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Franklin County's History comes alive with Water Wheel at Explore Park

Franklin County's History comes alive with Water Wheel at Explore Park

Water Wheel Notes
by T. R. Hazen

The mill has a metal water wheel shaft and metal (iron) hubs that held the wooden arms of the wheel. The problem is that a lot of companies made these type of hubs and nobody but there name on the castings. The person (Doug Minnix) that the Park purchased the mill from has another shaft, it looks similar but it held 8 arms rather than the one on Slone's Mill that held 10 arms. Doug found his shaft in a scrap yard between Rocky Mount and Martinsville.

Doug Minnix also has three photos were taken of the mill in 1929, that were taken by the students from the Phoebe Needles Center. They show the water wheel and the wooden sluice box. The sluice box was constructed with a wooden frame work around the box that was very unique and unusual. The wooden sluice box was not constructed using the traditional method of construction and this method may not have been used in any other mill's sluice box. It was from these photos and drawings originally made by millwright T.R. Hazen, and then later redrawn by Historic Structure Supervisor Alan McGrady.

New water wheel begin assembled at Slone's Grist Mill.

Along the South Prong of the Pigg River Samuel Slone built "red" painted Slone's Mill around 1830 to 40. It could have been build as late as 1860-70 then with the aid of Samuel son Esom. Then when that mill got in bad shape Samuel Slone's son Esom, and Esom's sons took out the guts of the mill. They built a new "white" mill around 1880-90, about one half of mile upstream. Esom ran the store when he got out of the milling business and while one of Esom's sons Thomas ran the mill.

The only sections that remain of the mill race are located above the old Slone Mill from where Kermit Scott has his bee hives to the mill and about a similar distance above the old Jones Mill site. The alignment of the mill race at the old Slone Mill is in direct line with Charles Perry's driveway (that follows the path of the mill race) that leads into the mill race of the old Thomas Jones Mill of 1751. The approximate diameter of mill's water wheels were: new Slone Mill 20 feet, old Slone Mill 10 to 15 feet (larger diameter of it was a pitch-back type of overshot water wheel), and the Jones Mill 20 feet.

Close-up Photo of New Water Wheel, Slone's Grist Mill.

The other mill Virginia's Explore Park was looking into for purchase was Turner's Mill at the junction of State Routes 704 & 705, on Little Goblintown Creek, in Patrick County, near Fairy Stone State Park. Turner's Mill also had an iron hub wooden water wheel. The wooden arms were placed in the hub differently than at Slone's Mill, and a segmented iron rim gear was bolted to the inboard water wheel rim.

The way the arms are inserted into the hub are like the way the metal arms were inserted in a Fitz Water Wheel, most hub's arms were inserted like a conventional wooden water wheel. The wide surface facing out, rather than the wide surface facing the other arms around the hub. That is what is unusual about our hub design, it is different than most hub designs. The trust bearings on the shafts are like the ones made by the Fitz Company.

Turner's Mill, Fairy Stone, Virginia, (a.k.a. John I. Woods Mill) Location: at Routes 704 and 705 behind the house, not seen from the road, along Little Goblintown Creek. N.E. of Elamsville, Patrick County, Virginia. The mill is a 20 X 28 wood frame mill built between 1840's to 1880's. 2 story building on dry stone foundation. Wooden overshot water wheel has deteriorated, iron shaft and hubs. The hubs are the same as found in Slone's Mill and the other mill shaft that Doug Minnix has. A metal pinion gear was turned by segmented gear once bolted to the inboard rim of the water wheel. Foundation and part of wooden wall around water wheel deteriorated. The mill once had three pairs of millstones, one pair has been removed. The mill is full of secondary milling machinery. Mill, saw mill, barn, and blacksmith shop is for sale by owner to be relocated to another site. The owners parents live in the old Turner's Mill Store. Last operated in the 1930's. Mill originally built by the millwright John I. Woods (circa 1840) who built other mills in the area and may have constructed Slone' Mill or Beckett's Mill in Franklin County, Virginia.

Front View Of New Water Wheel.

The water wheels and gearing, the two main possibilities still are: The Hanover Foundry and Machine Shop, Hanover, Pennsylvania, circa 1840, in conjunction with the Tuscarora Iron Works, Martinsburg, West Virginia, circa 1850, both operated under the name I-X-L Overshoot Water Wheel Company after 1892, and finally under the name The Fitz Water Wheel Company in 1902 until 1966. One of the best possibilities of were the mill may have been made was by the Birch Creek Works in Pittsylvania County. The Birch Creek Works, at the Flippen Mill, Birch Creek in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, circa 1851 to 1880.

