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Hiram Marvin, proprietor

1854 to 1883
1857 County Taxes on Wagons---Hiram Marvin $65
Paper notice:  H. Marvin---
Lumber for sale at his mill three miles below Fayette, on the Volga, 1858.

Hiram Marvin (1806-1890) at the age of 48  came to Albany, Fayette County, Iowa in 1854 and build one of the early first generation saw/grist mills.  His first mill attempt was on a spring fed creek, Burn's Creek,  running out of two hill valleys just to the NW of the settlement that would become Lima and about 1/2 mile from the Volga River.  This area was about a mile to the NE of the Albany settlement.  The water flow was not sufficient for good milling.  Hiram had been a millwright since his early years in New York and had built mills in Michigan since the early 1830's. Hiram was very experienced with the milling business.  He would in 1856, acquire land on the Volga River about one mile upstream or southwest of Albany and build his second mill which would be successful until 1883, when at the age of 76, Hiram would exchange the Albany mill properties for the area just north of the Fayette bridge and some other land with Erastus Hammond, a stone mason and bee keeper looking for a better place for his bees.  Hiram's son Joseph would go on to build and run a successful milling operation just across the Volga Bridge in "Canada," first with a unique windmill and then with a steam powered mill, which would operate into the 1940's.  Like most first generation pioneer families if the 1850-60's,  that stayed in the Fayette area, the Marvin's came to the area in the 1850's and were nearly or completely  gone by the 1970's.  

Hiram Marvin, whose name sometimes appears as D.H. Marvin in very early records, was one of the early settlers of Westfield township of Fayette County, Iowa.  On June 8th, 1854, he "entered" the SW 1/4 of the SE 1/4 of Sec.11-93-8.  He bought 40a of government land for $1.25/a, for $213.50 cash.  Mr. Marvin was born in New York state, in 1806; married Abigail Taylor (Tyler?), also a resident of New York, in 1826.  Hiram was one of the first whites into Michigan and family history mentions him building the first mill in the  Battle Creek or Kalamazoo area around 1832-33.  He apparently removed to Winslow, Illinois and ran a store for about a year before removing to Fayette County, Iowa where he would live out his live and pass away in Fayette in 1890, in his home a lot on the SE corner of the UIU library intersection.  He is buried in Grandview Cemetery at Fayette, Iowa.  Hiram started what was probably the longest and most successful family milling operation in Fayette County, spanning 90 years.
Hiram Marvin, Fayette, 1880's

Short overview of milling grist, rough cut lumber, wool in pioneer areas like Fayette, Albany, Lima 1850-1900

Hiram Marvin Biography from the "1878 History of Fayette County"---Marvin, Hiram, saw and feed mill, and farmer, Sec 23; P.O. Fayette; born in New York, Nov. 1806; was married in 1826 to Abigail Taylor; she was born in New York, May 11, 1800.  they came to Fayette County in 1854; owns about 200 acres of land.  Lived nineteen years in Michigan.  Was Justice of the Peace and Supervisor five or six years; have one son living----Joseph H., partner in the mill at Albany and born Feb. 28, 1853.  He was married Jan. 1, 1873 to Amelia L. Turner; she was born near Watertown, N. Y., Aug. 14, 1850; have one son---Charlie H., born Oct. 28, 1873.

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Thanks to Alice Miller, Professional Genealogist from Arlington, Iowa, for 1878 plats and other information.  I can sent you her email if needed.  And thanks to Bob Marvin, my childhood friend and neighbor, for information.  "Our Gang", played in the last remains of the old Marvin Mill at the north end of the Main Street Bridge in Fayette until the flood of 1947 basically destroyed the remains of the operation.  Bob and family donated the mill in later years to the Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Old Thresher's Association.  Marvin's Mill, a steam driven buckwheat mill has been restored and lives in one of the Old Thresher's Museum buildings, open year round to the public for viewing.  Bob is the GGgrandson of Hiram Marvin, Fayette area pioneer millwright.  Anyone with information to post or corrections to make, send me an email.

Hiram Marvin's first mill was built in 1854 up in the hills on a spring feed deep valley run, later called Burn's Creek, just to the NW of the Lima settlement.

The first mill of Hiram Marvin would have been in the hills just of the right of this picture which looks NxNE across the Frog Hollow Valley from the top of the Old Albany Hill Road.  Albany would be to the right of the picture and down the steep hill. Fayette would be to the left of the picture. Most of these early generation mills were put up simple and fast. In time, more construction was done to enclose various areas and make them more efficient and functional.  The basic  milling page on this site will give a quick overview milling.

