Imagine meandering down a pretty forest trail next to a babbling brook that leads you to an old mill. With no sight of cars or the highway you may feel like you've stepped back in time. This past weekend up in Napa I had a chance to visit the Bale Grist Mill which is a State Historic Park between St. Helena and Calistoga on Highway 29.
The Bale Grist Mill is the only working mill left in all of California. At one time there were 30 mills in the Bay Area alone. Mills used to be gathering points for local farmers. They would have their grain milled into cornmeal or flour and they would come to gossip and even have meetings.
In addition to seeing how it works, I bought some bags of freshly milled corn and wheat and heard the stories associated with the mill--about the owner, his wife and the history of the time. While Edward Turner Bale built the mill, it was his wife Maria who made it a success. Bale abandoned his family after only a few years to head to the gold country, returned ill and died soon after. Maria installed a conveyor system and built a bolting and threshing machine.
Visiting the mill you also learn about the origin of mill expressions.
Here is a list of all the mill expressions I could find, let me know if I've missed any!
have a millstone around one's neck
put through the mill
hung on tenterhooks
grist for the mill
rule of thumb
run of the mill
keep your nose to the grindstone
show me your mettle