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Esom Slone's Grist Mill

Esom Slone's Grist Mill, circa 1840,
power schematic drawing from Sheet Number 9,
drawing by T.R. Hazen, 1996-97, Virginia's Explore Park.


A Supplemental Document to

Information Collected
Theodore R. Hazen

James Sloan (1725-1808) had come down from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley along with the early German Settlers. He was descended from one of the transplanted Scotsmen who had moved to Northern Ireland in the 1690's because of King William. The family name was spelled "Slauan." The first Sloan to come to America in the 1600's from Scotland was Henry Sloan.

Beginning in the 1750's, James Sloan operated a mill on Maggodee Creek near the present day Writz in the Old Bonbrook area. After the American Revolution Patrick Henry, the first Governor of Virginia, deeded him the tract of land where the mill stood. In his mill he ground the corn and wheat produced by the local farms in the fertile area around his grist mill. James had a plantation northeast of his mill. All of his children were issue from his first marriage with wife Alice. James and Alice's children were Patrick, William, Reuben, Clifford and Milly. His second wife was Sarah McGuire Sloan. James Sloan's Mill was passed down to his son Clifford Sloan and then it passed down to Clifford's son Samuel.

In James Sloan's Will, he states: "I, James Sloan of Franklin County, in perfect sense and memory. First, I want all my just debts paid. To my wife Sarah Sloan, during her natural life or widowhood- 150 acres whereon my grist mill now stands, and half the net profits of the mill. At her death or marriage, the land and mill to go to my son Clifford Sloan. I also give my wife Negro woman Eady, and at her death or marriage, to be equally divided between my 2 sons, Clifford and Reuben Sloan. Also to my wife, 1 riding horse, saddle, and bridle, and 2 cows and calves, 4 sheep of her choice, and all my hogs, together with all the household furniture and working tools. To my son Clifford Sloan - half the net profits of my grist mill, and at the death of my wife, the whole to revert to him. To my sons Patrick, Thomas, & William Sloan & my daughter Milly Kelly - $5 each & no more. Executors: my son Clifford Sloan and my wife Sarah Sloan."

The site of this old Sloan Mill today has become the site of another mill. In 1870 a new mill was built by Albert Martin. Around the turn of the century the Layman family operated the mill. Daniel Layman was one of the early settlers who built Germantown in 1793. Germantown flourished for approximately fifty years and then entirely disappeared. The section of the Great Wagon Road from Bonbrook to Blackwater was referred to as Early's Road. Early's Road was named for Jeremiah Early who had a plantation in the area.

A covered bridge once stood over the small stream on the Alean Road leading to the Albert Martin's Mill. The original section of Albert Martin's Mill is the front tall section of the mill. The Clements family added on the additional back sections to the mill. The Piedmont Mill and Piedmont Store has been operated by Ben Lewis Clements and his descendants since 1922. The mill then became commonly referred to as Clements' Mill and was operated by Ben's brother Pete Clements. It is currently owned by Ben's son Bill Clements. Bill Clements also owns a Ford Tractor dealership on Route 220. This is operated by Bill's brother Charles. Bill Clements has done a great deal of restoration work connecting the water wheel to operate one pair of millstones and a generator. Most of the machinery in the mill stands idle, except for one pair of millstones. The mill originally had two pair of millstones. The roller mills have been sold. A remaining stand of rolls is still located in the mill. Mr. Clements has restored the mill race, cleaned up the stream channel, and his son Bill Jr. has rebuilt the Fitz Steel Overshoot Water Wheel originally constructed by the Fitz Water Wheel Company of Hanover, Pennsylvania in 1909. William (Bill) Clements father Benjamin Layman Clements had been a millwright who built Exchange Milling Company in Rocky Mount. Mr. Clements has a large collection of spare mill parts he has collected from mills in the area leftover from his efforts restoring his mill. The Piedmont Milling Company once produced "Happy Maid" Piedmont Special Patent Flour along with bolted white corn meal.

In 1922 there were 17 such mills operating in Franklin County. Today Clements Mill has the only water wheel capable of operating in the county. Just below Clements Mill on Maggodee Creek is Sloan's Rock, once a favorite spot for kids to jump off into the creek. The rock is known as Sloan's Rock because the name "Sloan" is carved into the rock. Descendants of the Sloan family still refer to the Clements Mill as being Sloan's Mill because of the original mill tract owned by James Sloan. James Sloan's Mill stood on the downstream side of today's Clements Mill and below Sloan's Rock. This mill like many others in the area became centers for commercial activities in rural areas. Up stream from the Clements Mill is the ruins of the Bonbrook Mill which was a large brick structure and was at one time an operating (commercial) merchant flour mill. People of Franklin County still talk of the grist mills, cider mills, saw mills and other types of mills that once existed in their area. Many of the mills besides grinding corn, wheat, rye and oats, also carded wool which was then spun and woven by housewives into cloth for the family clothing. A good example of this was Callaway's Mill in Callaway, which had different operations on the various levels of the mill.

