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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Spirit Miller That Inhabited The Old Welch Mill

Dallas Bogan on 22 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland:Heritage Press, 1979) page 26
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Certain events happen which sometimes seem to be supernatural at times. Word is passed along concerning this event and eventually the story is stretched out of proportion. Such is the case of the old "Welch mill" which was located for years at the foot of the hill at Harveysburg. Our subject this week will focus on the "Spirit Miller of the Old Welch Mill."
A short history of the land layout and mill should at this time be appropriate.
Before the lake project, an exquisite little valley lay directly to the west beneath the Harveysburg hill. Geologists seem to think that before the last ice age, this area was once the bed of a lake, but the changes that took place at the close of the ice period closed up the original outlet. This caused the accumulated waters to open up a new channel, through which Caesar's Creek now flows.
Amos and Samuel G. Welch, and Thomas M. Wales built the old Welch gristmill in 1839. It was the last one in operation in Massie Township. It was forty feet square and three stories high, and worked three runs of stones. Isaiah Fallis, John and Thomas Fallis, George Wikle, William Harlan, William Starry, George Ross, Alfred Edwards and T.E. Lawrence last owned it respectively.
The old mill at one time was the highlight of a large and successful trade. It was the centerpiece of the market and the gathering spot for nearby and distant citizens. Up above the mill, near the western side, there were overflowing springs, which had caused large marshes to exist. The owners drained the bog and caused a discharge of waters into Caesar's Creek near the southern rim. This small stream was known as Prairie Branch, and early pioneers knew the entire valley as Little Prairie.
Our story now continues with a taste of ghostly fright. It seems that an old miller by the name of Hans Van Ripper was well remembered in the middle 1800's by many Harveysburg citizens.
Hans was normally a gentleman and respected by all who knew him, except when he allowed the Devil's own concoction, "good old-fashioned whiskey," to draw out an inner fire in him. This episode allowed the demon to take the place of the man, and become a fiendish fury. The "legend" states that on one hot, steamy summer night a violent thunderstorm was raging with all the ferocity the heavens could yield. The might of the Devil seemed to lash out and at times flick its fire toward the earth in a vengeful manner. Hans, in a drunken frenzy, appeared to display a disposition that complimented the unmerciful display of the heavens. He cursed the storm, the lightning, the wind, and, as the events grew even more turbulent, his madness increased in intensity. His employer, who was horrified not only at the storm but at his wild companion, started to leave the premises when Hans burst into a fresh barrage of profanities, and called on the Devil himself to come and help run the mill. A graphic sheet of flame, a crash of thunder, a wild piercing scream, and a momentary vision was caught of a dark form sailing through the air, and the curses of Hans were heard dying away into the retreating storm.
The eventful night of Hans and his disappearance caused much commotion amongst the multitude. Ill-fortune now hung over the mill as if being guided by some unknown force. Twice it was ravaged by fire and twice it was rebuilt. The dams had been swept away and the race was dry.
The vast wheel, which turned the machinery was clogged with mud and hung idly rotting on its shaft. The windows were gone; the doors hung ruined on their hinges; and the moss grew on the roof in an aimless manner. The old mill beckoned for the days of the past. But the ever-reaching hand of Hans Van Ripper dominated the events to his choosing. It was said that not even the birds or rodents would choose the mill as their resting place. The eerie walks of the ghostly cast their shadowy form and strange shapes through the open windows, while the pale moonlight projected its remnant through the cracks of the rickety old building. It was then the hound would stop in full chase, throw up his head, and break away into the most gruesome howls. The horse of the overdue rider stops, with every limb trembling, with inflated nostrils, its eyes flashing and ears quivering, while neither blows nor persuasion will spur him to proceed. On the fiercest nights, when the storm is in all its fury, it was said that lights shone from every window of the old mill. Ghostly teamsters and their teams would again be seen driving into the mill-yard. Horses were again heard neighing in the mill-shed. Sounds of water splashing over the great water wheel were again distinctive. The distant sound of the groaning mill and its machinery once again rang out a in a spooky fashion. Sounds of grain falling from the elevator buckets, the dull rumble of the millstones as they turn on their spindles, the hopper boy once again seen making his rounds, all of which seemed to be fashioned by the unknown.
On nights of immense storms and the awesome powers of the heavens are inflicted on the Earth, the old storytellers shake their heads, and tell the frightened child that Hans Van Ripper and the Devil are attending the mill.

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