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
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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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"
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
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.
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
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.
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
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