James Sloan's Mill passed down to his son Clifford Sloan and then it passed down to Clifford's son Samuel. When Samuel Sloan fell upon hard times it forced Samuel to sell his mill and land to pay his debts and he moved to the mountains of Franklin County. With Samuel Sloan's family he brought his mother-in-law with him, who still legally owned the James Sloan's Mill. Peggy Dorman Sloan, Clifford's wife sold the James Sloan's Mill for $1,025 dollars through a lawyer named Prat to pay her son-in-law's debt.

Samuel Sloan (1813-1885) then built a mill along the South Prong of the Pigg River between 1840 and 1850. Then the mill passed from Samuel Sloan to his son Esom (1838-1908). Samuel Sloan is buried on Buffalo Mountain south of the present Sloan Mill. This mill stood below (north of) the present Sloan Mill on the west side of the stream by itself about 100 yards south of the stream which crosses under Route 748 and flows into the South Prong of the Pigg River. Esom Sloan had a miller's house which once stood near the mill. It like the mill has been long gone. This is also where the road forded the stream. Esom operated the mill during the Civil War for his father, which kept him from military service in the Confederate Army, but his younger brother Samuel Henry Sloan (1843-1934) was drafted into service.

In the 1880's and 1890's Esom Sloan's one son Lee (Leneous) Singlton Sloan built a new mill using the parts which came from his father's and grandfather's mill. The old mill was in poor condition and rather than repair it a new mill was built. They used the same mill race which operated the lower mill. They later filled in the mill race to level the field but evidence of it is still found in the woods just above the old mill. The road was originally on the mountain side of the stream and it was at this mill where it forded the creek and went south between the present Sloan Mill and store. This is why no one living today can remember the mill actually owned by Esom Sloan. The road turned west and split to the southeast becoming Turners Creek Road which is named for Roger Turner who settled in the area in 1747. When the road turned east it went past Esom Sloan's Home Place where his log cabin and store were. The area down Turner's Creek Road from the mill is called "south side" by the locals.

Esom Sloan (born Jan. 15, 1838, died Nov. 18, 1908) and his wife Ann Eliza Jones Sloan (born Feb. 24, 1842, died Aug. 14, 1910) had three sons, Thomas, Dorman and Lee, and two daughters, Lillie (Lizena) and Laura. Thomas Elmer Sloan would build the store and new house after the turn of the century. Thomas took pictures in the neighborhood with his big box camera which his father bankrolled. Thomas and father looked after the mill and store. The third brother Dorman Sloan's actual full name was Esom Dorman Sloan. Dorman was in charge of the farm.

Bill Underwood lived across from the old Sloan Mill in the miller's house. He operated the old Sloan Mill with Thomas Sloan until the new mill was constructed. Then when the new Sloan mill was constructed he came up the road to operate the new mill for Lee Sloan. After a while Bill Underwood was run off. He began asking too many questions about what everyone was doing all the time and the local people did not like that very much. Bill had a stream tractor which he sold to someone in the area. Two men came up not knowing he had sold it, they blew up the boiler to force him to leave the area.

The original mill built in this area was built by Thomas Jones in the 1750's . Thomas Jones had settled in the area at the same time as Roger Turner in 1747. Thomas Jones built a log cabin near his mill site. The Thomas Jones Mill stood below the Esom Sloan's Mill and was still standing in 1825 to be recorded in the Herman Boye 1825 map of Franklin County which is part of the larger map of the State of Virginia. This map was later reproduced as it appeared in 1825 on the Franklin County Ludwig Bucholtz Map of 1859 . The Thomas Jones Mill stood behind Charles Perry's house. The mill race went through his driveway and through the woods to the mill. This is the same mill race which was later used by Samuel Sloan (1813-1885) who built a mill along the South Prong of the Pigg River between 1840 and 1850. This mill passed from Samuel Sloan to his son Esom (1838-1908). Later in the1880's and1890's Esom's son used the same mill race. There was never a dam built for the mill along the South Prong of the Pigg River, all of the water was simply diverted down the mill race to first power Thomas Jones's Mill, then Samuel Sloan's Mill (which became Esom Sloan's Mill), and later by the present day Esom Sloan's son who built the Lee Singlton Sloan's Mill.

Esom Slone's Grist Mill, circa 1840,
complete power schematic drawing from additional drawing packet,
drawing by T.R. Hazen, 1998, Virginia's Explore Park.

Building a mill was a difficult process. A great deal of work was involved in channeling the water to the mill wheel. This underscores the hypothesis that a known mill's stream may locate previously unmapped mill sites if earlier mill sites had used the same dams, ponds, mill races. In 1870 the only millwright living in Franklin County was A. T. Carter of Dickinson, Virginia. Franklin County had twenty millwrights by 1897. It declined to two by 1911, and then to none by 1917.

