Southwest Raleigh is home to two related historic and natural resources that are unique in the city of Raleigh. Yates Mill, which definitely dates from around 1810 to 1820, but is thought to have structural elements dating to the mid-1750s, is located on Steep Hill Creek at the intersection of Lake Wheeler and Penny roads.  The mill and its adjacent millpond and stone dam are designated Raleigh Historic Landmarks and are also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Of the known 18th-century grist mills in the Raleigh area, only Yates Mill survives.

Built as a grist mill, Yates Mill served the surrounding farmers by milling crops of corn and wheat, and producing animal feed. The structure’s water wheel, at one time or another also generated the power to mill lumber and card wool. In the early 19th century, the complex was owned by William Boylan, for whom Boylan Heights was named, and sometime before 1861, was purchased by a partnership composed of James Dodd, Thomas Briggs, James Penny, and William Primrose. Mr. Penny then bought out his three partners, and during the Civil War, sold the mill complex and its surrounding 600 acres to Phares Yates whose name remains associated with the property.

The mill remained operational through the early years of the 20th century, and many Raleigh citizens recall using cornmeal from Yates Mill in their kitchens. In the mid-20th century the mill complex and its surrounding acreage were purchased by A.E. Finley, a Virginia native who settled in Raleigh in the 1920s and started the North Carolina Equipment Company. Mr. Finley, who went on to become a very successful businessman and noted philanthropist, added to his Yates Mill property purchase, and assembled about 1,000 acres of agricultural land on both sides of Lake Wheeler Road by the late 1950s.

Then, in the early 1960s, when North Carolina State University was scouting the area for a large tract on which to establish a research farm that was convenient to its central campus, they asked Willie York to broker a deal with Mr. Finley to acquire his southwest Raleigh tract. Mr. York was successful, and the research farm was established on both sides of Lake Wheeler Road where it remains operational today.

By the late 1980s, historic Yates Mill was near ruin and collapse.  But through the dedicated efforts of the non-profit Yates Mill Associates, Inc. and the North Carolina State University administration, the building, water wheel, stone dam, and millpond have been restored and returned to their historic working condition.  In addition, the university, together with the Wake County Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Department, has established the 600-acre Historic Yates Mill County Park on land historically associated with the mill complex. This green-space gift to rapidly-developing Raleigh and Wake County, along with the university research farm on Lake Wheeler Road, creates a unique agricultural southern entrance into urban Raleigh that lies just north of the area along Tryon Road.

Southwest Raleigh is, indeed, very fortunate to have these wonderful historic and natural resources on our doorstep.

Research by Linda Edmisten.

Photo by Michael Zirkle Photography
© Raleigh Historic Development Commission


4630 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh, North Carolina 27603
ca. 1756; 1820; 1854
Local/National Designations
Raleigh Historic Landmark
National Register of Historic Places



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