Bob Maeir and the Last Water-Driven Grist Mill in North Carolina
In 1847, the Dellinger family built a grist mill on their farm in the North Carolina mountains. Jack Dellinger is the fourth miller to operate it. But Jack didn’t take over the family enterprise directly. He left the farm in 1950 at age 17 to see the world. He did that—and more.
He was an Air Force mechanic on several bases, was deployed in Korea and Alaska, earned an aeronautical engineering degree, and wrote software for the first Apollo moon missions, working closely with Werner von Braun and Neil Armstrong. As a computer pioneer at IBM, he helped develop our e-mail system, and the first-ever hard drive.
Jack was away from the farm for 44 years before returning to undertake a nine-year project to restore the mill. He is now 86 years old and, and the Dellinger grist mill is the last water-powered grist mill in North Carolina.
Davidson filmmaker Bob Maier is captivated by the story of the mill and miller, and wants to exercise his art to share his appreciation with others.
Maier enrolled in college with an interest in an English degree, then graduated with a love of film and television. He worked at the University of Maryland as an audio-visual technician and, by chance, met noted filmmaker, John Waters. They worked with each other on five movies, including “Hairspray,” which became a Broadway hit, a Hollywood film starring John Travolta, and a popular high school and community theatre musical selection.
Bob, his spouse Katherine, and sons Evan and Philip, moved to Davidson 28 years ago to be close to her parents, Hugh and Betty Casey, who had moved here from Charlotte in about 1985. Living in a small town around the corner from grandparents who could help raise their children was an ideal arrangement.
Bob’s career has been spent primarily as a free-lancer, helping produce several Public Broadcasting System documentaries, working at WTVI in Charlotte, and teaching at Gaston College.
On the side, he always kept a lookout for interesting subjects he could produce on his own. One concerned a Trappist monastery in Charleston, and another focused on the hundreds of Christmas nativity scenes that the monastery had accumulated. He also spent six weeks in 2004 working as the general manager of a television station in Kabul, Afghanistan.
His most recent idea, concerning 86-year old Jack Dellinger and his grist mill, came about totally by happenstance. He and Katherine are avid mountain hikers. They had stopped at a country restaurant, when Dellinger came in to deliver several bags of cornmeal. The Maiers inquired about his identity, and found out that the Dellinger mill was just up the road. They met Jack Dellinger and toured the mill the next day. Dellinger told them the story of his distinguished career, and about how he had inherited the 40-acre family farm and the mill. The mill was in poor shape after being abandoned 44 years, but Dellinger was determined to restore it, as a retirement project. It took him seven years and all his savings to do so.
“What an unexpectedly strange and endearing place are the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains!” Maier observed.
Dellinger Mill is now on the National Register of Historic Places, but it’s largely obscure and by-passed. Maier has been working for the past year or so to help it regain some visibility through production of the film.
He is hoping to market the story to a North Carolina PBS station or even a national show like “American Experience.”
The Maier home on Walnut Street in Davidson now has a “for sale” sign in the front yard. The couple is building a home in a deliberately eco-centric mountain community named “High Cove” near Burnsville. It is just 15 minutes from Dellinger Mill, a fact that fuels Bob’s determination. “The mill and miller are an amazing story, and I’m going to keep working on it until it’s done,” he said.
You can follow his progress, on his blog.
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.