Always held on the second full weekend in October, the fair is presented at historic Prater’s Mill, a water-powered grist mill that still grinds organic corn the old-fashioned way.
Begun by volunteers in 1971 to raise funds to restore the 1855 mill and surrounding buildings, the rural festival offers original art, handmade crafts, Southern foods and music. The event is a featured destination in the National Geographic MapGuide to Appalachia, nationalgeographic.com/appalachia.
Crafts demonstrations include blacksmithing, quilting, wood carving and hand tufting, a cottage industry that evolved into the tufted carpet industry centered in Dalton.
“I demonstrate tufting at Prater’s Mill to preserve the heritage of our textile industry that is so important to us today,” said Jeanette Defore Coker, age 68. “I grew up on the famous Peacock Alley, the nickname of U.S. Hwy. 41, where colorful bedspreads flopped in the wind on both sides of the road. My exhibit at Prater’s Mill is a tribute to the creative genius of the people here who revived the art of tufting, developed machines to tuft and marketed their products worldwide.”
At the fair, visitors take self-guided tours of the operating grist mill, the country store, Shugart Cotton Gin and Westbrook Barn, complete with farm animals, a petting zoo and animals to adopt.
Across the road from the mill is the 1898 Prater’s Store. In a cabin near the store, Dalton Pike Church of God members serve authentic Southern meals of chicken and dumplins, collard greens and cornbread cooked on a wood-burning stove. Elsewhere throughout the festival area are other specialties, such as pit-cooked barbecue, apple cider and churned ice cream.
During the fair, families enjoy canoeing on Coahulla Creek, riding the “Little Texas” train and pony rides for the children. Educational exhibits include working antique tractors, antique cars and “Peacock Alley,” a clothesline display of handtufted bedspreads.
Continuous entertainment on stage offers Appalachian-style cloggers, a wild animal presentation, the play “The Legend of Charles Prater,” as well as country, bluegrass and gospel artists. Wandering musicians, dulcimer players and storytellers perform throughout the festival area.
The Prater’s Mill Country Fair is sponsored by the Prater’s Mill Foundation, a nonprofit organization of volunteers dedicated to historic preservation and education. Thirty-seven civic clubs, churches and schools also participate in the community event.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $7, and children 12-under are free. Visitors are urged to dress casually and wear comfortable shoes. Parking is free.
Prater’s Mill is at 5845 Ga. Hwy 2, 10 miles northeast of Dalton and about 30 miles south of Chattanooga. For more information, visit PratersMill.org, call 706-694-MILL (6455) or email pratersmill@PratersMill.org.