St. John Mill

  • St. John Mill3191 Watauga Rd.
    Watauga, TennesseeThe St. John Milling Company has a history of over 200 years continuous operation in the Watauga area of Washington County, Tennessee. Today, the St. John Farm includes Tennessee’s oldest business, St. John Milling Company, and the stone manor, an old Tennessee home.Jeremiah Dungan, the original owner of the mill purchased a deed for the mill, stone manor, and 400 acres of land from the Watauga Association in 1778. A master stone mason by trade, Dungan built the original foundation of the mill from hand-chiseled stone and hand-hewn timber. The stone manor and stone mill foundations are still standing 200 years later.

    The original mill was powered by a 16 ft. high, wooden overshot, water wheel. This wheel was connected by dogwood trunnel-head gearing to two 54-inch diameter stone buhrs, one for grinding corn and one for grinding wheat. Beef and mutton tallow were produced on the farm to lubricate the gears and bearings.

    The mill passed on to the Dungan heirs until 1866, when George W. St. John, great nephew of Jeremiah Dungan, purchased the mill and farm. The Watauga valley was very prosperous, having been spared damage from the Civil War. Milling continued to flourish as it had for the past century and the area became known as “The Bread Basket of the Southeast.” Railroad and water transport were an asset to the mill and goods that were shipped all over the region. In busy seasons, wagons lined up overnight to grind their grain.

    In 1904 James St. John inherited the mill and farm from his father. For many years, James operated the mill supplying the large stores in the area with flour and grain and doing custom milling on an individual basis. His son George St. John, an electrical engineer by profession, purchased the mill and improved the operation by converting the power source from water to electricity and modernizing the equipment.

    Today the mill is owned by George St. John’s daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Ron Dawson, who are continuing the family business. The emphasis of the mill operation has changed from a general feed and milling business to a feed and seed store. The mill now specializes in all aspects of farm needs, from feed grains to pet food and veterinary supplies.

    Source: Dungan-St. John Mill Tennessee Bicentennial Celebration brochure, 1996.