Bush Mill renovation project nears completion

Holly Viers • Sep 29, 2018 at 8:30 AM

NICKELSVILLE — A 10-year restoration project at Bush Mill is finally in the homestretch.

The mill, one of Scott County’s most popular tourist attractions, has undergone several structural and cosmetic renovations over the last decade, which volunteers believe will help the site thrive for years to come.

The final renovation project — repairs to the dam — is expected to be complete next week, just in time for the annual Bush Mill Days festival.

About Bush Mill

Nestled on 10 acres in Nickelsville, Bush Mill has been a Scott County landmark for generations. The current structure was built in 1896 and operated commercially as a grist mill until the 1950s.

Today, the mill is in operation only on select days of the year, including the Bush Mill Days festival. Listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, the mill is home to one of the few remaining overshot waterwheels in the region.

Master plan guided project

Over the last several years, volunteers identified a number of repairs that were needed in and around the mill, the most serious being its foundation, which was beginning to cave in from water runoff. A master plan was created for the renovation, with a goal not only to restore the mill, but also to establish it as a tourism destination to stimulate the Nickelsville economy.

Because so many needs were present, the Southwest Virginia Community Foundation was able to secure more than $500,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and the Virginia Department of Transportation to make the repairs.

Most of the major repairs, including the foundation, were made in the first phase, followed by landscaping and smaller repairs in the second phase. Many volunteers, including members of the Nickelsville Ruritan Club, have spearheaded the restoration project.

“Had that not been done, (the mill) would be gone probably by now,” said Carol Dixon, president of the Southwest Virginia Community Foundation, about the foundation repair. “So in the last 10 years, we’ve basically saved it for another at least 50.”

What else has been done?

In addition to the foundation, several other major repairs have been made to the mill itself, including an upgraded electrical system, an underground drainage system, new support piers, a new upper porch, some new interior flooring, a new roof and realigned power shafts and gearing.

Other repairs and improvements include a reinforced front porch, new skirting around the bottom of the mill, new windows, new informational signage and new landscaping and walkways.

Repairs to the dam and millrace, which channels the current that turns the waterwheel — are still in progress and should be completed by the end of next week, weather permitting.

What’s next?

Though this particular renovation project is nearing its end, more plans are in the works, including buttressing the gear works underneath the mill, planting native wildflowers outside the structure, creating a walking trail from the mill to the dam and increasing visitation from school groups.

“That is the future, and that’s the reason (more) funding is going to be so required, because it’s not just a tourism site,” Dixon said. “It’s an educational site.”

Check the Times News next week for a story about the Bush Mill Days festival.

Kingsport Times News Videos