Giles Mill: Mecca of the Frying Pan

By Herman E. Melton

Giles Mill

Giles Mill on Frying Pan Creek, ca. 1921, image courtesy Nancy Phillipson. The impressive ruins, which include a rock dam, an old water wheel and a nether millstone may be viewed at a point off County Route 605 near Toshes.

Some Confederate soldiers had not yet completed the long trek home from Appomattox when James Graves petitioned the Pittsylvania County Court for permission to erect a grist mill on Frying Pan Creek near the Village of Toshes in August of 1865. In so doing, Graves built the first grist mill in Pittsylvania County after the Civil War.

Ruins of the mill remain in a classically beautiful spot near the confluence of Pigg River and Frying Pan Creek. The land on which Graves erected his mill had many prominent owners including the Ward and Graves families.

One early owner was the wealthy Scottish patriot, David Ross, who built a grist mill earlier a half mile downstream at the mouth of the creek in 1769.

Its ruins are also extinct. Ross was an enterprising businessman, and Governor Thomas Jefferson appointed him Commercial Agent during the Revolution because of his ability to procure supplies for the beseiged Continental Army.

Ross further distinguished himself by becoming one of the county's most generous donors for the cause. He became overextended during the War of 1912 and his estate was sold to pay his debts upon his death in 1817. The land was purchased by the Wards who also operated a mill on the site of the one constructed earlier by David Ross. The Wards sold the land to the Graves family ca. 1840. Graves Mill became Giles Mill after marriage of Len Giles to Ethel Graves, who inherited the mill from her father ca. 1900.

Frying Pan Creek is subject to violent floods, and the raging waters of the St. Francis Day freshet of 1912 wiped out the dam at Len Giles' flourishing grist mill. He and his partner, C.S. Hubbard, contracted with Thomas Haymes of Chatham immediately afterwards to rebuild the 15-foot-high rock structure. The dam impounded a half-mile-long lake that became a Pittsylvania County vacation mecca during the Great Depression. Many county natives remember renting one of the primitive cabins built on the ridge above the lake during the summertime. Boy and Girl Scouts camped on its shores frequently also.

The mill supplied flour and corn meal for the region for many years and many natives can remember when the creaking old wheel was grinding away. Len Giles departed this life during the early 1930's and his remains became the first to be interred in Hollywood Baptist Church cemetery west of Chatham.

The mill pond became a victim of industrial development when waste from the Bennett, Ramsey and Berger barytes mines (operated by the Barium Coporation of America) upstream silted up the impoundment. Ethel Graves Giles successfully brought suit for damages in the County Court in 1936.

Her troubles were only beginning, however. Water-powered grist mills became obsolete due to technological advancements all over the U.S. But the real coup de grace came during a vicious flood on September 18, 1944. The mill and the upper part of the dam were destroyed. This was the same flood that wiped out Owens Mill, Moses Mill, and Ray Mill. Sadly, none of them were rebuilt.


This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia. (See also guides to Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville.)