Lake County Ohio GenWeb

The Painesville Mills

From The Painesville Telegraph, Painesville, Ohio, May 6, 1886, p. 3, and reprinted by Phyllis Williams in the July 1990 "LakeLines," the newsletter of the Lake County Genealogical Society. Retranscribed here by Kerri O'Connor.

A Pioneer Sketch - History of the Painesville Mills

Some weeks since, when publishing a notice of the new firm managing the Painesville Roller Mills, the TELEGRAPH announced its intention of presenting in the next issue a history of that property from the building of the first mill.

As the subject was looked into, it was found that so many of the early settlers had been associated with the property, and the survivors of the early days were so few and scattered that much more time than anticipated has been required to gather the facts that we are now able to present.

Perhaps no greater inconvenience was experienced by the pioneer of those days, than his remoteness from any point of manufacture where raw materials could be utilized after producing them. He might carry with him into the new country provisions enough to sustain him till a harvest could be matured, but then he must either crush his grain by hand in a primitive way, or be compelled to bear it on a tedious journey of days or weeks, through a wilderness of forests and over unbridged rivers before he could reach a mill.

During the first years of the present century, the settlers of this part of the Reserve found it necessary to make pilgrimages of sixty and seventy-five miles and return to secure the grinding of their grain. There is said to have been a small wind-mill in Madison, operated for a time by one named Kimball. But Erie was the nearest reliable point for such work.

In the year 1806, Joel Scott, coming from Massachusetts with four sons, all of whom were skilled mechanics, settled at Newmarket, the point on Grand River now known as the Skinner farm. During the following year this family constructed a small mill on the present site of the Painesville Mills.

At our time of manufacturing enterprise and rapid transportation, it is impossible to appreciate the obstacles necessary to be overcome by those pioneer millwrights. They brought no castings with them and the only foundry in the northern part of the State was a small one at Middlebury, which settlement has since become a part of the city of Akron. From this establishment was procured the limited supply of castings used in constructing the mill. But the builders had to depend almost entirely on their skill in working wood and made from it all their gearing. For stone of suitable grit for burrs, the country was searched for miles in all directions, and at last, in a southern township of the county, one was found from which, after much labor, a set of stones was hewn that did service for several years.

On February 17, 1808, Joel Scott acquired title to his mill property from Gen. Eli Bond, who was a large land owner in that part of the town, and this is the first mention of mill property on the records of the county. Scott and his sons continued to operate the mill for eighteen years and built in connection with it a saw mill. On the flats below they established a shipyard in which they built two schooners that afterward saw good service on the lakes. The first of those, the "Champion," was launched in 1813, and the other, the "Farmer," commanded by Capt. J. K. Whaley, was taken down the river in the high water of 1820. Two of the passengers of that trip are still living. Harry Babcock, the venerable fisherman of Fairport, was its cabin boy, and Mr. E. H. Merrill of Akron, grandson of Joel Scott, and further mention of whom may be found in another column, was also aboard. They relate that in rounding the point at Skinner's Landing, old General Paine came dancing down to the river bank and threw to the crew a jug of whiskey, to express his compliments to the new craft.

Having become involved in other enterprises, the Scotts were compelled to sacrifice their mill property, and on October 25, 1826, it was sold by Sheriff Uri Seeley to the Geauga Furnace Co. Soon after this transfer, the mill burned, but the Furnace Co. immediately replaced it with a larger and in every way much better mill, and operated it till May 31, 1851, when it passed into the hands of P. P. Sanford et al, the same being stock holders in the Furnace Co., and they in turn disposed of it to Rowland Moseley, of Madison, October 19, 1855.

During the nineteen years since it had become the property of the Furnace Co., its business had increased to large proportions, and spacious warehouses were constructed for the grain that was handled in its business. One of the warehouses, since removed to State street, is now occupied as a livery stable by Fred. Baker.

During this time there was operated in connection with the mill and in a building just below it, a carding and fulling mill, to which the farmers from many towns brought their wool to have it carded into rolls, and after the girls had spun it and their mothers had woven it into cloth, it was returned here again for fulling and coloring.

Mr. Moseley retained possession of the mill only till April 8, 1856, when he sold it to Jonathan F. Card, and on the 15th of the following September it was purchased by N. S. Wheeler, who operated it about three years, when it was again burned in the spring of 1859, and on July 4th of the same year, the site was purchased by W. S. Towsley and Abraham Teachout, of Madison, who immediately commenced the erection of the present main building of the mills. The work was pushed ahead so rapidly that grinding was resumed in November.

On April 20th, 1860, Mr. Towsley withdrew and the property remained in the hands of Mr. Teachout till March 13, 1863, when he sold to Mr. N. P. Goodell, who operated it about one year when it was purchased by Boynton & Kurtz, October 10, 1865.

