Lewisville Roller Mills
One Family’s Story
I’m Deb Phillips – The Photo Gal — and I’m looking for adventure and inspiration in the small town of Lewisville, North Carolina!
I’d like to share with you how my mother’s family came to live in Lewisville in 1925, and how Lewisville Roller Mills played a central role in their lives for almost 60 years.
As you follow the story, be sure to click on the links located throughout the article to view photos that even some long-time Lewisville residents may never have seen before.
The Photo Album
It all started with an old family photo album that I found inside a small case full of aged photos and negatives. The faces, the captions and accompanying genealogy records stirred my imagination. Some of the faces seemed familiar, yet I hadn’t known those family members in their younger days.
The more I looked and pondered, the more questions I had about my family — about the challenges they had faced, and the decisions they had made in their lives.
I was surprised by the discoveries awaiting me inside this old case. The most recent photos it contained were taken over 50 years ago. The oldest photos were close to 100 years old.
As I pored over the faded family photos, I began imagining what life was like for my relatives from the early 1900s onward. I saw records of joy and accomplishment, as well as of hardship and tragedy. In my imagination, I watched a family grow and change over time. In all, I saw a family who had reaped the rewards of hard work, integrity and faith in God.
How I wish I’d realized the value of asking questions about my family much sooner, when older family members who could tell their stories themselves were still living. Yet with the help of those aged photos and my mother’s patient recollections, I pieced together enough on the two generations before me to share part of their journey with you. And in that process, I learned that adventure and inspiration can be discovered even when exploring the past.
Go West, Young Man!
My grandfather, Fielden Hale Jennings, Sr., was born in Grayson County, Virginia in 1880. (Grayson County is in western Virginia on the Virginia-North Carolina border.) Before settling down to marry, my grandfather wanted to see some of the “Wild West,” so he took off on his own adventure for a period of time. Back then, “Go West!” was an irresistible call for adventure and financial opportunity. In 1902, at age 22, my grandfather traveled to Colorado by train and worked there for a year, taking on all kinds of odd jobs. He eventually headed back home, once again by train, working his way across the country, with an extended stopover in Columbus, Ohio.
Tying the Knot
In 1906 Fielden Jennings married Ollie Sue Poole, my grandmother, who was born in 1887, also in Grayson County, Virginia. He was 25 years old, and she was 19 years old when they married. They lived in the Galax, Virginia area, where seven of their ten children would be born.
(Left) Fielden Jennings, Sr. as a young man (photo date unknown). (Right) Ollie Poole Jennings in 1912.
My grandfather was quite enterprising and was willing to work hard in order to make a living. A few of his undertakings included being a salesman for a mail-order catalog company, performing hard labor as a logger, and serving as a county magistrate. Since he had grown up working in mills, it wasn’t surprising that he eventually owned and operated a grain mill situated along Chestnut Creek near Galax, Virginia.
Tragedy Turns to Blessing
Tragically, though, in the early 1920s, the grain mill my grandfather owned burned to the ground. He was about 45 years old at the time, with a rather large family to support. That fire is what eventually brought him to the small town of Lewisville, North Carolina in 1925. Lewisville was (and still is) located about 70 miles southeast of Galax, Virginia in western Forsyth County, just west of Winston-Salem.
My grandfather saw potential in Lewisville’s mill, which had been built by the J. P. Sprinkle family in 1910. A deal was made, and the purchase of the mill was transacted simply by swapping the Virginia property for the Lewisville property, which included the mill and a nearby home place.
Moving to Lewisville, North Carolina
In December 1925, Fielden and Ollie Jennings moved to Lewisville, North Carolina with their then-six children (their daughter, Hallie, had passed away several years earlier). At the time, Ollie was also expecting their eighth child, who would be born in January 1926.
Family members have told of having to make several trips in order to move their belongings from Virginia to North Carolina. During one of the trips, my grandfather’s car ran out of gas, but he didn’t have enough money on him to buy more. He managed, though, to gain the trust of a benevolent station owner. My grandfather promised to pay him back the next time he passed through, so the owner, in good faith, gave him the fuel he needed.
Integrity, Faith and Hard Work
True to his word, on a subsequent trip from Virginia to North Carolina, my grandfather gratefully paid for the fuel he had been given. Of course, that incident was just one of a lifetime of personal and business dealings in which my grandfather demonstrated his honesty and integrity.
When I also curiously searched for the price of gasoline in the 1920s and found it to be only about 18 cents per gallon, I realized just how little money my grandfather had at that time. Knowing he was not a man prone to recklessness or irresponsibility, I concluded that it was my grandfather’s faith that enabled him to set out on the journey to Lewisville with little personal wealth. I believe he placed his family and his business in God’s hands and stepped out into the unknown future. Whatever would come of it, he knew he would give his all, and he would trust God each step of the way.
Taken in 1926, the Jennings family is pictured standing in front of the mill in Lewisville.
As he had done throughout his life, my grandfather once again characteristically employed integrity, faith and hard work to this next phase of his business life. Although not a wealthy man, he knew how to work hard and to keep turning a little into a little more.
Over time Lewisville Roller Mills expanded and was for many years the active center of Lewisville. Farmers brought corn, oats, wheat, soybeans and other grains, either to sell to the mill or to have their grain custom ground into feed for their animals. Many of the mill’s customers came from miles around — as far away as the surrounding counties — to purchase flour and corn meal, feed for their animals, fertilizer, cement, and all kinds of gardening and farming products.