Location of Hiram Marvin's first mill on Burn's Creek, 1854-1857


    Licille Whitely writes: The Marvin family probably has been engaged in the saw-mill and grist-mall business more years than any other family that has lived in Fayette county. Hiram Marvin, whose name sometimes appears as D.H. Marvin in very early records, was one of the early settlers of Westfield township. June 8th, 1854, he "entered" the SW 1/4 of the SE 1/4 of Sec.11-93-8.  He purchased from the government as an original land entry, 40a at $1.25 per acre, paying $2.13.50 cash. 

    His first mill was a failure. Frank Jones and Thomas R. Parker say that Mr. Marvin first build a mill on the Burns Creek.  This first mill was far from successful, due to insufficiency of waterpower. Undaunted, he moved his equipment to the Volga River on the forty in Section 23, upstream or about a mile south of Albany, probably after 1857.




You are looking to SW across the original Albany bride toward the area Hiram Marvin moved his mill in 1857-58.  At that time only river fords were available and trails were hand cut and built by the pioneer farmer or millwright.  The Volga River circles immediately around a bend on the right of the picture and the runs to the area off to the end of the bridge. Fayette is about five miles upstream from the bridge.  

An educated guess would be that Hiram Marvin's mill upriver from Albany looked similar to the picture to the left.  The Volga was a clear, fast flowing stream with a limestone bed.  He located near limestone bluffs where building material was close, both timber and rock.  The structure would have been rough cut timbers and boards.  Hiram would have disassembled his entire milling operation up on Frog Hollow Creek and transported the structure, wooden machinery, millstone, blade and personal wares by oxen team, down the trail and along the main street of the newly platted village of Albany.  He would have forded the river just to the east of the present day, old Albany bridge and moved the remaining one mile south to his new location.  There is a good chance he made the move in the winter when sleds were more easily pulled over frozen ground and snow, and the Volga was lower.  Over the years Hiram added to his milling and farming operation.  He would raise his family in the Albany area before moving into Fayette in 1883 at the age of 76.  


 FROM "CHATS WITH TIMES," 1939-1943---
    November 5th 1856, Hiram Marvin acquired from John P. Davis, then of Allamakee county, the SW 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of Sec. 23-93-8, about a mile SW of Albany, along the Volga River, at a cost of $210.  It is on this latter forty above (upriver) Albany that Marvin's saw-mill and grist-mill was located for many years.  A few of the foundations stones of the old building may be seen a short way up the river from where Frank Holtzman now lives (1938).
    Two men, Chandler and Ward, in early days operated a furniture factory in a building on Marvin's land and connected with his mill, using the mill shafting to run their turning lathes. They went to the (civil) war and were both killed. Marvin then used the furniture factory building for his mill purposes. Chandler and Ward owned land nearby. For this mill Marvin made a deep mill pond, this time getting sufficient power to do a thriving business, securing feed grinding and wood sawing business from many folks living on the prairie around (and to the west of) Fayette. In those days Marvin's Hill, now so seldom ventured upon by the traveler, was a busy thorofare for traffic, with its loads of logs, lumber, grain and grists. The heavily wooded hill across the river served as a source of lumber for those who contemplated a barn or house "raising."
    Marvin's Road: The long rocky road which extends up the side of the bluff to the east of the mill site, and which is now topped by Doc Sperry's rustic little "cabin in the woods", was dug out and put through by Marvin himself, and was, at that time, known as "Marvin's Hill." (This would eventually become the road leading into Albany from the south when the Albany bridge was built. Until that time river fords were used.)
    A much-talked of incident, which occurred while Marvin was operating the mill, was related to me by Mr. T.R. Parker, who stated that he used to live right beside the mill, and that he used to spend a great deal of his leisure time fishing at the base of the mill. A team drowns in the mill pond. A fine team of horses was left untied outside the mill by a farmer, living at that time near Hawkeye, who had come to have some feed ground. The team, probably thirsty, started down the bank to the deep mill pond. The owner, seeing them and being aware of the possible outcome of such a step, grabbed the lines in an attempt to guide them back up the bank. The strain on the lines was too much and one them broke, letting the team fall into the pond. The owner of the horses could not swim, and Marvin dared not go into the cold water because of a very recent recovery form illness, so there was little to be done but watch the horses flounder and finally give up the losing battle and drown. Mr. Parker speaks of this as a time of great excitement to him, and of his desire to get (take) his father's dinner to the Marvin sugar "bush" (sorghum fields) where he was working in order to be the first with the news. The sugar "bush" was located near the first spot where Marvin started in the milling business (on the bottom land in Frog Hollow).
    In addition to his milling and farming, Marvin served five or six years as Justice of the Peace and supervisor from the Albany area. Mr. Marvin acquired considerable land around his mill property, owning at one time about 200 acres.
In 1883, the Marvin mill property was conveyed to Erastus ("Broad") Hammond, of Fayette, a stone mason, and also a bee keeper who was seeking a better place than in town for his bees. In exchange for the mill and some farm property Mr. Hammond conveyed to Marvin the town lots and brick house which are still in possession of the Marvin family, being the property now occupied by Lloyd Marvin just north of the Main street bridge (Note:  The flood of 1999 ravaged all of the structures north or the bridge. The properties were bought out through federal funds and razed by the city)
    It is told that George Earle operated the old (Albany) mill after H. Marvin quit. We find no record yet that he owned the land and we wonder if he leased the mill outfit from Hammond. The mill business was discontinued about 18??, and the old building was moved away to become a hay barn.
The Iowa Postal Card (newspaper) for May 9, 1890, mentions the death of Hiram Marvin at Fayette, on may 6, 1890, at eighty-four years of age, and the editor, O.C. Cole, said this of him: "He was for many years owner of what was once Marvin's Mills, a couple of miles down the Volga, and has had varied interest in the bank, the elevator and other property, at various times. We have know Mr. Marvin for thirty-four years and can bear testimony that he bore the reputation of an honest man, a reliable friend, and a good neighbor. In his later years, he became an ardent believer in the doctrines of Modern Spiritualism. He has always been a good friend to the writer.  


