Meet Mr. Yogi, the “resident historian” of the Porterdale Mill Lofts

Once the world’s largest producer of twine, the property is now basically a miniature town

Photograph by Dustin Chambers

Porterdale Mill Lofts | Porterdale | 35 miles Southeast of Atlanta
Nobody calls him Gary Wilkerson. This is Mr. Yogi, or simply Yogi. He’s the proudest “river rat” that the rich soil of Porterdale’s Yellow River has ever produced, a hulking 67-year-old who briefly attended the University of Tennessee on a football scholarship but was quickly lured back by homesickness. Yogi grew up hunting rabbits in these bottomlands, gulping lemon sours at the local pharmacy, and playing baseball under the tutelage of B.C. Crowell—a former New York Yankees prospect who thought the young catcher resembled his pal Yogi Berra and bestowed a nickname that stuck like pine tar. “Mom called me that until she went into the grave,” says Yogi. After a career in industrial maintenance, seven grandkids, and two hip replacements, Yogi has found himself back on the banks of the Yellow River, where he rents an industrial-chic, two-bedroom unit in the Porterdale Mill Lofts and presides as resident historian. Originally opened in 1899, this thick-walled mill was once the world’s largest producer of twine, and its closure in the 1970s crippled tiny Porterdale. In the late 1990s—before “mixed-use” and “adaptive-reuse” were millennial-bait buzzwords—Atlanta architect and developer Walter Davis saw the blighted property’s potential and began a $25 million renovation that left the original brickwork, heart-of-pine floors, and elevator doors. Now, beyond the 154 apartments, the property is basically a miniature town, with restaurants, a bakery, a musical instrument retailer, a tax service provider, and a children’s dance studio. All of this, in conjunction with a booming bioscience industry, has reinvigorated Porterdale. Near the end of the mill’s renovation in 2006, Yogi said to his wife, “That’s where we’re going,” and for the past few years he’s enjoyed a two-minute morning commute to the back deck, where he sips coffee; casts a line into the river; listens to the hiss of a dam; and watches osprey, blue heron, and river otters frolic where he once did.

This article originally appeared in our March 2017 issue.

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