Meet the Founders of the Conservancy
Thank you for visiting the Historic Banning Mills website. Located in the lost gorge at Snake Creek in the state of Georgia, we are a retreat center, as well as a conservation center. We are a family-run and family-built self-supported state and federally recognized 501(c)(3) conservancy.
As you browse our website, we hope you enjoy learning about the history and unique beauty of not only the hidden gorge at Snake Creek, but also the old ghost town of Banning Mills. Also, be sure to take time to learn about all of the adventure treks we offer, including the Screaming Eagle Zip Line Canopy Tours, certified by Guinness World Records to be the longest and largest continuous eco zip line canopy tour in the world.
We are often asked if our family inherited the property or the finances required to build Historic Banning Mills. The answer to both questions is “No.” Historic Banning Mills and all that is here is the result of continuous, non-stop, rewarding hard work and sacrifice of our children (Christy, Beth, Michael, and Tim) and ourselves (Mike and Donna Holder). We discovered the property in 1997 after finding a one time “land for sale” ad in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The property had been neglected for over 20 years and the grounds were severely overgrown, but we decided that we would take a chance. Well, I, Donna, was against the idea, but Mike decided to take the chance and dragged me, kicking and screaming, from our dream home next to Kennesaw National Battlefield Park. However, it wasn’t long before the unique beauty of the property became home.
The beginning of our journey left an indelible mark on us, our children, and will hopefully leave a mark on all who visit us. We sincerely believe that we were led to Banning Mills, not only to discover the lost history and share it, but also to create a blessing to those who need a little peace and quiet, or want to challenge themselves!
We first lived in the old clubhouse at Banning, along with the possums and raccoons! Although we didn’t enjoy our other tenants, our Labrador, Jeb Stuart, thought he was in dog heaven. When we first moved here, we had no idea about the history here or how beautiful the land was. Mike continued his job as a 777 pilot (now retired) with American Airlines, and I retired from being an RN. We continued our residential construction business as we continued to develop the land.
Our entire family cleared brush and overgrowth for three years, and in the process discovered the old town roads, water raceways and ruins. We asked everyone we could about the history and for old photographs, but it seemed that Banning Mills had been forgotten. A break came when Professor Goodwin, at the University of West Georgia, had begun researching the area before passing. Being able to read his findings gave us a start, and we also collected photos from one of our neighbors. Our biggest break came when Historian Doug Mabry began assisting us with researching the old town and Snake Creek Gorge area. From the Creek Indian Nation history to the industrial era, we discovered enough to change the Georgia history books! We were even asked, by the Paper Making Museum at Georgia Tech University, to be placed as an official exhibit in their museum.
In 1998, we established the country inn and bed & breakfast, as well as beginning the Screaming Eagle Eco Zip Line Canopy Tours. Mike built and taught life supporting zip line construction, as well as gave numerous demonstrations (including U.S. Presidents and staff), as an Army Ranger, Special Ops. He was a high element team building and mountaineering facilitator for over 35 years, so the Screaming Eagle Zip Line Canopy Tours had to be built! The Lost Gorge at Snake Creek was the perfect place to build the tour. Throughout the years, we have added the geo navigational treks (team building opportunities), additional land conservation (adding 220 acres with four lakes) nature hiking trails through the gorge, a mile of rapids, scenic historic vestas, the RV center, additional lodging (cottage rooms, cabins, and our tree house rooms), the last standing cotton mill, and even became a TWO time Guinness World Record holder!
By 2006, our small bed and breakfast turned into a medium sized country inn, and retreat and adventure center. It really was like the movie The Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” Then, at midnight on Thanksgiving night of 2006, we had a fire that destroyed the main lodge, class rooms, storage buildings, all of our equipment, and historic artifacts. We lost everything. It was devastating to us and we faced many inner questions, doubts, and fears. The community was amazing, with so many people saying “You have to rebuild” and “Banning Mills is special. You can’t just give up.”
I think there comes a time in everyone’s life that your core beliefs will be challenged. Do you really believe what you believe? Can you really stand on those core values in the hard times? We believe that God is always with us. That He leads us on this journey home and that we can trust Him with all that concerns us. So, we picked ourselves up and began to rebuild. And we did rebuild with lots of prayers, encouragement and great people helping us.
After lots of work, Historic Banning Mills reopened in October of 2007. Now, we are in the middle of 1,200 forever protected acres, have more history to share, have additional retreat venues for groups and more adventures for you to experience. We are still a work in progress and always will be. Out of the ashes came new programs and opportunities for our guests (ministry through adventure).
After over a decade of almost around the clock work, scratching and scraping for every penny, weathering many storms, a terrible fire, and a devastating flood in 2009, we know that sometimes one has to walk through the valley to get to the mountaintop. We have seen that “Weeping tarries for the night but joy comes in the morning.” We give God the glory and thank Him for His faithfulness and for friends and neighbors that stood by us. We can’t wait to see what the future holds. We hope that you come visit us! Our staff, as well as our family, look forward to sharing our home and the beauty that God made at Snake Creek Gorge with you.
Mike, Donna, & the Holder Family
Our mission here at Historic Banning Mills and Screaming Eagle Zip Line Canopy Adventures is to help preserve God’s creation by merging fun and exhilarating experiential adventure challenges with natural and historic educational opportunities.
You can see forever during winter!
We are here almost every day and welcome you to contact us at 770-834-9149 or send an email when you are ready to plan your weekend getaway, group event, family adventure vacation or corporate retreat. Historic Banning Mills is a non-profit retreat and conservation center. Banning Mills is a non-smoking facility!