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Impressions Magazine

Miss Sadie’s Big Mill — from the Original Grist Mill Days to Today’s Big Mill Bed & Breakfast

04/23/2012 15:50 ● By Kathryn

Sadie James and Chloe Ann Tuttle sitting out front of Miss Sadie’s country store. Photo by Joy Greyer.

Miss Sadie's Mill

Growing up on a farm in eastern North Carolina in the 1950’s was idyllic. Just down our dirt road on the creek was a fascinating old, water-powered grist mill run by Miss Sadie James; she ground the best corn meal ever. 

Miss Sadie was of another era, she didn’t get close to folks, but she and I had a special bond — a child and a very old woman. I went to see her every day on my bicycle or in my little Eshelman child sports car.

“Miss Sadie” James ran the Big Mill grist mill for as long as I can remember. In the 1940’s prior to when she and her husband, Columbus, bought it, it had been a water-powered sawmill. It was then converted to a grist mill; the stones to grind the corn were shipped over from England.

Sometime late in the night, the dam was blown up. After that there was a long pulley attached to a tractor that powered the mill. It was a fascinating place where you could get the best ground corn meal.

I rode my bicycle there every day. Sometimes I played in the creek behind the mill, but more often I just talked to Miss Sadie. Nephews Barney or Monk often went with me — at times we rode a mule or drove an old pickup truck before we were legal.

Miss Sadie also had a small country store and sold things like penny candy and small Coca Cola in a bottle — she kept her drinks in one of those box-type coolers.

She lived in the store, too. And, she had a big gun. Folks tried to rob her several times, but they were foiled. Other folks thought she was odd, but not to me. She had one light bulb and no running water. She cooked atop a pot belly stove; she wore her dead husband’s shoes. Fine with me.

Sometime in the 1970’s, Miss Sadie died; The fire department burned down her house. But the remnants of the dam are there, and the creek is there. Ben Roberson bought the mill and moved it to his farm. He and his wife, Mary, resurrected a great mill. It has all the parts, but it is different — still wonderful. The mill had such fascinating parts. 

I have moved back to the farm and house where I was born, just up the road from the Big Mill. And, I named my bed and breakfast for Miss Sadie and her Big Mill. I think she’d be happy.

Big Mill Bed and Breakfast

Big Mill Bed and Breakfast sits amid acres of farmland and forest in the heart of the North Carolina Inner Banks in Williamston. It’s a peaceful getaway, just minutes from major highways, a half an hour from Greenville and two hours from Raleigh or Norfolk. It’s a lush landscape where streams and rivers meander through cypress swamps and fertile farmland.

Big Mill is more than just a place to stay. With over 200 acres of grounds, you can walk through landscaped gardens, explore the original farm outbuildings and wander through woodlands. Shaded by stately, 90-year-old pecan trees planted by the owner’s parents, Big Mill is in the original farmstead, in the family since 1920.

Big Mill offers four guest rooms or suites. All with wireless internet, private entrances, individual climate control, iron and ironing board, extra pillows, hair dryer, microwave, refrigerator, coffee pot, toaster, cable TV/DVD, telephone, and a coin laundry site.

A delicious continental breakfast is served in your room, complete with homemade sourdough or sweet breads made with fruits and nuts grown on the farm, juice, cheese, coffee, tea and fresh fruit. Grapes, plums, pears and blueberries from the orchard are served in season, and homemade yogurt and crustless quiche made with tomatoes from the cook’s garden are a favorite.

Staying at Big Mill is not ‘roughing it.’ This idealized retreat offers what can only be called country luxury. The Caribbean Room and the Mardi Gras Suite are in the main house. The Mardi Gras Suite has a private terrace overlooking the lakes. Brick floors, Portuguese tiles, a corner tub and a stone fireplace make this a favorite of romantics and guests seeking privacy. The Caribbean Room is whimsical with the bright colors of an island paradise.

Slip into the hammock outside your door in the Packhouse Suite. Nothing has been spared: full marble kitchen and Greek tile bath. On a rainy day, lucky guests slumber to the patter of rain on the old tin roof.

The Corn Crib in the Pack House opens onto a brick breezeway with working fireplace. It’s a mix of the sun-drenched colors of Mexico with a tile kitchen and bath and woven Peruvian calendar. The Mule Room, their newest, is perfect for the extended stay guest—perfect for the business traveler.

