In Search of the Ruins of Holden Mill

by Mark Miles

Last weekend I was finally able to explore the ruins of Holden Mill at Eno River State Park. I’d been wanting to for a couple months, but finding the requisite three hours of daylight proved to be more difficult than finding honesty in a politician. I made an unsuccessful attempt in November which resulted in my turning back before reaching the mill due to lack of daylight. As a result, some of the photos in this article have more autumnal color than others; those are photos from my incomplete November hike. The photos that have more wintry color are the ones that I took last weekend. And while most of this story will be a recollection of my December hike, there will also be minor elements of my November hike interspersed. With that covered, let’s begin.

I arrived at Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina, on Sunday afternoon to find that there were a good number of other people who had the same idea. It’s not uncommon to find a crowd here, but I figured the 40° F temperatures would be enough to dissuade my fellow Carolinians from venturing into what’s considered by many southerners to be intolerably cold weather. My assumption was wrong, but I was right in assuming that I’d be the only one not wearing anything on his head. Being the son of two midwesterners well accustomed to blizzards and snowstorms, I’m inclined to regard 40° F in December as a heatwave. Thus headwear was superfluous.

Stone Staircase by the Eno (Mark Miles, 2016)

Starting northward on Buckquarter Creek Trail, I rounded the curve near Outhouse Ford and continued westward, encountering a few other small groups of hikers who were finishing the trail I was starting. Before long I came to Buckquarter Creek footbridge and crossed gingerly before coming to a fork in the trail and taking the northern course. I had now come to Holden Mill Trail, which consists of two closely linked loops. The first of these is considerably larger than the second and extends from the banks of the Eno to a neighboring hill which provides decent elevation.

Ascending Wintry Hill (Mark Miles, 2016)

Cresting the hill, I noticed how the lack of foliage increased the visibility of the area considerably. When I came in November, there was still enough foliage to obscure a great deal of the surrounding landscape, giving the sense that so much legwork had been for naught. This wasn’t the case last weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised by how invigorating it was to see so much of the surrounding terrain with the chill December air goading me to breathe deeply of autumn’s last days. The visibility increased further still, however, when I reached a clear-cut of power-lines, which looked as if a giant had used his scythe to scalp the land of her foliage.

Powerlines Scalp the Land (Mark Miles, 2016)

By this time I was getting close. The trail had turned from westward to southward, and Tranquility Creek came into view. The trail continued on a course parallel to the creek for a little way before turning right abruptly at a shallow ford and leading me to the last stretch before the mill itself. I was pretty excited by this time and wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’d seen a few photos of the mill previously, but none of them had been particularly detailed. Thus my senses were fine-tuned and ready for anything.

The first thing to come into view was the defunct dam which once blocked this stretch of the Eno. It was very primitive and appeared to extend no more than ten feet in height, though it may have stood taller when it was intact. I wasn’t able to get any decent photos of it, but there wasn’t much to photograph in any case.

Ruins Loom in the Distance (Mark Miles, 2016)

Then came the good stuff. Looming amongst the bare sycamores and oaks was a considerable stone structure that looked as if someone had transposed a fragment of Hadrian’s Wall to central North Carolina. Standing twenty feet in height and leaning ever so slightly forward, it was an imposing sight and lent an air of dubious antiquity to the landscape. In front of it stood two other fragments of the same structure, the first of which was no more than eight feet in height and the second no more than twelve. Together the three stone structures formed a kind of maze that simultaneously invited and dissuaded exploration. On the one hand curiosity urged me to take a look for the sake of posterity, but on the other hand precaution urged me to watch for falling stones from a very old structure that’s clearly seen better days. I adopted the middle path, exploring what looked safe and avoiding what didn’t.

Not-So-Hadrian’s Wall (Mark Miles, 2016)

There weren’t any plaques or signs in the area to indicate what the ruins had previously been, but I have my own ideas. The tallest structure in the back appears to have been the site for the mill-wheel, which was probably considerable in size to provide sufficient force to power the internal mechanism of the mill. The second wall may have redirected water from the adjacent canal to a spillway which emptied into the Eno. The third wall might similarly have provided the means to retain water in an enclosed area without spilling into the river prematurely.

Mill Spillway after Two Centuries (Mark Miles, 2016)

All of this is guesswork of course, but I was also able to find something more substantial than guesswork in my research. As it turns out, Holden Mill was founded as a corn, flour and saw mill in 1811 by Isaac Holden. He owned and oversaw the mill for nine years before passing it to his son, Thomas Holden in 1820. Thomas Holden expanded the mill’s workload to include cotton, oil and threshing before passing it to his son-in-law, John Lyon, in 1851. John Lyon retained the mill until 1868, when the mill was closed due to financial difficulties. For fourteen years it remained shuttered. Then, in 1882, Samuel Cole reopened the mill and changed the name from Holden Mill to Cole Mill. He oversaw the operation of the mill until 1893, when the mill closed for the second and final time. The development of factories had rendered the water-mill obsolete, and its role in the economy had become a footnote in history.

