Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Concerning Old Mills and Mill Stones

Marietta Register, Semi Weekly, May 15, 1888

"How happy is the miller who lives in the mill
While he takes his toll with a right good will;
One hand in the hopper, the other in the bag,
And as the wheel turns round he cries out grab."

One of the most imperative needs of civilized man is to have the means of grinding his grain so that he may make it into bread.  For a time the first settlers did this work by hand - a slow and tiresome process - and as soon as possible they set about erecting mills to grind by machinery.  The first structure for that purpose in this state which bore a resemblance to the modern mill, was build int 1790 on Wolf Creek, in the northern part of the county, by Major White, Col. Oliver and Capt. Dodge.  The business was interrupted during the Indian War, but was resumed at its close, and two other buildings were erected subsequently near the same site, but all are now gone.

Dr. Hildreth says the millstones first used in this mill were brought from Laurel Hill, near Brownsville, Pa.  One of these is said to be still in the possession of the descendants of Captain Dodge in Beverly.  The other has been broken up by relic hunters.  A piece weighing a couple of pounds forms a portion of the treasures of a son of the writer.

What was termed a floating mill, was built in 1791, at Belpre, by Capt. Devol, and another in 1796 by the same person on the Muskingum river, at what is now called Devol's Dam.  These floating mills were two boats fastened near together with a wheel between them, which was turned by the swift water where the boats were anchored in the stream.

From time to time there sprung up numerous mills in various parts of the county, mostly propelled by water power, some by horse power, and a few by steam.

The late Mr. C. C. Smith, to whom I am indebted for information in relation to old mills, said that he could remember of more than twenty mills which he had personally attended that had now gone to decay.

It is not easy for the present generation to realize the difference of getting the needed breadstuff for the family now and in the past.  Going to mill was one of the heaviest taxes that first inhabitants had to bear.  It was frequently put off as long as possible, but when he could no longer delay he made preparation as though going on a long journey.  Getting up before day, he fed his team and loaded the grain into his wagon, taking along feed for his horses and provision for himself to last one or more days; he bade his family good-bye, and started to the nearest available mill over roads which were, if possible, worse than those we have now.  Certainly there were fewer bridges then, and he had to ford creeks and cross many ravines which sorely taxed his beasts.  He counted himself particularly fortunate if he could get home by midnight of the same day that he started. 

Each one had to take his turn at the mill.  This was an inexorable rule from which there could be no deviation.  Often there were parties ahead of him whose grinding would last all the day or longer.  There was then the alternative of returning home and going some other day for his flour, or staying over night.  This latter was the usual method where the distance was considerable, either sleeping in the mill or on the straw in his wagon.  One person says he once spent three days, thus being gone two nights.  It happened often enough that the family at home were glad to see the grist coming back, for likely they had been out of bread for one or more meals, and had excellent appetite for the bread made from the new flour.

For short distances the grist was sometimes taken on the back of a horse.  Mos of the sons of early settlers will remember going to mill astride of a bag of corn.  A good deal was also packed on the shoulders of men, who thought it no great hardship to go two or three miles with a bushel and a half, or grain weighing eighty-five or ninety pounds on their shoulder.  Many families, and they were generally large ones too, had all their grinding carried in that way from one year to another.

In 1807 Captain Jonathan Devol put up quite a large frame mill on the bank of the Muskingum near where his floating had been located.  William's County History says that the wheel which gave the motive power in this mill was the largest one ever constructed at the west, being at least forty feet in diameter.  Mr. L. J. P. Putnam, who lived in the early  part of his life near there, says he thinks it was certainly that large and that it reached from the water to near or quite the top of the mill.

There were two mills at what is now called the town of Lowell.  They were just above where is now the Lowell bridge, one on the east and the other on the west side of the river.

There was then an island dividing the river there which disappeared after the present river dam was built.

The mill on the east side was owned and constructed, or perhaps built over from an older structure by Dr. Cyrus Spooner.  The needed fall was given by a brush dam built from the island to the shore.

That on the west side was built by a Mr. Sifers, who was afterwards killed by falling from the shaft of the large wheel where he was engaged in making some repairs.  This mill had what was termed a wing dam which was laid quartering across the stream and merely drove the water into a narrower channel producing a swifter current.

The mill was sold by Sifers to Mr. Yleck.  His son, Mr. George Yleck, now nearly eighty years old, living in Noble Co., writes me "that as he recollects, the large wheel was about 28 ft. high, the buckets 12 ft. long and the shaft being 20 ft. in length and two feet in diameter.  On this shaft was a cogwheel 20 ft. in diameter which mashed into another 6 or 8 feet through, and that into a smaller one which gave movement to the millstones."

I give the figures he writes.  Whether they be strictly correct or not, I do not know, nor does it matter particularly.  They are given to show the striking difference between the machinery used then and now.

One pair of the millstones that were in this mill, now lie on the ground where they fell when the mill rotted down many years ago.  One of them has a thrifty young elm tree growing through the hole in the center of it, and which now quite fills it so that soon, either the stone will have to give way or else the tree will become very much cramped for room.

The first pair of mill stones, as has been already stated, came from Brownsville, Pa., and some other mills it is said were supplied from the same quarry.  Others came from Raccoon Creek which empties into the Ohio in Gallia Co.

The best pair of millstones of early day, and which had the reputation of producing the best flour made in the county, were those in Elisha Allen's mill, on Duck Creek.  Mr. Lewis Putnam tells me that they were a pair of French buhrs, each in one piece, the only ones ever brought here in that condition.  The other French buhrs were in sections and held together by strong iron bonds.

There was still another place from whence were procured some stones which were used chiefly for grinding corn.  These came from a quarry on Duck Creek near the present town of Warner.  Those in Capt. Devol's mill, it is stated came from there.  Another set were used by Mr. Joel Stacy, of Rainbow, in a mill run by horse power.  The writer of this article, in his younger days, has eaten many a loaf of corn bread and dish of mush from the meal ground in this mill.

There may have been other sets of stones taken from the same place.

There is an incident connected with this last mentioned quarry which has long been a matter of curious interest and speculation, and has been alluded to by other writers.

An account of this will be given in another article.

J. W.

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