Millstone makes unique fountain in back yard

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 12, 2011

SALISBURY — The 6-foot-5, big-framed Rick Leonard looks as though he could lift a couple of grown men over his head.
But even Leonard can’t budge the three-ton millstone that has become the main attraction in his back yard.
Relying on the expertise of Heath Hager’s landscaping crew this summer, Leonard created a beautiful water feature between his house and back shop. The star of that show is the millstone, which has become a fountain more than 6 feet wide at its base.
When Leonard strings up his hammock or sits on a rocking chair on the back shop’s wide porch, he swears he’s sitting next to a babbling mountain brook.
“I’m thrilled with it,” Leonard says. “My concept, and Heath’s execution.”
Leonard stands confident that his stone was once part of a Chilean mill used to break up pieces of gold ore. Its design fits that task and not the workings of an old grist mill.
These kinds of mills could crush 170 buckets of ore a day, Leonard says, adding, “If it’s not an ore stone, I don’t know what it is.”
It’s humongous: 74 inches in diameter, 11 inches thick at the working edge and 22 inches at the center hole, which itself is 10 inches in diameter. Leonard had an engineering friend from Pennsylvania make some calculations, “with all these fancy formulas,” and he concluded the stone weighed at least 6,200 pounds.
But where the real conversation gets going is how the granite millstone came to be sitting in Leonard’s back yard off East Ridge Road in the Ellis Cross Roads community.
Working earlier this summer in an area between Gold Hill and Rockwell, Leonard’s son-in-law, Brad Miller, noticed the protruding stone some 50 feet off Johnson Dairy Road and another 50 feet off a private driveway.
It was “half-buried in leaves,” Leonard says. Miller has worked with granite before and knows his way around the stone. Leonard says, “I kid him that he must be able to smell granite.”
But where had it come from?
“For the life of me,” Leonard says, “I don’t know how the stone ended up on Johnson Dairy Road.”
As Miller and Leonard discussed the son-in-law’s find, they came up with a theory that some wagon driver was transporting this three-ton wheel to a Gold Hill mining operation, and it fell off. Not having the equipment to lift it back onto the wagon, the driver left it, never to return.
Well, that’s about the best explanation so far. Leonard also is convinced the stone is pink granite quarried in eastern Rowan County.
As the men talked about the millstone, Leonard asked Miller whether he thought the owner of the property where the stone was found might be willing to sell it.
The millstone could be bought, and Leonard allowed Miller to “transact the business,” only after he determined that friend Tony Hager Sr. had the equipment to move it. At first, Leonard didn’t know exactly what he was going to do with the stone.
Should he stand it on end like some kind of monument, or lay it down for a huge picnic table? The fountain idea eventually made the most sense.
Leonard relied on Tony Hager and his tractor, flatbed and lift truck to move the stone from Johnson Dairy Road to the East Ridge Road house, where the millstone was set neatly on three granite piers.
Leonard cleaned off the lichen, moss and dirt. Two holes on the end, which probably were important in the task of setting the wheel upright, were filled with nuts and acorn shells. Leonard also found a toad that had made the cross-county trip from Johnson Dairy Road.
With the millstone in place, Hager and his men dug out the ponds and landscaped using stones from Peeples and black rubber mulch from Four R Recycling.
The new back-yard addition ties the pergola next to Rick and Carol Leonard’s house with the 24-foot-by-24-foot shop. The couple rely on a small-horsepower motor to run the pump for the fountain, which recycles the water it uses.
Leonard figures the fountain costs him 50 cents a day in electricity, and he keeps it going around the clock.
The Leonards moved into their house in 2004. Rick designed it, using a $60 software program from Sam’s Club. The property belonged to Carol’s side of the family (the Cruses) for decades and once was home to the original Ellis schoolhouse.
Rick and Carol like old things, so the millstone seems perfect for them. In a way, it ties into a family heirloom — a 21/2-dollar gold coin minted in Charlotte in 1860. The chances of its being produced from gold that came from Gold Hill or mines close by are probably pretty high.
“It kind of completes a circle,” Leonard says, looking out at his millstone.
There’s another good thing about having your own Chilean mill.
“I don’t think there are going to be any more like it,” Rick says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@