The Richland Album: Mills

The Law of Time

This is the law of time: for every hour we go on there is an hour that slips behind, so that for every bit of gain there is equal loss. In order to enter the future we must relinquish the past.

As each generation creates its own new version of America, the old way, the old style, passes into history, and as each wave of people takes the stage to witness a particular and unique new story, so it watches the putting away of sets and scenery and props from the play just concluded.

This series of photo essays takes a look at landmarks from the past that were once common and familiar components of the landscape to Richlanders long since passed on. A hundred and fifty years ago folks couldn’t really imagine a county without covered bridges, without hitching posts, without livery stables. Today the only way you have to picture these sights is with our virtual Richland Album.

This chapter from the virtual album features Mills of Richland County.

 In early Richland County nearly every road led to a mill. The earliest log books of the County Commissioners are mostly details of laying out roads to connect farms to the mills that were so essential to farmers’ survival.

In the 1800s there were over 180 mills on Richland’s rivers and streams: sawmills, gristmills, mills for oil from flax or linseed, woolen mills. There was an abundance of river water running here—enough to power the wheels that turned agricultural produce into marketable commodities, and propel the wheels of commerce.

The mills were such a vital element of life back then, and drew so many people in like a hive of activity, that they attracted other businesses and services, and naturally coalesced into villages. Nearly every town in the county originated with a mill as the heart of its lifeblood.

Nearly 200 years after the great age of waterwheels and millstones began here, there are very few traces left of those days: a few mill ponds, a few dry mill runs, a few gristmill-era names like Millsboro.

The world in which we find ourselves in the 21st century is rather severely divorced from the stern realities of our founding fathers’ time: today food comes from the grocery—not the barn; flour comes from Pillsbury—not the mill. Yet there still exists for us a small, humble reminder of our 19th century roots: at South Park on Brinkerhoff Avenue.

At the northern entrance is a simple garden that displays those essential tools without which our forebears could not have survived: two granite millstones, and a prehistoric grindstone used for the same purpose of processing grain 1000 years ago.

Today it is a barely noticed feature of the park lawn, but in the context of humanity’s need to eat in the wilderness, these stones constitute nothing less than a shrine to necessity, ingenuity, and hard work.


This surveyor’s sketch of a mill on the Clear Fork was made in 1847 when there were no fewer than 100 water powered mills in Richland County. The drawing shows all the elements you would find at most of the mills: a river; a mill pond to collect water that ran down the mill race to turn a water wheel or turbine; and many roads converging on the site.

A little village in Springfield Township originally laid out as Edwinsburgh in 1816 quickly got the new name Millsborough when a host of mills set up business at the headwaters of the Clear Fork.
Several of the mills were diestroyed in various floods, and the last one was torn down in 1919.

BELLVILLE

For many years in Bellville it was know as the Moody Mill. Built in 1831 it stood at the northeast corner of town, and was taken down in 1952 when State Route 97 curved through that spot on the Clear Fork.
1948 view of the Moody Mill in Bellville.

CLEAR FORK VALLEY

The Greenwood Mill, located on the Clear Fork between Bellville and Butler, was built in 1819 to grind buckwheat and corn meal.

Shortly after the Civil War the miller recognized that the Clear Fork had enough power for more than one mill, so he cut the large building in half and moved part of it aross the river for a cider mill.

The half that stood on the north side of the river burned in 1885, and the other half was shattered by a falling tree in 1978.
The half of the Greenwood Mill that perched on the hill above the south bank of the Clear Fork was so close to Stoffer Road you could reach out and touch it from your car driving by.

This oil painting of the mill was made by Margaret Twitchell Swank.
Site of the Greenwood Mill today.

The last operating mill standing in Richland County was the Rummel Mill on Benedict Road outside Butler.

It was built in 1853 and, long after the old covered bridge beside it was replaced by a steel trestle bridge, the old mill stood through many floods. Certainly all the odds are against any wooden building that stands so close to variable waters.

With most of its works intact within the building an effort was made in the 1980s to preserve Rummel Mill but the elements eventually won and the building was lost.

It was known as Plank’s Mill, on the Clear Fork just west of Butler near Gatton Rocks Road, and it ground grain from 1818 until 1944.
The mill race at Plank’s Mill.

When this grist mill was built in 1844 it was the largest building in Richland County: upwards of 57 feet tall. It was located in downtown Winchester, seen on this 1856 map halfway between Newville and Butler (then Independence.)

For many decades it operated as a woolen mill, and served as a community meeting hall, long outlasting Winchester itself. It was torn down in 1955.

MALABAR FARM

The Schrack Mill was situated along the waters of Switzer’s Creek on what are today the grounds of Malabar Farm State Park.

Built in 1841 to grind grain, the mill was already gone by 1939 when Louis Bromfield used its sandstone foundation to build the massive chimneys in his home across the valley.

MIFFLIN & LUCAS

Charles Mill, built in 1825, still gives its name to the lake and recreational area near the site where the mill originally stood.

The mill was placed with good intention next to the Black Fork, but the river proved too variable, either too wet or too dry, for steady business. So in 1919 it was moved into Lucas because the village had electricity to power the mill.
The old Charles Mill, subsequently known as the Lucas Mill, stood at the corner of First and Bond until it burned in 1957.

SHELBY

The City of Shelby was known in its earliest days as Gamble’s Mill.

Unlike other mills on the Forks of the Mohican, the mill that Mr. Gamble operated did not run by water power, but by the steady slow plodding of horse power.

The mill for which Shelby owes its origin stood up the hill from the Black Fork River, on what is today the SE corner of Main & Gamble Streets.

The Gamble Mill was torn down in 1822. Shelby got its new name in 1834.
A major industrial mill in Shelby was built on the west side of Main Street on the Black Fork in 1844 to run on steam power.
It was turning out up to 300 bushels of wheat a day when it was named Shelby City Mills in 1878. The mill lasted until 1920.

A powerful spring in Springfield Township led to the landmark Spring Mill that still remembered today in the name of Springmill Street.
Built in 1817, then rebuilt in 1860, the last standing mill in Richland County survives as a residence, somewhat altered from its original configuration by fire and a brick facade.



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