Whitfield County commissioners approve money to repair Prater's Mill

Sep. 13—Prater's Mill Foundation President Melanie Millican Chapman said she is "very thankful" the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners has approved funds to repair the mill.

"It was so devastating to find out about the erosion of the mill's foundation," she said. "But we are thankful to the county."

The Prater's Mill Foundation sponsors the annual country fair at Prater's Mill and has worked to preserve the mill for more than 50 years.

The commissioners voted 3-0 on Monday to use $100,000 in Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Funds that are part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to shore up the foundation of the mill, which is washing away because of flooding by the adjacent Coahulla Creek. Chairman Jevin Jensen typically votes only when there is a tie and Commissioner Robby Staten was absent.

"This probably won't do it all," said Jensen. "But it will stabilize it, then hopefully there will be a permanent solution."

Built by Benjamin Prater in 1855, the mill quickly became a hub of economic and social activity in Northwest Georgia. Farmers from across North Georgia brought their corn to be ground at the mill. The mill remained a vital part of the area for almost a century. But by 1971 the mill had fallen on hard times.

Two businessmen, Jim and Kenneth Boring, owned the mill, and a group that grew into the Prater's Mill Foundation went to them and expressed the desire to lease the mill.

With a lease in hand, the group began the Prater's Mill Country Fair to fund repairs to the mill. The first fair was Mother's Day weekend in 1971.

In 2010, the Boring family donated the site to Whitfield County.

The commissioners also voted 3-0 to:

—Apply for a 2023 Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods Grant.

"We applied for this last year and didn't get it," said Jensen. "So, we'll keep applying. It would be used for streetscaping, sidewalks and dealing with the trains that go through the middle of Cohutta near the town square."

The maximum amount the grant could be is $2 million.

"We are hoping to get $100,000 which would require a $20,000 match," said Jensen.

—Request $138,177 from the federal Transit Trust Fund Program. The money would be used to buy three new transit buses to replace aging buses. Any remaining money would be used to buy fuel for the transit fleet.

—Request a 2025 federal urban transportation grant to help operate the county transit system.

Jensen said the exact amount of that grant is unknown since the federal government is transitioning funding for the county transit system to urban funding from rural funding due to the increasing population and urbanization of the county.

—Approve $57,428 for repairs to the parking deck across the street from the courthouse.

Jensen said there are no structural issues with the parking deck. He said some of the bricks are coming loose and if the problem isn't addressed there are concerns they could fall on vehicles or people.

—Approve an additional $28,045.10 for a project that is placing Whitfield County deed records online. In 2021, the commissioners approved using $500,000 in ARPA funds for the project. The project is in its last stage and the cost is expected to exceed $500,000. The Georgia Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority gave Whitfield County $103,929 toward the project, making the estimated net cost to Whitfield County $424,116.10.

"This is a pretty good investment," said Jensen.

—Approve $16,283 for emergency repairs to a system that makes sure that lighting and other systems at the jail continue to work if there is an electricity outage.

Sheriff's Office Capt. Wesley Lynch said the generator is working fine. But, he said, an electronic switch that is supposed to automatically turn the generator on in case of a loss of power has failed. If the power fails, the generator would have to be turned on manually.