Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles
"Down by the old mill stream,
It was there I knew,
That I loved you true."
That old song had meaning to almost everyone who heard it when it was first written for every community had its mill which served as a meeting place, as well as a functional part of turning grain into bread.
Most of the mills are gone now, but a few remain here in the Gateway region, and are fairly accessible to those who are interested in "mill hunting."
When the mills were operational, one didn't go to the store to buy a bag of flour or meal. Rather, one took wheat or corn to the mill and waited patiently until it was ground. Sometimes whole families went to the mill and sat around and talked while the water wheel slowly ground out the product.
More often the man of the family went to mill and learned the news of the community, swapped yarns, or had shooting matches while he waited.
And during the 19th and early 20th century there were more than 200 water-powered mills operating, along the rushing creeks and rivers of Tennesseealone. There was at least an equal number along Virginia's streams.
The mills were the focal point of the settlements which grew up around them, and eventually those small communities grew into towns. Many of the mills gave way to electrically powered plants ... those that remained operational.
Others were destroyed by fire or flood, but a few managed to survive the onslaught of time.
One of the more photographed and painted mills in the region is Bush Mill near Nickelsville. It was purchased a few years ago by the Nickelsville Ruritan Club, and a log house was moved from Coeburn to stand near the old mill.
The club has been working to restore the mill, and most of the original machinery is still functional. It was purchased in 1897 from Tyler and Tate of Knoxville, shipped by rail to Gate City, and hauled by log wagons to the mill site then owned by J. R. Frazier and Jim Bush.
An earlier mill had been at that site, on property owned by Valentine and Nancy Gose Bush, but it was destroyed by fire, and the present mill was built by their sons Stephen and William Bush, and W. T. Frazier.
The mill has a large, metal overshot wheel, but the original was a wooden wheel built by James and Franklin Stewart. The sluice way that carried water to the wheel was rebuilt by the Ruritan Club.
The mill was in the center of three water-operated industries. Valentine Bush ran a water-powered sawmill upstream from the mill, and a water-powered carding machine below the mill.
Tragedy struck at the mill in 1866, when the 16-year-old son of Valentine Bush was sitting on a horse at the fork of Amos Branch, and was shot to death by an assassin (who was never caught) while the horse stopped to drink from the stream.
The Culbertson-McConnell Mill northeast of Snowflake on Moccasin Creek in Scott County, just off the "Big Moccasin Road", was last operated in the 1930s.
The mill was built around 1880 by James Culbertson, Jr., and was operated by turbine wheels. The original mill had a wooden dam, later replaced by a concrete dam because the wood kept washing downstream during flood-stages.
W. Pat McConnell rebuilt the old mill to three stories in height, and equipped it with Nordike Rolling Mill machinery. There were three turbine wheels in three separate pits, one for the grist mill, one for the rolling milland a third for a sawmill. It was said to be the heaviest in Scott County.
In Russell County is the only brick mill known to have been built in extreme southwest Virginia. Located just across the road from the Stuart Mansion at Elk Garden, the Elk Garden Mill was built by Aaron Hendricks sometime between 1823 and 1840.
It served the Elk Garden community and later the Stuart plantation for many years, grinding corn, wheat, buckwheat, and feed for livestock.
The land was sold to William Alexander Stuart, father of Governor Henry Carter Stuart. It is now owned by the Stuart Land and Cattle Company, the largest cattle ranch east of the Mississippi.Gov. Henry Carter Stuart was a cousin of the Civil War Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart.
In Lee County are two old mills only a short distance apart, both on Indian Creek west of Ewing. Wireman's Mill was the scene of a skirmish between the Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War, known locallyas the "Battle of Wireman's Mill."
Built shortly after the turn of the 19th century, the mill originally had a log dam. The building was also log, but was remodeled into a frame building. The dam was replaced with a concrete dam about 1921 by W. P. Nash. It was converted to a rolling mill, but was never very successful.
A short distance upstream is the Gibson Mill, which was operating at full blast about 1917. Its milldam is made of limestone rocks, and the mill was reconditioned through an Office of Economic Opportunity grant in the early 1970's.
An adjacent building was erected to operate as a restaurant to attract tourists, but it, too, was a failure, and closed within a few months of its opening.
Most of the mills in Hawkins County are gone. One at New Canton remains, although it can hardly be seen through the trees from the highway. Known as the Hord Mill, it was built by Eldridge Hord around 1840.
The mill was in operation until about 1950, milling flour and meal. The three-story structure of stone and wood is similar in design to one on George Washington's plantation. It is frequently confused with, the old Rice's Mill once located on a farm near the river, and an historic marker was once incorrectly placed for Rice's Mill because of this misunderstanding.
One of the fine old mills in Sullivan County has been converted to a dwelling by Ken Priest. TheRoller-Pettyjohn Mill on the Fall Creek Road was restored to its original appearance on the outside in 1977 when Priest bought yellow poplar lumber to match the original.
The upstairs of the mill was remodeled as living quarters, and the downstairs was left to later restore as a milling museum and craft shop. This has not been done as yet.
But the Priest's have been successful in getting the old mill listed in the National Register of Historic Places - a feat which assures its preservation in the future.
The mill was built by David Roller sometime between 1833 and 1847, and was used for milling corn, wheat, and grist for the cattle.
Leslie's Mill is located on the falls of the North Fork of Reedy Creek. It stands on the site of a mill known to be there as early as 1827. The mill used an overshot wheel which turned the heavy grinding machinery inside. Flour and meal as well as grist was produced here.
Most of the mills that used to serve Sullivan County have now gone the way of the old Valentine Beidleman Mill, which burned a few years ago.