As I began the return leg of my hike, I still had visions of decaying stone structures in my head, attempting to reconstruct themselves into their original form to show me how everything worked. I still don’t know if my guesswork is accurate, but I do know one thing. The river which was the real reason for the operation of Holden Mill is the real reason why anyone should come to Eno River State Park.

How the Eno Stole My Heart (Mark Miles, 2016)

On the banks of the Eno I can hear the running water and the voice of the land, leading me to imagine how our world would be without toxic industries poisoning the water and fouling the air. On the banks of the Eno I can feel the rush of a crisp wind on my face and the sharp pull of nature on my soul, whispering to me to respect all that’s green and good in this world. On the banks of the Eno I can see that beauty is everywhere and that another world is possible, expectantly waiting for us to join in common cause to end the reign of money once and for all.


How Bella Got Her Groove Back

by Mark Miles

Bella is a notorious humper. When she was given to me by a friend of a friend who had a litter of unexpected puppies in 2007, I never would’ve guessed this. I’d never lived with female dogs prior to 2006–when I rescued the german shepherd of another friend of a friend–and I consequently had no experience with such amorous behavior. In truth, I was an avowed cat-man for the first twenty years of my life due to my experience of growing up with cats. Sadly there were no dogs in my family’s household, which meant I had no way of appreciating the finer qualities of canines until much later.

So when Bella started to exhibit her amorous side, I was unsure what to make of it. Also unsure was my dog Sebastian, a german shepherd who I’d rescued in 2006. He soon became the object of Bella’s amorous advances, and once Bella had made up her mind there was no unmaking it. Try as he might, Sebastian had no recourse. He was Boyfriend #1, and that was that. Despite the comical difference in size between chihuahua and german shepherd, Bella would nonetheless come up to Sebastian, sniff at his ears–which were nearly half the size of her whole body–playfully yank at them, jump on his neck, and start humping. Unfortunately I never recorded any of these episodes when they occurred, but I wish I had. There’s no way to see a tiny chihuahua making furious love to the neck of a german shepherd who’s doing his best to ignore her without losing one’s composure.

All of this changed however when Sebastian died in 2012. He’d been sickly when I got him in 2006, but he recovered and was fine for several years after that, and I figured that he’d be fine for many years to come. And then for no apparent reason he started losing weight. Then he lost more weight and more weight and more weight. Of course he’d always been skinny, but he’d never been this skinny. I could see his ribs, and no amount of eating would change that. I consulted my veterinarian, and the diagnosis was cancer. I knew I didn’t want to put Sebastian through chemotherapy, so I did my best to ease his last days. I carried him outside when he wanted to go out and inside when he wanted to go in, fed him by hand, cleaned the messes on the floor when he became incontinent, and finally said goodbye to him on October 11th, 2012. It was one of the hardest days of my life.

Needless to say, it was hard for Bella too. She didn’t express much in the way of emotional distress at the time, but she knew that Boyfriend #1 was gone, and she knew that he wasn’t coming back. Before long, however, Bella was on the prowl. From using Sebastian’s neck, Bella moved to using a candy-cane-striped stuffed bone that a friend had given as a gift. Of course said friend never would’ve guessed the amorous uses Bella had in mind. Soon Bella had Boyfriend #2, and his name was Boney Bone.

Though Boney Bone was admittedly inanimate and incapable of reciprocating anyone’s affections, this never dissuaded Bella. For all she cared, Boney was as good as any neck she’d ever had, and there was the added advantage that Boney never got up and walked away just when she was on the verge of having a really good time. In short, he was dependable, and that was good enough for Bella. But once again her choice of boyfriend was stymied. When the stuffings finally spilled out of Boney, there was no way I was going to try to salvage him. Trust me, if you’d seen the amorous adventures Bella had had with him, you’d know why. So into the trash Boney went, and from that moment forward Bella was on the prowl for a new boyfriend.

Then Heidi came into her life. I adopted Heidi in 2014, so it’d been some time since Bella had had someone capable of reciprocating her amorous advances. Heidi, however, has a mind of her own, and it didn’t take long for her to make that clear. Still, Bella gave it her best shot. Whenever Heidi would approach Bella in a friendly way, Bella would adopt her old amorous ways. Ears would perk up, tail would go into frantic back and forth motion, a leg would try to cross Heidi’s shoulder, and that was as far as it would go. Heidi never needed encouragement to stick up for herself, but I would intervene at this point to prevent any fur from flying. And so the prowl continued.

Then along came Pillow-Man. As the name indicates, he’s fluffy, soft, quiet, and entirely motionless. But as far as Bella’s considered, he’s solid gold. The fact that he’s made of cotton, polyester, and assorted synthetic fabrics has yet to bother Bella. All that matters is that when she’s ready to go, he’s there for a good time. As far as Bella’s concerned, that makes him Boyfriend #3. It doesn’t hurt that he won’t be getting up and walking away anytime soon, though how long it’ll be before Bella’s lovemaking leads to the spilling of more fluffy entrails is anyone’s guess.