Built by Joseph Kerr around 1823, Kerr Mill has been the main source of flour, cornmeal, and fodder for Kerr’s western Rowan County plantation and its surrounding neighbors for many years.
Located by Kerr Creek in what is now Sloan Park, the mill was a two-story, gable-roofed brick building with a waterwheel at the rear. The mill was one of several named for Mill Bridge, which according to some was the first settlement in Rowan County. The factory was run by the Kerr family for decades after it was built, but was sold to James Samuel McCubbins in 1872. McCubbins and his partner John Harrison converted the mill into a steam-engine-driven roller mill in the late 1880s.
The mill changed hands several times before it was finally acquired by James W. Sloan in 1908. He sold it to his nephew James Andrew Sloan in 1927. James A. Sloan and his wife Carrie gifted the mill and surrounding property to Rowan County in 1973. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, Kerr Mill is now the centerpiece of Sloan Park, which opened to the public in 1983. The factory has long since been discontinued, but has been a working factory for over 100 years.
The original waterwheel used by the factory was lost and has never been found. But in 1989, Keith Yount built a replica wheel for the park at his Sherrill’s Ford Road construction company. According to a Salisbury Post article published at the time, when the new wheel was installed on the Kerr Mill, it was so well balanced that the wind turned for about 30 minutes. Over the years, time and weather took their toll on the wheels, causing the wooden blades to break and fall apart. Parks and Recreation director Don Bringle said that over the years, visitors to Sloan Park have often asked about the wheels, advocating for them to be repaired or replaced.
Restoration work took place in 2018, but no real progress was made. The county updated its plan to revive the wheel last year. The project was awarded to Gold Hill-based company C&R Millwork. Restoration of the wheel will be more like a rebuild, as the inner metal hub may be the only salvageable part. The wooden part of the wheel would have to be completely rebuilt, possibly using a more durable, water-resistant and weather-resistant wood, such as cypress, Blinger said.
C&R plans to start work in late spring. The project will cost Rowan County approximately $40,500. Having a functioning waterwheel is worth the money, Blinger said.
“It basically brings the character back to what Kermire was all about,” Bringle said.