Local Man Realizes Dream

Posted: October 23, 2013

In spring 2013, Zach Grandle purchased the Plains Mill in Timberville. (Photo by Courtesy photo)
Growing up in Broadway, Zach Grandle and his friends dreamed of owning a distillery or brewery. Even years later, while Grandle was working in marketing in North Carolina, the idea still lingered in his head.

“I would come home at Christmas and we would still talk about it,” he said.

Eventually, a friend’s fiancee tired of all the talk.

“She said, ‘You guys are gonna need to shut up or do it,’ ” he recalled.

A self-described risk taker, Grandle took her advice to heart and set to work. Believing Virginia would be an ideal location for his new business venture — a whiskey and bourbon distillery — he left his life in North Carolina and returned to the Valley.

“Virginia is a great place for a distillery or a winery because of the [Agritourism] and historic tourism,” he explained. “And [I wanted] to be home; I’m not gonna lie — I missed it.”

After touring available locations, he purchased the Plains Mill in Timberville in spring 2013. With crumbling stairways, partial dirt floors and a family of raccoons residing in the framework, he admits the abandoned mill needs “a lot” of rehabilitations.

However, he found the property’s rich history too enticing to pass up.

According to Grandle, the first on-site mill was built by Matthew Harrison in 1769. His wife, Mary Harrison, was the daughter of Col. James Woods Sr., a campaign adviser to George Washington.

In 1832, the property was purchased by Dr. Solomon Henkel, who tore down the original mill and started constructing a new one in 1847. He died before the mill was rebuilt, leaving his son, Siram P. Henkel, to complete the project. Siram wrote about his experience in his journals, eight of which can be found at The Library of Virginia in Richmond.

The mill built by Siram is the structure still standing today.

“It’s one of a handful of mills in the area that survived the Civil War,” Grandle said, adding that Confederate and Union soldiers camped out on the front lawn. “It’s really unique in that aspect.”

Grandle is currently working on getting the mill designated as a historic landmark by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. His Preliminary Information Application, the first step in the process, was accepted in September. He also plans to honor the mill’s history by creating an on-site museum full of artifacts and photos.

There’s only one drawback to his business vision — starting a distillery, museum and event venue isn’t cheap. Grandle, however, has a plan.

In a deed dating back to 1810, the water rights to Plains Mill Spring were deeded to the Plains Mill property.

“It’s actually one of the largest springs in the area,” he remarked, mentioning that it averages about six million gallons of water a day. “It’s drought proof.”

Adding he’s read clean water may be as valuable in the 21st century as oil was in the 20th, Grandle is confident he’ll be able to sell the water rights, though ideally, he’d prefer a local investor.

“It makes sense to keep it locally,” he says.

However, after the previous owner and the town of Broadway were involved in legal disputes regarding the deeded water rights to the spring, he acknowledges a local deal might be off the table.

Nevertheless, Grandle remains hopeful.

“At the end of the day, [if a local] town needs water and I need to sell water to pay for the rehabilitation project, I think it would be a win-win for the community.”

For more information, visit plainsmill.com.

Contact Katie King at (540) 574-6271 or kking@dnronline.com.