Making a Home
Eight years after the Jennings family moved into the little home place next to the mill in Lewisville, three more children had come along, the last of whom was my mother, Grace, born in 1933. In 1934 a new brick home was built for the family a short distance from the original home place — and is still in use today as business property.
The new home was quite a change from the homes in which the Jennings family had previously lived. For example, they now had an indoor bathroom; and heat was provided by a coal-fired furnace, instead of by a wood stove. There were more bedrooms — both upstairs and downstairs in the basement — a large dining room, a living room and a den. The front porch, with its large, comfortable rockers, would become a favorite gathering place for family and friends over the years.
The children of Fielden and Ollie Jennings, c. 1938. Pictured from left to right – Front row: Grace (my mother) and Roy. Back rows: Gwyn, Charlie, Elva, Ethel, Hale, and Paul. (Two daughters, Hallie and Lettie, had passed away earlier.)
Until now, I’ve shared only about my mother’s side of the family. My father was Edford Dallas Phillips, Sr. He was the oldest of ten children. Although he was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, his family eventually moved to Lewisville and lived across from Lewisville Roller Mills. As a boy, he spent a lot of time at the mill and worked odd jobs there. Later, after he became a full-time employee at the mill, he and my mother, Grace, began dating, and were married in 1952.
After serving in the Army during the Korean War, my father worked as an apprentice under my Uncle Gwyn and became a certified miller in 1959. He worked at Lewisville Roller Mills for more than 20 years, until his death in 1979. My mother also served as the mill’s secretary and bookkeeper.
My parents, Edford and Grace Phillips, in 1952, a few days before they married.
A Child’s Playground
Fast-forward a few years, and a little Phillips girl (me) and her younger brother, Ed, could be seen chasing each other over mounds of freshly bagged feed, or trading turns being pushed along the mill porch on one of the hand trucks. To us, the mill was the vast playground of our childhood, a grand old three-story building full of endless hiding places and make-believe adventures. We even dubbed one obscure back entranceway into the mill our “secret door.”
When we weren’t running around the mill, we were nearby at Grandma’s, playing along the rock fish pond, climbing trees, or roaming through the woods, continuing the search for adventure. Later on, as teenagers, both of us worked at the mill, performing such jobs as “sacking” flour and corn meal.
The Years Go By
In the years following the purchase of the mill in 1925, extensive modifications were made to its structure. Sections were added to the right side and to the rear. A large overhang is the most glaring change visible when comparing the 1926 photo shown above to later photos such as the next photo, thought to have been taken in the late 1940s.
Numerous modifications were made to the mill’s structure over the years, including the addition of the large overhang, as seen in this late 1940s photo (Photo: William W. Stone).
Around 1950, under the direction of my grandfather and my Uncle Gwyn, construction began on a brick building that would be located on the west side of the mill. Completed in 1951, the new building was called the Jennings Building. Among its tenants during the Jennings family’s ownership were a Gulf service station on the end, the Lewisville Grill, the Lewisville Barber Shop, a beauty shop, a grocery store, and a hardware store, as well as offices for a doctor, dentist and insurance agency. At one point, the upstairs section of the building was also used for apartments.
During the years that the mill operated, many immediate and extended members of the Jennings family worked at the mill in some capacity — that is, full-time, part-time, summers, after school, or on Saturdays. The Jennings children who worked there full-time were Gwyn, Paul, Hale, Charlie and Grace (my mother).
Fielden H. Jennings, Sr., my grandfather, never completely retired! He continued to work at Lewisville Roller Mills until shortly before his death in 1972, at age 91. My grandmother, Ollie Jennings, lived to be 93, passing away in 1980. The mill continued in operation for a few more years, under the direction of several of my uncles and my mother.
One noticeable change between this 1970s photo and the earlier 1940s photo is the addition of the dust collectors on the left side of the mill’s roof. Also, across from the mill, in the foreground, is the paved entrance to what originally was an Esso gas station.
Yet the combination of increasing governmental regulations and the aging of my uncles eventually led to the decision to close the mill and sell the building. In 1984 the mill ceased operations and was purchased by Tom Fowler, a local developer.
Under New Ownership
Under new ownership, the mill building underwent some significant structural changes and today stands well maintained, still with a folksy charm about it. A number of free-standing buildings and other structures were removed in order to accommodate new uses for the property. Among the removed structures was the rock fish pond mentioned previously.
Current tenants in the mill building include a coffee shop and a rubber stamps and scrapbooking store.
Pictured above is the mill as it appears today. Significant changes are apparent when comparing it to previous photos. Most notable are the lowering of the overhang, the removal of certain upper-story appendages, as well as new siding and roofing.
Sometime after the town of Lewisville incorporated in 1991, the winning entry of a design contest resulted in the mill being featured in the town’s logo (shown below).
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this small portion of Lewisville’s history as it relates specifically to my family and to Lewisville Roller Mills.
If you live in Lewisville, you already know what a special place it is. It’s special not just for the wise strategic planning implemented by our town leaders, or for its various amenities, the town square, or the activities of numerous community groups.
Rather, it’s the citizens of Lewisville themselves — those of the past and those today — who give Lewisville its unique character and appeal. Because of its people, adventure and inspiration still abound in the small town of Lewisville, North Carolina.
REQUEST FOR MORE INFORMATION AND PHOTOS: Please contact me if you know any additional factual details about the mill that would be relevant to this article. Please also let me know if you have photographs of the mill, the Jennings home places, the Jennings Building, or that general area of Lewisville, in stages other than those represented in this article (from the late 1800s forward). I’d love to add photos of any missing mill products, as well. Thank you. — Deb
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