The original mill at the Birch Creek was first built by John Creel in 1783, in a deep narrow gorge. The mill was later owned by Banister Anderson and Charles W. Flippin and was known as Flippin and Anderson Mill. After Mr. Anderson died J. T. Hightower became the new partner of the grist and saw mill. They brought in a skilled molder Jacob Sours became a foreman. He was trained in a foundry in Perry County, Pennsylvania, along with his brother William who both worked in foundries in the Shenandoah Valley and in Botetourt County. The foundry made plow points, shovels, stoves (known as the Flippin Stove, with the Flippin Flue), fencing, threshing machines, Studebaker wagons, steam engines, circular saws, and shown on the companies letterhead that they also constructed machinery for grist and saw mills complete. This would also included wooden water wheels bolted to their iron hubs. They made flanged cast iron hubs from Flippen and Sours patterns. J. H. Flippin sold out in 1880 to C. H. Keeling. The community once known as Birch Creek Works, Virginia, near Laurel Grove became know as Atlas, Virginia. The mill continued to operate as the Atlas Mill, but the foundry, blacksmith and machine shop closed down.

Of course Fitz had their plant also in Martinsburg and it could have been shipped down here by the railroad. As early as July of 1841, Samuel Fitz was manufacturing water wheel hubs that could hold different amount of arms and different types of bevel and spur gears. It was later under the joint name the Fitz Water Wheel Company did they begin putting their name on the water wheel hubs. The Groseclose Mill, along State Route 619, near Cripple Creek in Wythe County, Virginia, has an early I-X-L Overshoot Water Wheel built between 1892 to 1902. I have photos of another water wheel of this type that was once on the North East Cider & Vinegar Works, North Mill Road, North East, Pennsylvania. The wheel was painted red in color. It has iron hubs on an iron shaft with wooden arms that hold metal shrouds and drum boards with wooden buckets. The Slone Mill water wheel hubs would predate that by several years. The water wheel hubs used flared industrial washers that was typically used by the Fitz Water Wheel Company in their mill constuction. The water wheel bearings on Slone's Mill water wheels are the same type of bearings used on Fitz Water Wheels. The casting of the water wheel hub is similar to the type of hubs used on other Fitz Water Wheels at various times. I wrote Donald C. Wisensale of Hanover, Pennsylvania, and he said that Fitz did not manufature that type of water wheel hub during his time working for Fitz. It may have been still made by the Fitz Water Wheel Company before Donald C. Wisensale came to work for them in 1926 and worked for them until they closed in 1966. Nowever, during Mr. Wisensales time they changed their hub patterns many times and used different styles of hubs of different diameter water wheels.

There was an Up-and-Down Sawmill, (moved to Smithsonian Inst. ,Washington D. C.), Chester
Springs vicinty., Chester County, Pennsylvania. Photographs of the original mill in its original location before it was moved are found in the Historic American Building Survey-Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress file PA0255. The saw mill was completed  between 1834 and 1866. The mill has a water wheel with an iron hub and the rim gear design found on the Turner's Mill in Franklin County, Virginia. The water wheel is an I-X-L design water wheel with an iron hubs which hold wooden arms with a later added metal rim bucket sections of an overshoot design. This would mean that the water wheel hubs on Slone's Mill, Turner's Mill and the one owned by Doug Minnex were pre-1892 I-X-L Company hub castings. When the saw mill was on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution American History Building, they build a reproduction wooden water wheel to go next to the saw mill building. Shaker Church Family Waterpower Building (NY0106), Shaker Rd., Mount Lebanon, Columbia County, New York, has a similar 12 arm hub.

These two hybrid water wheel hubs are very different than that found in the photos of Aderholt's Water Mill hybrid hub rim gear drive whater wheel (AL0047), Aderholdt's Mill Rd., Anniston vicinty, Calhoun County, Alabama, which was later replaced by a Fitz Water Wheel. There were two hybrid water wheels at the Pickwick Mill out side of Winona, Minnesota, one operating the 1858 7 story flour mill and another operating a saw mill. The Greenbank Mill, Greenbank Rd., Marshallton, New Castle County, Delware, completed between 1767 and 1799; altered 
between 1800 and 1833, also had a hybrid water wheel. Legend says that this was the second mill to install Oliver Evans automatic flour milling machinery.

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Copyright 2000 by T. R. Hazen