The old Pigg River Post Office was in the home of Elder Wiley V. Via, the Primitive Baptist preacher who became the postmaster of the old Pigg River Post Office. Besides delivering mail by mule, he set up a cabinet in his home for the mail in pigeon holes until it was picked up by the neighbors of the old Pigg River area. One half mile down stream from Esom Sloan's Mill was the Viar Mill. This mill was actually owned by Elder Wiley V. Via which someone later tacked an "r" onto the end of his name. The old Pigg River Primitive Baptist Church stands near his home which was established in 1773. This is the earliest Baptist congregation in the county. The old cemetery has graves of many early pioneers of Franklin County. This mill had the machinery removed from it around the 1890's and the structure became a shed and work shop. The mill was torn down 50 years ago. There is no evidence of the mill at the site today. Esom Sloan and Mr. Via did not like each other. Perhaps because after Mr. Via's his first wife died in 1897, he then married Lizena Sloan in 1898 who was young enough to be his granddaughter. Shortly after Mr. Via's death on November 26, 1902, Lillie (Lizena N. Sloan) married Mr. J. H. Bridges. The Viar Mill stood on the downstream property of Charles Perry along Sigman Road. Charles Perry's house, constructed before the Civil War, is built of balloon construction. Some of the old cabins and barns in the area were built of black walnut and chestnut.

Esom Slone's Grist Mill, circa 1840,
complete grain flow drawing from additional drawing packet,
drawing by T.R. Hazen, 1998, Virginia's Explore Park.

Once Esom got out of the milling business, he operated his store full-time. Esom would have almanacs and calendars, and needles and thread (mostly in two colors, black and white). The almanacs such as the Barker's Almanac of Louisville, Kentucky, is how people in the area first learned about the outside world. The Esom Sloan store still stands near his home south of the present mill on the property of Louise Richardson. Inside of Esom Sloan's old store, along with the original store furnishings, are some items which once were located in the mill: the platform scales, grain scoop, wooden bin with a hand operated corn sheller. Esom Sloan's store was originally located near Turner's Creek Road south (southeast over the hill) of the mill. It was later moved by the Richardsons behind Esom's House. Underneath the present house of Louise Richardson is the original log cabin of Esom Sloan. Esom Sloan owned a great deal of land in the area. It stretched almost to Callaway. In latter years the mill changed hands into the Beckett family when one of the Sloan girls Laura Sloan (1863-1958) married a Mr. Thomas J. Beckett and the mill became known as Beckett's Mill.

In the late 1890's Esom Sloan converted to Episcopalianism from the Brethren faith. He built a small church and an Episcopal Mission school, later known as Saint Peter's in-the-Mountains. Esom Sloan and his wife are buried behind the present Phoebe Needles Conference Center. The original school for the local mountain children enrolled grades 1 through 7 and was taught by resident teachers and missionaries. Louise Jones Richardson went to this school as a child. In March of 1914 a windstorm blew down Esom Sloan's Emmanuel's Church. Thomas Beckett's son Edgar removed the wood lumber and used it to build the house in the field south of the present Sloan's Mill. This is where he brought his new bride to live. Edgar's son James Alfred Beckett of Henry, Virginia was raised in that simple house south of Sloan's (Beckett's) Mill. Al Beckett's old wood structure home in in the woods behind (west of) the Phoebe Needles Center.

Edgar A. Beckett was a State Prohibition Officer. Prohibition took licker out of the wooden kegs and put it into tin cans and rusty cans. Tin can rust gives sugar corn licker an awful taste. In 1935 Edgar A. Beckett became one of the more than thirty defendants on trail in Roanoke in the famous Conspiracy Trial in connection with moonshining in Franklin County. Many of the indicted men were advised to wear a good luck charm around their necks. The good luck charms or talismans turned out not to work very well. Edgar A. Beckett, of Callaway received two years in the state penitentiary and a fine of $5,000 (the maximum sentence for conspiracy was two years and a fine of $10,000).

The local moonshiners would generally use commercial meal shipped to Ferrum in large quantities. They would say they were "crossing the Buffalo (mountain)," and they would came back latter with a towel draped over the bottles in the car. The area around the mill is a moonshining area. During the depression when there was not enough water to operate an old mill, the millers would say their mill was "water logged." He would just run the mill at night to grind corn for the bootleggers. The moonshiners would make their moonshine also at night and no one would know what was going on at an old mill. Franklin County has the stigma of being the "Moonshine Capital" which has been depicted in the national media with the "art of moonshining in Franklin County." The old saying during Prohibition went: "The moon roller over the mountains in quart jars." Franklin County was considered for over a century one of Virginia's most "backward" counties.

