LANSING-A Democrat hoping to challenge Richard Burr for his U.S. Senate seat later this year has ties to Ashe County.
Deborah Ross, who represented Wake County for a decade in the North Carolina House of Representatives, and her husband are the owners of the old Clark-Miller Roller Mill in Lansing.
Built roughly a century ago just off Little Horse Creek, Ross said her husband purchased the property in 2011. It was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014, and the couple embarked on a renovation project to give the aging structure new life.
“We’ve vacationed in the mountains, particularly in Ashe County, for years,” Ross said. “And my husband in particular always wanted a place of our own there. When the opportunity came up to buy that place – especially with all its history – we jumped on it.”
Prior to her political career, Ross served as the state director for the American Civil Liberties Union. She served from 2003 to 2013 in the North Carolina House of Representatives, where she was a member of the Democratic caucus leadership. After her career in the House, she became general counsel to GoTriangle, which provides mass transit services in Wake, Durham and Orange Counties, a position she resigned in October just prior to announcing her US Senate bid.
The mill itself was likely started as a joint venture between Jessie Davis and Ambrose Clark prior to 1921, according to a National Park Service file. Little information is known about Davis, but considerably more is recorded about Clark, who served two terms as Sheriff of Ashe County and as a state legislator from 1916-1918. Clark was also a farmer and owned a sawmill and lumber operation.
Clark was also serving as Sheriff during the capture and return of African American prisoner Will Banks to North Carolina from Indiana. Bank’s 1907 public hanging was the last in Ashe County.
The mill remained in nearly continuous operation until the massive flood of 1940 destroyed the dam that helped power the mill. It had been used occasionally for storage in the years until it was purchased from Preservation North Carolina in 2011.
Since purchasing the property, Ross and her husband have worked to turn the historic mill into a vacation home. It’s a project Ross said is near and dear to her heart, as she spent much of her political career in the state House working on historic preservation issues, like extending North Carolina’s Historic Preservation Tax Credits – a battle which concluded when the program ended in 2014.
“It’s important that we know and respect our history,” Ross said. “And taking care of buildings like the mill, or finding new life for all the abandoned historic properties across the state, that’s important. I think we can inject a lot of life back into these properties, and these parts of the state. When you preserve the buildings, you preserve the history.”
A revamped Historic Tax Credit program approved by state legislators goes into effect this year.
Ross said she believes North Carolina needs a senator that understands – and cares about – the day-to-day lives of the average resident.
“Every generation faces their own challenges,” Ross said. “But the young people of today might face more than most.”
She singled out the need to provide cost-effective education to citizens, the need to push average wages higher and the affordability of healthcare as key issues she’s concerned about.
“I want to make sure people can get the education and training they need to go out and start their own families, purchase homes and move forward with their lives in the way my generation was able to do,” Ross said. “We have to make that happen.”
She’ll face Kevin Griffin, Ernest Reeves, and Chris Rey in the Democratic primary contest in March. Incumbent Republican Richard Burr will face Greg Brannon, Larry Holmquist and Paul Wright.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.