Profile of a Young Volunteer - Simon McKay Learns While Helping

Simon McKay, currently a student at Virginia Tech has been volunteering at the Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood for since 2006, performing a variety of tasks and learning about milling practices from the veteran millers.  Simon is no stranger to history-related endeavors.  In 2006, he created a brochure highlighting ten Civil War battle monuments in Clarke County, providing a driving tour and descriptions of the sites.  He received an achievement award from the Clarke County Historic Preservation Commission for his work.

Through watching the mill gear mechanics at work, bagging flour, dressing the stones, and doing odd jobs around the mill, Simon said he has learned how much work and skill it took to perform the once vital practice of turning wheat and corn into the highly marketable commodity of flour and meal.  He cited transportation and health issues as two of the biggest challenges likely facing 18th- and 19th-century millers.  "They couldn't hop in their trucks to get places and medical care was not nearly as available or developed as it is today," he said.

Simon said he feels like a part of history by spending his Saturdays at the mill and gets the satisfaction of carrying on a tradition, one that was central to the economic, cultural, and social development of this area.  In 2010, Simon wrote the following reflection about his time volunteering at the mill. 


Mill Musings

Every Saturday during the summer and into the fall, I go back in time. I don’t use any advanced technology or magic to return to an era before electricity and automobiles. My portal to the past is a building, the Burwell-Morgan Mill. Whenever I enter the door, the polished floor and damp smell remind me of the endless hours spent bagging flour and cleaning millstones. The Burwell-Morgan Mill is a working, water powered grist mill, built in 1782 by Nathaniel Burwell and Daniel Morgan, of Revolutionary War renown. The mill was originally constructed as a merchant mill, where wheat was ground into flour for shipment to Europe and the West Indies. After more than 220 years of almost continual operation, the mill stands today as a bustling tourist destination, producing meal and flour for curious locals and out-of-towners alike.

For four years I have spent most of my Saturdays, from May to November, continuing the tradition started by my grandfather of volunteering at the mill. My duties there entail filling the hoppers with the unground wheat or corn, bagging the flour and meal, selling the product, cleaning up after the grind, and various other maintenance tasks. I am the youngest volunteer by far; the other staff is much older, many in their sixties and seventies.

When the flow of visitors slows, the range of topics that the docents discuss is unlimited. Often the older volunteers speak of their military service in the Air Force or Navy, but we also discuss local happenings, other people, and various personal experiences. All of us have memorized the Docent Guide which contains all of the necessary information to give tours. However, you can sometimes almost hear the Mill whispering its own history to you, in the way the machinery sounds at full power, the creaking of the beams, and in the lingering breath of uncountable crowds of past visitors and employees.

-  Simon McKay, October 2010