The Canaday family operated the mill during the depression and it was operated again by the Becketts. Hansfred Canaday purchased the 100 acre property in 1924 for $6,000 dollars. They had paid 2/3 ($4,000) by 1934 when President Roosevelt closed the banks and they lost the property. Richard Mansfred Canaday at the age of 12 (now 85) operated the mill with his father from 1924 until 1930. He remembers when the water got low, you closed the gate and waited for the water to rise again. The Cananday's operated both sets of millstones. Hansfred Canaday dressed the millstones while his son helped out around the mill. When Mansfred would start the mill operating, the sluice gate would be closed. He would screw up the tentering rod raising up the runner stone. Mansfred remembers walking up the platform steps and pulling down on the sluice gate to start the mill operating. You could only grind so much grain with what water was available. Then he would open the sluice gate, a few moments would pass and you would hear the water crashing off the wheel when the mill got up to speed. Some people asked to grind fine, others would ask for medium. Young Mansfred would use his finger to test the texture of the meal. They cut string to tie the sacks with a knife which looked much like a cleaver, fashioned from an old scythe blade using a block of wood sitting on the loft steps. His father trusted him enough to let him operate the mill.

At that time the Canaday's would only grind corn. If they wanted flour they would have to go to a flour mill like the one on Five Mile Mountain Road. When someone tore down a mill in the area, Mansfred and his friends tested their strength to see who could shoulder the five foot millstone spindle on their shoulder. Only Mansfred and one other boy could. Mr. Castle had operated this mill. Another test of strength young boys and Mansfred would do in the mill involved putting all the weights (605 lbs) on the platform scales and see who could squat down on the scales and pull up from the underside of the scales and make the beam tilt.

When the Canadays operated the mill it was known as Canaday's Mill. Sloan's Mill never ground enough for any customer to make moonshine. The most they would grind for anyone was 2 bushels. Most people brought their grain to the mill by horse back. The platform was used to unload sacks from a wagon. When a rider brought a "turn" on horse back, the miller would walk down the platform steps and throw the sack from the horse over his shoulder. The Canadays had a wooden measure to take their toll. One-half gallon per bushel and two gallons was the most toll they would generally collect. Mansfred remembers that he would operate the mill as much as his father did. They had plenty of cats around the mill, but some of the rats were larger than the cats. The machinery had been taken out of the loft of the mill and there was not much need to go up stairs. When liquor making was still legal Hansfred Canaday had 2 stills. He made apple brandy and the "gauger" would come and check the percentage of alcohol in each barrel. If a barrel alcohol content was over 100% Mansfred's father had a trick so the barrel would read 98% when the gauger would come around to test the barrels. Mansfred's father also operated a cane mill.

The Beckett family would operate the mill for a short time. From the Beckett family it was then sold to the Jones family. Posey Jones (father of Louise Richardson) was the last to operate the mill up until the late 1940's. When Posey Jones (who received six months and a fine of $750 in in the famous Conspiracy Trial) purchased the mill, he paid someone to replace and repair some of the water wheel buckets. At this time the mill was known as the Posey Jones Mill. The wooden miller's roll top desk that was in the mill when the Canaday family had the mill was removed before Posy Jones bought the mill. The miller's desk had pigeon holes for keeping slips of paper in order. The miller's office had been subdivided at that time for additional grain storage. The fireplace in the miller's office had not been used in many years at this time. Louise Jones Richardson's father Posey Jones was the last person to operate the mill. The original Richardson family log cabin still stands down in the valley north of the Phoebe Needles Center. The cabin is currently owned by Louise Richardson's aunt Laura Richardson Webb and Ralph Webb.

Louise Richardson remembers the wooden sluice and gate which was controlled from inside of the mill which would start the water wheel turning. About half way down the wooden sluice was an over flow gate. When the gate was opened water flowed down hill between the mill and the house in the field and flowed into the tail race and under the road. The gate was opened when the mill stopped operating for the day. When Posy wanted to operate the mill he closed the over flow gate and opened up the sluice gate from inside of the mill. When the mill stopped operating Posey Jones tore down the sluice box.37 The water wheel was still in good condition up until 1975 or1980. Once the mill was considered for nomination as an historical structure but the mill got in bad shape and this idea was forgotten.38 Most everyone in the area knows the mill was operated from the entire diverted stream coming about 2 miles down a mill race above the mill. The water came off the stream above the log barn in the valley southwest of the mill.

The property was sold to a logger named Jake Poff in the 1980's by the Jones-Richardson family . Mr. Poff owned the property just long enough to log all of the timber off the hill above the mill, then it was sold to W. P. Waters of Rocky Mount. W. P. Waters sub-divided 20 acres and sold it to his daughter and son-in-law (Leslie and Gwen Stubbs). Mr. Stubbs would have liked to have kept the mill where it was and restore it, but realized he would not have the money to restore the mill properly. Mr. Stubbs then sold the mill to Doug Minnix who had 6 months to remove the structure. The deadline expired December 31, 1996.

