The Old Mill Office, 2011
It’s inevitable that the older you get the more you’re going to notice that things around you have changed. The house you grew up in will turn out to be much smaller than you remember. It wasn’t until I was almost finished with college that there was an Interstate-grade highway between my home on the Virginia coast and the state capital, roughly 100 miles away.
People complained. But it wasn’t all that bad. The legal speed limit was never higher than 55 mph. But when you have only a hundred miles to go what’s an extra five or ten minutes? Besides, you got to drive on the old four-lane divided highway through small towns and woods.
I rode that old road back and forth to college many times over the years. I loved that it went through all sorts of little towns and crossroads. One of my college friends was from one of those little towns. His family owned a thriving lumber and building supply business. His father and grandfather were big in that town. Their name was on a lot of its businesses.
Keep in mind, I started college just over forty years ago. Things change in forty years. But on those occasions in subsequent years when I would drive through this small town I always looked over and noticed David’s family’s lumber operation. It wasn’t hard to see because the town itself was barely a half-mile across and the mill took up more space than any other business in town.
Eventually, the last links of the I-64 connecting the coast with Richmond were finished, bypassing the town. The little roadside diner, where white customer entered through the front door and blacks and local Chickahominy Indians were served from the back door, closed. A self-service gas plaza replaced the old filling station.
I hadn’t driven through this little town in years. But yesterday I had some time to kill before my client meeting in Richmond, so I took the old Blue Highway instead of the Interstate.
When I drove through David’s little town, I was shocked to find that the family lumber mill was closed. In fact, it’s been closed so long that trees are growing where trucks once lined up to drop off logs for milling.
As I say, this kind of thing shouldn’t shock me. It’s been more than thirty-five years, after all. But it was still enough of a jolt to the system that I pulled over and walked around the property for a few minutes. The building shown above, the original mill office, had already been replaced by a more modern structure when I first saw it in 1969. But for some time thereafter the original mill office continued to be maintained and used for other purposes.
Now, it looks like it could fall down the next time a strong wind blows. The white paint’s literally peeled off the clapboard siding. The windows are broken. Old mill equipment is rusting in its three rooms amid piles of litter, broken liquor bottles and animal debris.
I swear, you go away for thirty-five years and everything goes to pot! What’s this world coming to?