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On Sunday, Oct. 14, about 50 of the descendants of the Forbes family, builders of the Big Otter/Forbes Mill, returned to the mill for a tour of the structure and the grounds.
Reed Forbes and his sons, especially John William Forbes, Sr., built the mill in 1919 to 1920 to replace their mill which had burned to the ground in 1917. There have been different types of mills on this site for more than 200 years.
Reed Forbes, (he had no middle name), and his wife, Martha Jane Howell Forbes, had nine children, all of whom are now deceased. Their names were, in birth order: Mollie Forbes Arrington, George T. Forbes, John William Forbes, Minnie Forbes Carroll, Bessie Forbes Howell, Lillian Forbes Nunnley, Walter Gregory Forbes, Robert Kelso Forbes and James Irvin Forbes.
Most of those visiting the mill were descendants of John William Forbes Sr. and his wife, Cornelia May Welch Forbes. They had 10 children, seven of whom were born on the Forbes property near the mill. The last three of their children were born near Davis Mill, in the Moneta area.
John had moved to Davis Mill to work as a millwright and miller after the disastrous fire which had destroyed the family's mill at Big Otter River.
The four surviving children of John William Forbes Sr., along with family members representing all 10 of the children, came to visit the mill. They presented a donation of money to members of the Big Otter Mill Foundation to show their support for and appreciation of the Foundation's work in restoring the landmark mill which is so much a part of the family's heritage.
Among the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Reed Forbes present were three namesakes of the builders of the mill: John William Forbes Jr., 93, John William Forbes III, 71, and Reed Forbes, 70, son of the late Clifton Reed Forbes Sr., all of Stuarts Draft, Va.
Also present were the two surviving daughter of John William Forbes Sr., Hilda Forbes Cohron, 90, and Doris Forbes Almarode, 88, as well as the youngest son of the family, Nathaniel H. "Nat" Forbes, 83, all of Stuarts Draft.
Another grandson of Reed Forbes, Robert C. Forbes of Purcellville, Va., his wife, Nina, and their son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Forbes, represented Robert's father, Walter G. Forbes, who as a young man had worked with his father, Reed, in the mill. Walter later became a minister in the Christian Church.
The daughter of the late Mary Forbes Eckard, Bonnie Toms, of Bedford attended the event and represented the family of George T. Forbes, the eldest son of Reed Forbes.
At this year's annual Forbes family reunion held in June at Stuarts Draft, Helene Goggin Cox of Bedford County, the oldest of the grandchildren of John William Forbes Sr., suggested that the Forbes family make a monetary donation to the Big Otter Mill Foundation to assist in the restoration of the property which currently belongs to Bedford County and is under a process of restoration. Helene stated that the family had a great opportunity to make a much needed donation to help the Foundation to bring the mill to an operable condition as well as to protect the architectural integrity of the building.
When the restoration is complete, it is expected that the mill will serve many purposes in the county, both as an educational opportunity for school children and as a tourist attraction to help draw people to Bedford County.
After the reunion, members of the Forbes family were contacted by mail and checks were collected and brought to the mill on Oct. 14 and presented to Richard Burnett, treasurer of the Big Otter Mill Foundation.
Most of the visitors to the mill had never been inside the structure. It proved to be an unforgettable experience. They all left with a firm intention of returning to see the old mill operating as it once had in the days of their ancestors.
The Foundation welcomes donations and checks made payable to The Big Otter Mill Foundation, Inc. may be sent to the treasurer, Richard Burnett, at 1470 Lizard Ridge Road, Bedford, VA 24523.