To save the mill from total destruction Virginia's Explore Park purchased the mill from Doug Minnix. The mill was dismantled down to its foundations by a second deadline of February 1, 1997. The grist mill is in storage until it is reconstructed, restored and made fully operational in Virginia's Explore Park.

Doug Minnix has another water wheel shaft just like the one in the mill. This shaft is shorter and does not have the bevel gear. He purchased it from a local scrap yard. These shafts have no foundry names on them, but at least we know there was one other mill in the area with the same type of iron water wheel shaft with a wooden wheel bolted to it.

The book by Raymond Sloan (son of Pedro Thomas Sloan 1879-1974) entitled Uncle Esom's Grist Mill popularizes this area of western Franklin County. On the book's cover is a reproduction of a painting by the late Mary Allen Webb. She painted it in the 1940's with ordinary wax crayons. It was Esom Sloan's Mill as she remembered. One may never know if Raymond Sloan knew whether the only Sloan Mill he knew was actually built by Esom's son, Lee Sloan. Mary Allen Webb's painting may be of a particular mill perhaps the Viar Mill. The orientation of the water flowing to the water wheel is not correct for either Sloan Mill. This painting may not be of the lower Sloan Mill (circa 1840-50), and we know its not the upper Sloan Mill (circa 1880-90). The circa 1840-50 Sloan Mill was painted "red" and people referred to it as the "red" mill. After a while people in the area mixed up the two mills and forgot which one they remember going to with sacks grain. After the new (painted white ) Sloan Mill was constructed and the machinery removed from the old mill, Pled Underwood lived in the old mill for a short time. Then Mr. Bernard lived in the old mill with his family. Kate Bernard Guilliams (age 95) was a baby when her mother washed out her diapers in the old mill race. The old Sloan Mill's timber skeleton was still standing into the 1930's.

Both of these buildings would occupy approximately the same foundation space. The "red" Sloan mill occupied a space 24 feet by 32 feet. The mill race was 24 feet (from the crest of each bank) wide and 6 feet deep. From the southwest corner of the mill back up the mill race 38 feet was a 20 foot wide spill way. The water from the mill race entered the mill on the west side of the southwest corner. It appears that the water wheel may have been located inside of the mill (against the south wall) to protect the water wheel from freezing and ice in the winter. The new "white" Sloan mill is 18 by 24 with an 8 1/2 foot lean-to addition. The space of the new mill including the building and the water wheel would occupy approximately the same space as the old "red" Sloan Mill.

Esom Slone's Grist Mill, circa 1840,
grain flow schematic (milling & material handling) from Sheet Number 10,
drawing by T.R. Hazen, 1996-97, Virginia's Explore Park.

In the second mill the Hurst frame was not put together as well the second time. Some beams were not mortised together as they should be in traditional mill construction. The ends of the bridge tree were just sitting on a cross beam. They should be mortised into a slot and hinged with a large wooden peg. This will allow the opposite end to be raised up and down in tentering or adjusting the distance between the two millstones when grinding. This end of the bridge tree is raised up and down by another beam called the bray. On both sides of the bridge tree should be two vertical beams which are adjustable with wedges against the bridge tree but not interfere with its up and down movement. This eliminates vibrations when the mill is operating. The millstones were just sitting on two cross beams and covered over with flooring instead of their traditional millwright manor of boxing them in. The new mill could not have been as vibration free as the old "red" mill.

In the 1982 edition of Franklin County, Virginia Yesterday and Today was printed a photo of the old Sloan Mill. The caption said, "The Water Wheel of the old Sloan Mill no longer carries water, and the mill is dejective and falling in." The photo above the caption shows the water wheel still relatively intact.

One structure in the area not far from the mill is Helms Haven on Five Mile Mountain Road. Helms Haven is a white wood frame structure with twin columns built in the 1870's by Thomas F. Helms who used it as a working farmhouse and at one time a store. Some years earlier Thomas Helms was licensed by the county court to operate an ordinary and house of private entertainment. In the front yard of Helms Haven are two runner millstones, and a third millstone is buried in the garden. The millstones came from the Helms Mill on the Pigg River across from the house. The mill was built between 1860 to 1870. The mill race started on a small stream below the Hempfield Road Route 747 and followed Five Mile Mountain Road to in front of the house where it collected into a mill pond. Then the mill race made a ninety degree turn to the creek where the mill was located. The abutments of the dam are still on the small stream that feeds into the Pigg River. Besides the mill there was also a blacksmith shop. The Helms Mill operated until the early 1960's.

Just east of Helms Haven (a short distance down Five Mile Mountain Road) are two older structures found in a patch of trees. These are very similar in appearance and construction to the present Sloan Mill, and older than Helms Haven. The outbuildings for these structures are located across the road setting some distance from the road.

The last water powered mill to commercially operate was the Snow Creek Mill. The mill originally had a conventional water wheel. Later the mill was converted to operate by using a water turbine. Mr. R. Page LaPrade's grandfather bought the Snow Creek Mill in 1838. Then in 1848 the old mill burned down and the present brick mill was constructed. The Snow Creek Mill was operated by three generations (50 years each) of the LaPrade family. The descendents of the LaPrade family have proposed to Franklin County that the county would restore the Snow Creek Mill if it is donated to the county.