In the following April the dam was swept away by floods and had been nearly rebuilt when it was all carried off by another high water, but strange to relate, every piece of the hewn white oak timber, the material that was being used in its construction, was recovered either along the river or on the lakeshore and was replaced in the dam that still stands, and which is anchored to the solid rock of the river bed.

On November 22, 1870, the property came into the hands of S. Bigler. To those who remember the mill of that date, the old dam is about the only feature that bears any resemblance to the scenes of fifteen years ago. At first an addition nearly equal to the main building was constructed and the capacity was increased from a three to a five burr mill. Then waste land was reclaimed from the river by running a heavy stone wall, twelve feet high and about one hundred and fifty feet to the north of the mill, upon which space enclosed, when filled in, the present barns and warehouses were built.

On the site of the old barn and sheds were placed two dwellings for the millers, and a cooper-shop. Later, when more room must be secured to accommodate the improved machinery for manufacturing patent floor, the immense roof of the main building was raised intact, and an additional story was enclosed beneath. This piece of work was especially hazardous, for, at its height, it would have been impossible to stay the roof in such a manner as to resist a wind of any considerable force from dislodging and carrying it away.

The high water of 1878 cut through the road east of the bridge, making a new channel for the river and leaving the dam high and dry. This necessitated an extension to both the dam and bridge.

Each succeeding year the water supply has seemed to become more and more unreliable, and finally, when reconverting his mill into the full roller process, Mr. Bigler determined to introduce steam power in addition to the water wheels, and now has a hundred and fifty barrel mill, that can be propelled either by water or by the hundred and twenty-five horse power engine, which renders the business independent of the caprices of the river.

These fifteen years have seemed to be filled with a never ending series of mishaps to the mill, and consequent interruption to its business. But with unfagging persistence Mr. Bigler has grappled with each difficulty as it has appeared, and after the outlay of many more thousands of dollars than the property originally cost him, he has, at last, the satisfaction of knowing that for its capacity there is not a better equipped mill in the country.

On the 22d of last February, as announced in the TELEGRAPH at the time, Mr. Bigler received into partnership Mr. A. H. Noble and his son Frank S. Bigler, under the firm name of S. Bigler & Co., with Mr. Noble as the manager of the Company. The latter gentleman, who by this arrangement is added to the business men of our city, comes to this position after five years experience with the Diamond Mills of Youngstown, and after being associated for an equal length of time with the Broadway Mills of Cleveland.

The merit of the Painesville Mills' standard brands of flour, the Anchor, Magnet and Clipper, are too well known to most of the readers of the TELEGRAPH to need any new comment, but it will be a satisfaction to the friends of home enterprise to know that the reputation of these brands is steadily growing in outside towns and cities, and several cars are shipped abroad each week. To produce this flour it is necessary to receive from the West several car loads of wheat each week, in addition to all that the neighboring farmers deliver at the mill.

Beside these choice brands of Roller Process winter wheat flour, these mills, during the winter months, make a specialty of buckwheat flour, and have patent machinery, purchased at great expenses, for removing all the black hulls from the grain before it is crushed. These hulls, which contain no more nutrition than the shuck of any nut, are blown into the river, and the flour, free from them, is as pure and white as wheat flour. The majority of mills, not having adopted the new methods, grind the whole berry, hull and all, rendering the flour full of black specks of indigestible shuck and much more liable to grit.

With the business increasing as it has during the past few months, the storage capacity of the mills has proven insufficient for handling its merchandise, and during the past week ground has been broken for the foundation of another large warehouse at the foot of the hill opposite the mill.

The office and warerooms of the Company on State street, are located in one of the historic store buildings of the city, embracing the original walls of the store erected in 1818 by the father of Addison Hill, the present Assistant General Manager of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway. In this building, as one of the pioneer merchants of Painesville, Mr. Hill and his son Addison carried on business for about thirty years, and for many years kept the post-office in one corner of the store. In front of this store was the terminus of the Tram Railway, built from the harbor in 1835-36, and which Mr. Hill had anticipated to project south to the Ohio River.

In addition to the products of their mills, the Company makes a specialty of oat meal, cracked wheat and all other farinaceous articles of diet, together with baled hay, the best brands of salt, calcined plaster, waterlime, English Portland cement, and carefully selected field, farm and garden seeds of all kinds.

The mill was more recently referred to as Abbott's Mill and was on the north side of the Main Street bridge, on the west side of the river. It fell into disrepair and, according to Painesville historian, Carl Thomas Engel, burned in 1956 or 1958. Some decade and a half later, the remaining structure was torn down. When the present new bridge was constructed, what remained of the foundations, the dam and the mill race were removed.

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Last updated 20 Jul 2003

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