Big Mill was named 2010 Inn of the Year by North Carolina Bed and Breakfasts and Inns. And, it’s been chosen one of the Top10 Earth-Friendly Inns by This eco-friendly inn has been featured in Our State magazine and the Washington Post as a good Green alternative.

Going green is not new to Big Mill. Growing up on a farm, it was just natural to be GREEN… anything less was wasteful and unacceptable. Just about everything on the farm was recycled. Someone could use it.

And, since the Innkeeper’s license plate reads “NVIRONUT”, we try to practice what we preach. Here are examples:

Renovations at Big Mill

• Recycled wood and building materials throughout. Most of the doors are recycled, and old wall wood is now a ceiling.

• The Pack House suite and Corn Crib room are recycled accommodations.

Both, now part of the main barn, one of many buildings used since the 1930’s.

• Sticks once used to cure tobacco are now wood trim on the Corn Crib ceiling.

• Original floors were restored throughout the Inn. In the Pack House, old walnut speaker panels have made for a gorgeous entrance to the suite’s bedroom.

• Old brick and stone rubble is used to build up the banks of the lakes and to fill in holes in the farm roads.

• We recycle all metal: iron tools, tin roofing, plow points and other metals used.

Energy Conservation

• The main house uses window awnings to provide shade from summer heat.

• Too promote efficiency, energy-star appliances are used throughout the Inn.

• Comfort is achieved with use of energy efficient individually-controlled zoned heating and air conditioning units.

• Washing and drying electric and gas appliances are energy efficient and consume less water and electricity.

• Fluorescent lighting and low voltage lighting is used wherever possible.

• Most rooms have air circulating ceiling fans. You can open windows and doors for fresh air and cool farm breezes.

General Lifestyle

• We recycle used wine bottles with a local winemaker who makes wine from local fruits, berries and pears from the orchard.

• We have outdoor clothesline, and we use it! Line-dried linens are a luxury guests deserve. In winter, indoor antique drying racks save energy. Guests may use both! Plus—sunshine is earth-friendly bleach.

• We use reusable bags when shopping and avoid Styrofoam and excessive packaging

• We provide natural soaps, use fragrance-free detergents and earth-friendly products such as white vinegar to clean.

Outdoor Things We Do

• Practice organic gardening by contributing fruit and vegetable matter to our compost pile for our garden; we take meat scraps to the woods for critters.

• We pamper our trees, since the farm has large 90-year-old deciduous trees that shading the Inn in summer, and warming the Inn in winter. The stately pecans, over 100 feet tall, were planted by the Innkeeper’s parents.

• We raise our berries, pecans and fruits organically; therefore never sprayed, and we fertilize with natural organic matter.

• We use only farm fresh, free-range chicken eggs and save cartons for farmers to reuse. We buy most of our produce locally.

• Pest control is achieved by use of natural agents like boric acid and natural insecticidal soap sprays; no chemicals!

• Our favorite (tax deductible since we’re a farm) organic pest control measure is…Moses, Big Mill resident feline. She was hired to manage the barn and outside of Big Mill. She’s done a great job. She’s timid but loves to greet folks and most assuredly peek in your room if you leave the curtains open. She’s an outside cat. We can feel safe knowing she’s on duty.

• Finally, if we can’t use it, we support the local thrift stores. Our suites and rooms have been appointed with furniture and decorating items from local antique and used furniture shops.

To plan at getaway to Big Mill or simply to learn more at it, visit or call 252-792-8787.

Article by Chloe Tuttle. Chloe was born in the house that is now Big Mill Bed & Breakfast. Growing up on a farm was idyllic: playing with her nephew Barney (two days her junior), climbing trees, swimming in the lake, riding mules, catching fireflies on summer nights and fishing in the creek that powered the Big Mill was, and still is, a piece of Heaven. The barns are still here, the fish still bite, the country store is the same… the fireflies still fascinate. Before returning to Big Mill as an innkeeper, Chloe was a cook aboard a private sail boat for seven years, sailing from Maine to Guadeloupe, primarily in the Bahamas. She has been an innkeeper for 17 years and loves it!

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