When Peter's Mill, which still stands in Callaway, stopped operating using water power, its water wheel was moved to another mill in Ohio. The mill was then operated with a diesel engine. When the mill stopped operating it became Brubaker's Small Engine Shop. The mill was originally built in 1935. A section of the mill race can still be seen above the mill along the road. The entire mill race was a mile and a half long. Many of the mill races in Franklin County appear to have been very long. Like the old Sloan Mill, sections of it have been leveled where it went through fields, but portions of it can still be located.

According to the research done by Mike Grimm of Union Hall, Virginia, tragedy was associated with most mills in Franklin County. When Page LaPrade last rebuilt the mill dam in the 1920's a kid drowned there shortly afterwards. The first mill in the County to convert to roller mills the Stevens Mill (built originally in the 1700's) on Chestnut Creek.44 The Steven's Mill was a turbine powered mill and they ran a leather belt across the stream to power a saw mill on the opposite side. In 1954 Lester Stevens sent his 9 year old son to the mill's third floor to stir the corn. He suffocated in the corn before Lester could get to him. A traditional story is of Charles Pickard when during a freshet, mounted his horse and rode down to his mill. He cut out a notch on a sycamore near the creek and dared the Celestial Powers that be to possibly raise the waters to reach his mark. Regardless of the traditional story his mill was washed away. According to local tradition Jim Angle lost an arm while operated the Angle Mill and his arm was buried in the family cemetery. Despite his misfortune, he was an accomplished bicycle rider.48 Between Dugwell and Retreat two young men, brothers and deserters from the Confederate Army, were executed by a firing squad in the yard of Charity Chapel after having threatened to burn down the then new Hickman's Mill. And at the mill south of Sloan mill at the intersection of Saw Mill Road, the miller climbed on his horse one day with a bottle of acid (used for making moonshine) and the bottle broke. The acid burned into his behind and killed the horse.

By the 1960's many of Franklin County's old grist mills had ceased to grind including Esom Sloan's Mill on the South Prong of the Pigg River. Some of these other mills include: Algoma Mill on South Green Creek; Altice's Mill on Blackwater; Altick's Mill* on Chestnut Creek; Angle's* or English Mill on Little Creek; Barbour's Mill* on Story Creek; Franklin Belcher's Mill* on Crabtree; Bernard's Mill* on Guthrie's Run, a tributary of Snow Creek; Bonbrook Mill on Maggotty (Maggodee) Creek; Jacob Boon's Mill* Maggotty Creek; M. G. Booth's Mill* on Gill's Creek; Jake Brogan's Mill on Runnett Bag Creek; Andrew Brook's Mill* on Walker's Creek; Brock's Mill* Crabtree Creek; Callaway's Mill* on the South fork of the Blackwater; Cassell's Mill* on Story Creek; William Cassell's Mill* on the head waters of Chestnut Creek: Choice's Mill* on Snow Creek; Davis Mill on Story Creek; Dillon's Mill* on Blackwater; Draper's Mill* on Gap Branch; Dry Land Mill* on Nicholas Creek; William Ferguson's Mill on Nicholas Creek; Forbes' Mill on Giles Creek; Forbes' Mill on Indian Creek; George Garst's Mill on Maggotty Creek; Gentry's Mill* on Furnace Creek one-half mile from Rocky Mount; Goode's Mill on Blackwater; John Hales Mill* on Blackwater; Hancock's Mill* on Pigg River; Zachariah Helm's Mill* on South Pigg River; Hickman's Mill* on Blackwater; Ira Hill's Mill* on North Pigg River; Holt's Mill* on Blackwater; Hopkin's Mill* on Pigg River; Horsley's Mill* on Grassy Fork Creek; Hundley's Mill* on Reed Creek; Hurt's Mill* on Story Creek; James Hutt's Mill at Union Hall; Thomas Jones Mill on North Pigg River; King's Mill* on Town Creek; LaPrade's Mill* on Snow Creek; Lynch's Mill* on Powder Mill Creek; Albert Martin's Mill on Maggotty Creek; Sam Montgomery's Mill* on Turner Creek; Morgan's Mill* on Bull Run; Nowlin's Mill* on Runnett Bag Creek; Armistead Parsell's Mill* on Little Chestnut Creek; Peter's Mill on Blackwater; Bob Pinckard's Mill* on Grassy Fork Creek; Pinchard's Mill* on Doe Run Creek; Charles Pinchard's Mill* on Snow Creek near Doyle's; William Pinkard's Mill* on Grassy Fork Creek near W. J. Wingfield's old place; James Rentfro's Mill on Blackwater; Saunder's Mill* on Blackwater; Esom Sloan's Mill* on North Pigg River(two mill sites: Samuel Sloan's Mill and Lee Sloan's Mill); Tom Snead's Mill* on Long Branch; Spencer's Mill* on Nicholas Creek; Stave Mill on Pigg River; Steven's Mill on Chestnut Creek; Tate's Mill* on Little Chestnut Creek; Jacob Taylor's Mill at Rocky Mount; Teel's Mill* on Teel's Creek; Tyree's Mill* on Doe Run Creek; Wiley V. Via(r)'s Mill on South Prong Pigg River; Powell T. Wade's Mill* on Big Branch, four miles west of Rocky Mount; T. Webb's Mill* on Gap Branch; Webster's Mill* on Blackwater; J. A. White's Mill* on Snow Creek; Wysong's Mill* on Indian Run; Wysong's Mill* on Linville Creek; and Jacob Zeligler's Mill* on Pigg River.51 The original water powered Rocky Mount Milling Company has been replaced by a second non-water powered mill the Rocky Mount Milling Company or Exchange Milling Company on Hale Street in Rocky Mount.

