State looks at restoring historic mill at Rock Island State Park

Pictured: State and local project supporters in front of the mill at Rock Island.

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, along with other state and local agencies, is exploring efforts to save and potentially restore the Great Falls Cotton Mill at Rock Island State Park in Warren County.

The mill, built on the banks of the Caney Fork River in 1892, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The mill was in operation until 1902, when its wheelhouse was destroyed by a flood. It was added to the National Register in 1982. The mill was known for heavy sheeting.

The project is still in a conceptual phase, but state officials believe improvements could boost visitation to the park and enhance economic activity in Warren County. The mill has suffered deterioration over recent decades, although park staff acquired a grant from the Tennessee Historical Commission for roof repairs at the mill several years ago.

“We are excited to pursue restoration of this important piece of Warren County history,” said TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill. “Part of Tennessee State Parks’ mission is to preserve and protect the cultural significance of Tennessee’s special places and allow visitors to explore our parks on their own and with interpretation from our specially trained rangers.”

The mill sits on property owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and TVA is one of several stakeholders whose officials have discussed efforts to restore the mill. It would be a second recent collaboration between the state and TVA after a management agreement in 2017 involved TVA water releases and a recreation easement for whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River.

“TVA manages approximately 293,000 acres of public lands as part of our mission of service, and the State of Tennessee has always been a key partner in helping us achieve that mission,” said David Bowling, vice president of Land, River Management and Environmental Compliance. “We are proud to work with the state and other partners to explore the Great Falls Mill project and its potential contributions to recreation, economic growth, cultural preservation, and the overall enhancement of quality of life in the region.”

Other partners looking at the potential of the project are the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Tennessee Historical Commission, the McMinnville-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Development Board of McMinnville-Warren County, and other local officials.

“We are pleased to be a part of this effort to restore the Great Falls Cotton Mill,” said Patrick McIntyre, state historic preservation officer and executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission. “This would ensure the revitalization of the structure and is part of our mission to preserve historically significant properties that are part of the rich history of Tennessee.”

The work could require a rerouting of a section of Highway 287 around the mill, creating a safer roadway for motorists as well as additional green space to explore the historic attraction.

“Providing safe and efficient access for park visitors is a priority for TDOT and we would be happy to partner with Tennessee State Parks to enhance this historic feature at Rock Island State Park,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer.

“During peak season, we have a lot of visitors who park in this area and our goal is to provide a safe experience that gives park-goers access to the historical and natural sites they’ve come to see,” said Park Manager Damon Graham.

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