White grits, yellow grits, white corn flour, yellow cornmeal, wheat bran, whole wheat flour -- all and more are stone-ground at a Virginia mill that has been continuously operating since 1750. Wade’s Mill (also called the Kennedy-Wade Mill) in Raphine, Virginia is one of our favorite finds in the Shenandoah Valley – partly for its rich history and partly for the story it is telling today.
Wade’s Mill History
Wade’s Mill was built in 1750 by Captain Joseph Kennedy, a Scots-Irish immigrant who came to America in 1733. Captain Kennedy was one of the earliest landowners in Rockbridge County, which at the time was unsettled and wild. He powered the mill by the self-titled, “Captain Kennedy’s Mill Creek.” The mill stayed in the Kennedy family for a century before being sold to Henry B. Jones in 1846 and then James F. Wade in November of 1882. Four generations of the Wade family ran the mill operations. Purchased by Jim and Georgie Young in 1992 and then John and Karen Siegfried in July 2016, the mill has had relatively few owners in its long history.
At Wade’s Mill, you can still experience the fully automated milling system invented in 1790 by Oliver Evans which is recognized as the first fully automated industrial process in America. The system was able to move grain and flour through all the milling steps without manual labor using a system of buckets, conveyer belts and chutes. The Evans system revolutionized the milling business and was critical to the Industrial Revolution and the development of mass production.
Wade’s Mill is located in a U.S. Historic District in Raphine, Virginia and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Wade’s Mill Today
After living abroad for 35 years for their careers, John and Karen Siegfried made the decision to return to the United States and seek out their next challenge. After seeing a photo of the mill, shared by a friend who lives in the Shenandoah Valley, and learning about the mill’s history, they decided to purchase the mill. John then completed an apprenticeship with the previous owners to learn the milling business.
The day we visited, John gave us a personal tour of the entire mill including starting the historic water wheel, showing us the various grains and their origins, explaining the steps to mill the grains into the food we know and recognize, and seeing the Oliver Evans automated milling process in action.
The yellow corn, rye, and wheat used at Wade’s Mill are bought from local farming collectives. John told us a story of the time he mentioned to local farmers that he regretted not being able to find white corn locally and instead had to ship it in from another state. He later learned the farmers had added it to their regular crop rotation. The mill now grinds local white corn into grits, cornmeal, flour, and mixes.
Wade’s Mill sells locally too, with products going to restaurants, hotels, bakeries, specialty gift shops, and grocery stores throughout Virginia and Washington. You can also buy direct from their online shop or stop by the Mill Shop if you’re in the area. (The mill is open to visitors March 31 through December 23, Wednesday to Sunday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm.) Everything is 100% natural, ground by the miller himself, and has no additives, preservatives, bleach or chemicals.
Wade’s Mill has been an essential part of Rockbridge County community for almost 270 years. The Siegfrieds continue this tradition by producing quality products, supporting local farmers, and being a delightful historic learning destination.
The spirit in which Captain Kennedy came to America from Ireland to start something new lives on at Wade’s Mill with the inspirational story of a couple coming home to America to start a new chapter to preserve and grow the family-owned milling heritage of Wade’s Mill.
VISIT WADE’S MILL:
55 Kennedy Wade’s Mill Loop, Raphine, VA