The miller became a man of importance. The miller earned his income from charging a percentage of the grain processed. Since practically every household used the service, mills were located in all parts of Franklin County. Many mills were only small rural mountain mills while others were large milling operations. The farmers brought grist to the mill for grinding in wagons and carts. While they waited for their grain to be ground, the farmers exchanged news, gossip and ideas.

The long held belief in the superiority of water ground meal made by local mills of Franklin County kept the larger flour mills of the far away cities from selling their flour in the county. This still persisted well into the modern era of this century. Many old grocery stores would only stock locally milled products, such as wheat flour, corn meal, buckwheat flour, and graham flour. For many years the nationally advertised larger merchant flour mill's bags would not be found on shelves.

Esom Slone's Grist Mill, circa 1840,
grain flow (cleaning) schematic drawing from Sheet Number 8,
drawing by T.R. Hazen, 1996-97, Virginia's Explore Park.

In Franklin County a "turn" meant a bag of grist. As a rule the miller would take the next person's grain to grind in "turn" while they waited. There might be several "turns" ahead of yours. If you went off fishing you might loose your "turn" depending on the custom of the local miller. A "turn" of grain is a bag which holds about three bushels of corn or grain. A typical practice for a mill was to dump all grain into a common bin. What a customer would get back would not necessarily be their exact grain but the measurment would match. In Franklin County the word always meant a bag of grist. Outsiders were referred to as "outlanders." This is perhaps due to the lack of contact with the outside world, perhaps lack of highways, navigable streams and the County having such impossible roads.

Sometimes the three bushel sack was filled with only one bushel which was carried easier on a horse. A young boy would hum with pride returning back home with his "turn". The problem for the young boy was balancing himself on the horse and also keeping the sack on the horse. If it fell off into the muddy and sometimes half frozen muddy roads, the problem was to get it back on the horse. He may arrive home after dark, all the time knowing he was holding up dinner because he has the corn meal for corn bread. John Thelmo Gulliam who lives on Five Mile Mountain Road would ride a horse to and from the Helms Mill with a sack of grain. People who lived down hill from (north of) Esom's Church tended to go Helms Mill, while people who lived on the other side of the hill (south of) tended to go to Sloan's Mill.

Marshall Wingfield tells his own version of the old story of boy visiting a mill. "For the mill ground slowly. It is said that a newcomer to the neighborhood when he visited one of these mills for the first time snorted contemptuously, 'Yes', 'I could eat bread as fast as you grind meal to make it!' 'Yes' said the mild mannered miller, 'but how long could you hold out?' 'Until I starved to death', said the newcomer, after which the miller took a fresh chew of tobacco and was silent."

Mills were an important part of the lives of the early Franklin County pioneers. No other industry made such large and efficient use of water power in Southwestern Virginia. Every town had a mill or two. Almost every village had its mill besides along with the mills found in the open country. Mills of Franklin County primarily were of the overshot type, but it was not uncommon to find breast shot water wheels, and water turbine powered mills. Many mills in Southwestern Virginia are very old (built in the 1700's), some are only old in looks, while others are new and up-to-date. Many of these old mills have been updated with the most modern and efficient flour making machinery and equipment.

One of the earliest mills in the farthest western colonies was built by William Ingle in 1714 on a small stream near Blacksburg, Virginia. This mill was on the west bank of the New River near Ingle's Ferry. Many a freshet would wash away the small early mills. Many early mills were just constructed for the local production of corn into meal. The early mills were crude buildings and were often in inaccessible places because of the need for being at the source of water power. Courts granted permission to build mills and ordered the building of roads to mills. One impracticable scheme dismissed on November 23, 1796, was to improve the navigation of the Pigg River from its mouth to the Washington Iron Works for the great convenience of citizens of Franklin County. William English's Mill on a small branch of the Roanoke River was not hurt by a freshet. Plate's Mill and Tavern would later replace Mark Evans Mill on Evans Mill Creek. Mark Evans Mill was built in the shadow of Mill Mountain so named for a mill which once stood near the base of it. Mountains are not usually named for mills since water does not run up hill.

