Youthful imaginations cross paths with history

Published 5:18 pm Monday, May 24, 2021

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My twin sister Lena, my husband Milt and I enjoy reminiscing about our childhood growing up in Washington.  We had so much fun and much of that fun revolved around making our own adventures. Every neighborhood we played in had its own unique things to do. The local recreation centers, the school playgrounds, people’s yards with all kinds of fruit trees and the numerous ditches around town that were fun to jump across, especially on a dare that you could make it without falling in. Then there was the waterfront, which held special appeal.

The waterfront with the old dilapidated structures was our favorite place to go.  It was also off limits to us as our parents warned us about going there. But the intrigue of the old buildings and the stories we’d make up about them really made them fascinating.

Our favorite building was the Jonathan Havens Grist and Flour Mill that was located behind the Louise Hotel at Water Street and Union Alley.  Built around 1909, by the time we were old enough to sneak down to the river to throw rocks at its remaining windows, it had already been there for more than a half century.  The six-story building, though dilapidated, still looked majestic to me even in its last days. The now crumbling brick building was the largest grist mill in the North Carolina, and was the tallest building in Washington.

Mr. Moses a neighbor who once worked there and was well into his eighties when we were children, said every floor had machines on them that would grind corn into meal and hominy and wheat into flour. The mill itself had seven grist mills. The building also had elevators.

He said there was an old grist mill Mr. Havens owned on that same location that burned down so he built the new one. Mr. Moses said the old mill could produce about 500 bushels of corn meal a day but the new mill could do twice as much.  Historical information about the mill confirms what he said as true.

Lena and I had no idea of what a huge impact this mill had on the economy of Washington or how it was said to be the pride of manufacturing in all of eastern NC.

We just knew it was fun to believe that a beautiful Princess was trapped in the old building by a mean witch. We made up stories for each other and thought that if we threw rocks through the already shattered windows, we’d scare off the witch and the Princess would escape.

Many early Saturday mornings when we were supposed to be playing in the back yard, we’d run down to the river from our Fourth Street neighborhood with plans to help the Princess escape.

As summer waned that year and school started, we forgot all about trying to save the Princess and youthful stories gave way to helping each other learn long division, write book reports and learning to diagram sentences.

Without our even noticing it, the old mill was torn down during the City’s Urban Renewal Program in the 1960’s.