coal mine of West Virginia and saved his money. Somewhere around 1910, he and his wife Lizzie moved here, the Meadows of Dan in Virginia, to built this mill. There are lots of small streams running through this area and it was interesting to see how the Mabrys diverted this water to turn the wheel that powered his mill.

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parkway200 154-2They must have been industrious because they used this hydro power to run a grist mill, saw mill and a wheelwright’s shop. He had another building for his work as a blacksmith. One of the books I read said that he was remembered as someone who could fix anything that people could break.

After more than 15 years of steady work and good living for the couple, Ed hurt his back and the area went through a few years of low rainfall that made it difficult to run the mill. The mill fell into disrepair and Ed died in 1936. Timing was on our side, because this was the same period of time that the right-of-way was being secured for the Parkway and the mill was acquired and slated for preservation.

I’m glad that this homestead was preserved because it tells a story we need to hear. We want to believe that we have the power to make the good-life-as-we-know-it go on forever. We want to believe that bad things shouldn’t happen to good, hard-working people. We want to believe that we deserve better than injury and bad weather conditions. Even though we believe this, it is not the way life happens. It seems we want to blame others and make sure the powers-that-be fix life when it goes bad. Is this a result of privilege? Has the pendulum of entitlement swung too far? I wonder if Ed was bitter because of what happened, or was he grateful for the good life he had those years he and his wife run their mill.

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11 Comments »

  1. I think we all have this innate notion that life should be fair, and we’ve even built a justice system around the idea. However, we all know that life isn’t, in fact, fair. And I think that when things doing work out in a way that we feel like we deserve, it’s easy to become bitter. I don’t know about this guy, but I’d certainly have been upset. I’d try really hard not to feel like I was owed anything, but man sometimes life can be so brutal.

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    • It would be interesting to talk to people from that period. It was before any government assistance so neighbors had to help out – and nothing was really owed to him except what he earned. I may have been a really different frame of mind. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Heather.

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    • Thanks, I have wondered, too. The human characteristic of resilience has been of interest to me. I was going to write a post on it, maybe it will happen when I go north for the holidays.

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  2. I like this thoughtful post and the photos you use to illustrate it (my favorite is the water sluice). I think bad things can and do happen to good people. It’s just called Life.

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  3. Just looking at the photos turns the imagination back in time. Thanks for telling about diverting the water. It’s not something I’d have picked up on otherwise. We humans are often so good at creative problem-solving.

    I often think about how helpless we would be today if we couldn’t rely on technology and our one or two specialties. I think there was a time when folks were more generalist than specialist and could turn their hands and minds to anything and here you’ve given us an example of just that.

    I don’t know we it’s all about entitlement these days. I thinki it’s a complicated mix – entitlement, greed, lazziness, naivete, sensibilities born from advertising and scewed world-views based on literalist religious indoctrination. Just my opionion … an old lady sitting at home thinking …can be dangerous, eh? 🙂

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    • I really have a hard time thinking of you as old, Jamie. Maybe because I know you through the spirit of your poetry and gentle nature of our communication. But I do believe that the world needs us and our reflections on life. We have the perspective and wisdom of having seen a lot. And as our bodies continue to fail us because of aging and chronic illness, it is what we do best. Let’s treasure it and use it to make a difference.
      I agree with your statement about the complexity of our economic values – unfortunately the complexity of these reflections aren’t compatible with the need for brevity when posting. I have so many ideas for essays – but they do take a lot of work to make sure logic is tight and ideas build.

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