The horse-drawn threshing machines operated for many years in Franklin County. They continued to thresh most of the wheat for a long time. It was not until after the turn of the century was modern machinery introduced to the County. The average farmer grew only enough wheat to supply bread for his own family. Wheat threshing was a cooperative enterprise. Wheat was cut with cradles. The harvested grain was threshed with flails two months after it was harvested. Later horse-powered threshing machines threshed the wheat. At harvest time, the farmer would invite his neighbors to come with their cradles. The "cradler" would cut the wheat in the field and the "binder" would follow and bound the wheat into bundles or sheaves of wheat using wisps of wheat for the bands.

The average wheat crop consisted of ten to fifteen acres of wheat and could be harvested in less than a day using cooperative neighbors labor. The wheat must be harvested before it ripened so dry it would shatter and be wasted in the cutting process. The wheat would season in the fields for a while, and then hauled into the threshing barn. The bundles of wheat were built into large stacks in the barn's mows to await threshing day. If a threshing machine was used the owner of the thresher would collect his "toll" for his threshing just like the miller collected his toll. One usual rate for threshing was three bushels just for setting up the threshing machine and one bushel for every twenty bushels threshed. The old horse powered machines were replaced later by steam powered machines.

Another cooperative "workings" was corn shuckings. This did not require the physical strength of wheat harvesting and it did not take place on the hottest days of summer. After the corn was cut and stored in the corn cribs until neighbors came for shucking. It would begin in the afternoon and last well into the night. Some farmers would store their corn shucked or unshucked in the corn cribs. "Shucking races" would turn the work into sport. Shelling was originally done by hand and later corn shellers made less work of the process and less could be wasted or lost on the ground.

One Indian method of grinding corn was with the use of a "Sapling Mill." The corn was pounded with the traditional pestle which was held by a sweep, a springy sapling about 25 feet long. One end was made fast under a stump, and the middle was rested on a fulcrum and the other end held the pestle (a pestle about 8 feet long and with a stick six inches through attached) which stuck the corn as the stick served as a handle. Two people could pull it down with force to pound the grain. The spring of the sapling would lift it up. The pioneers made a variation of this by making a "slow John" or "pounding mill." This consisted of a beam with a trough at one end and a pestle on the other. The water would run into the trough lifting up the pestle. The water poured out and created a seesaw effect that pounded the grain. Sifters were often made from perforated animal skins and stretched across hoops to served as bolting cloths.

Esom Slone's Grist Mill, circa 1840,
grain flow (bolting) schematic drawing from Sheet Number 11,
drawing by T.R. Hazen, 1996-97, Virginia's Explore Park.

The mills of the mountains of Southwestern Virginia were known for making their plain old fashioned burr ground flours. Many mills had large diameter water wheels turning slowly but with the needed gear ratios for getting the millstones up to speed to make the best old fashioned corn meal. Gone are the days when one could see a man or boy riding a horse bareback with a "turn" of corn with him. Gone also are the many picturesque mills once found along the highways of the Southwestern mountains. Old abandoned mill dams and tumbling down old abandoned mills are disappearing from the landscape. It is like an old children's nursery rhyme: "Hickory dickory dock the mouse ran up the clock." Why did the mouse run up the clock? Because the wooden gears in old clocks and mills were lubricated with animal suet. The rodents would gnaw on the gears to get the grease, helping the natural forces of nature to return mills to the ground from where the trees grew that first brought them to life.

There may undoubtedly be other bits of documentary information or even personal recollection that would further clarify some of the questions raised here. The important story here is the long standing community which was located along the same old mill stream. Before the Industrial Revolution a mill race was dug in a very rural area which served at least two later mills. This original mill race was created by millwright Thomas Jones. He diverted the entire flow of the South Prong of the Pigg River into a mill race some 3 miles long. Samuel Sloan's Mill race was a shortened form of Thomas Jones mill race. Sufficient fall was provided to supply water and fall to operate a mill without erecting a massive dam. Later, Esom's son Lee Singlton Sloan had the mill race shortened yet again. This last mill (Lee Singlton Sloan Mill) to operate from the same mill race was able to operate with a 20 foot water wheel with an even shortened mill race and still no elaborate dam construction was ever needed. This last mill (Esom's son Lee Singlton Sloan's Mill) used parts from his father's and grandfather's mill. This raises the big question, did the second mill (Samuel Sloan's Mill) cannibalize mill parts from the first mill (Thomas Jones' Mill), such as the millstones? And when did Samuel Sloan or Easom Sloan add the metal water wheel shaft, hubs and gearing which replaced earlier wooden gears found in the first mill?

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Copyright 1996 by T. R. Hazen