Prater's Mill serves up unique, Appalachian experience for visitors

By COLBY DENTON
Posted 10/10/18

Smell the hot apple cider. Hear the rustling of colorful leaves. That’s right, it’s finally fall, and Prater’s Mill Country Fair is coming back just in time for the leaves to start changing. …

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Prater's Mill serves up unique, Appalachian experience for visitors

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Smell the hot apple cider.

Hear the rustling of colorful leaves.

That’s right, it’s finally fall, and Prater’s Mill Country Fair is coming back just in time for the leaves to start changing. It's set for Oct. 13-14 near Dalton, Georgia.

The event was started in 1971 by volunteers to raise funds to restore the 1855 mill and surrounding buildings. Featuring not only fine art, handmade crafts and Southern folklore, the event has been a featured destination in the National Geographic Map Guide to Appalachia.

Fair director Mikey Sims describes the Prater’s Mill Foundation’s mission as preserving, protecting and presenting the site for future generations.

“The Prater’s Mill Country Fair is our primary fundraiser which allows us to do that,” Sims said.

All crafters must make their products only from natural materials. Similarly, all available food goes along with the traditional Appalachian theme. All proceeds from the fair go to the Prater’s Mill Foundation.

Focusing on mountain music, Southern foods, living history exhibits and the original art and crafting of 165 artisans, Prater’s Mill includes everything from blacksmithing and quilting to wood carving and hand tufting, which was a cottage industry that evolved into the tufted carpet industry centered in Dalton.

Sims said the fair not only brings in tourists, but it also promotes local businesses such as restaurants, shops, hotels and even gas stations.

“People are coming to Georgia, they’re having a great time and they’re spending money at the same time, which boosts our economy,” Sims said.

Visitors can take self-guided tours at the fair at locations such as the water-powered, operating grist mill; the Shugart cotton gin; the 1898 Prater’s Store; Dr. Lacewell’s office; a caboose; the Westbrook Barn; and Goodner-Smith Farm Collection.

Food-wise, the event is exploding with offerings. In a cabin near the store, Dalton Pike Church of God members serve authentic Southern meals of chicken & dumplings, collard greens and cornbread cooked on a wood stove. Elsewhere are other delicacies like pit-cooked barbecue, fried pies, apple cider and churned ice cream. 

Entertainment will be continuous throughout the day, including Appalachian-style clogging groups, and country, gospel and bluegrass musicians.

Having 168 exhibitors including 45 new ones, Sims noted the importance of having only handcrafted materials sold at Prater’s Mill.

“We go to great lengths to ensure our vendors hand make all of their items they sell out of natural materials,” Sims said. “A lot of other shows don’t have that requirement. We turn a lot of folks away because they simply use plastic. I would say 95 percent of our food vendors make the foods themselves as well, as opposed to buying food and reselling it.”

In addition to the crafters, families will enjoy the pony rides, petting zoo, face painting, pet adoption groups and “Little Texas” kids’ train ride. There will also be numerous educational exhibits on display such as working antique tractors, antique cars, antique plows and “Peacock Alley,” a clothesline display of hand-tufted bedspreads.

Since the festival runs for two days, Sims is confident visitors can not only come to Prater’s Mill, but also attend any other festival that weekend.

The event is sponsored by the Prater’s Mill Foundation, a nonprofit organization of volunteers dedicated to historic preservation and education. There are also 25 civic clubs, churches and schools that are participating.

Fair hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7 cash, but military with ID and children 12 and under enter free. Parking and shuttle service is free. If you’d like to purchase your tickets online in advance and avoid lines at the gate, they cost $7.50 at www.pratersmill.org/fair/.

Prater’s Mill is located at 5845 GA-2 Dalton GA 30721. For more information, call 706-694-6455, or visit the event’s website.

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