The Albany, Fayette County, Iowa, Mill shown in a very rare 1869 pictograph on the fringe of one of the earliest functional Fayette County maps known, in the possession of the Fayette County Historical Society in West Union.  The first mill at Albany was a basic saw mill built on this site in 1854 by Albert Albertson who also built a large store at the same time in Albany.  Albertson sold the mill and site to Richard Earl in the fall of 1855.  Earl ran the first generation mill with improvements until 1865, when he built the large second generation flouring mill seen above.  The mill was constructed of limestone blocks quarried locally and measured 30x35 feet and was three stories high.  The mill dam was 160 feet wide, ten feet tall, and 27 feet thick at its base, constructed of heavy timbers filled with stone.   The Albany Mill was considered on of the best mills in the area from 1865 to about 1880.  Farmers would often travel to Albany from the western edge of Fayette County.  Near the Mill, back to the left of this pic,  a major chair, furniture factory was built about the same time.  Albany/Lima were booming pioneer villages from 1865 to about 1890.  The railroad would come to the immediate area in the mid 1870's.  Today the villages are gone without a trace.  Few people are still alive with memory or living history of the towns.

The 1865 Albany Mill was an example of a second generation more elaborate mill built after the first more basic mills of the early 1850's, which supplied rough cut lumber and grist in sufficient quantity to support the rapid flow of farmers and villagers into the area.  By the late 1850's and into the 1860's a number of larger more elaborate mills would be built.  Most 3-5 levels high, often of native limestone blocks quarried locally my masons or the mill wrights themselves.  Usually these larger mills employed 10-30 local workman and were the "corner stone industry" in the village.  With the coming of the railroads and rapid mass transport into the highly populated areas of the country, the local village/county mills rapidly diminished in numbers, with most becoming extinct by the late 1800's.  




Almost immediately when the Neutral Grounds were  just taken from the Indians, northern Fayette County opened up to the whites in 1849-1854.  Mills were rapidly established to serve their needs. Grist mills to grind grain to flour and for animal feed, fulling mills to process wool for clothing, and sawmills to furnish lumber for building homes, churches and stores. The mills were located every few miles along the Volga to harness water power to run the mill machinery.  Because of abundant water power, pioneer settlement naturally clustered along the Volga and the villages of Westfield, Fayette, Albany, Lima, Wadena, and Volga City developed.

The first mills used undershot or overshot water wheels, with the water channeled under or over a big water wheel, the flow of the water causing the wheel to turn. This rotary motion was transferred through a system of  wooden gears, and leather belts over wooden pulleys to operate the mill machinery.   Later water powered turbines were used instead of mill wheels. The big water wheels required big mill ponds.  The first mills built on the Volga were much smaller than the ones that would rapidly replace them in the 1860's.  Even in the smaller mills, however, the overshot wheels were large, being generally from 15 to 25 feet tall and the large wheel was needed for a small amount of water weight/force to turn the gears/pulleys which turned a heavy set of grist stones or moved a saw blade up and down.  That is the reason for large wheels, to increase the mechanical advantage.  A small force turned through a large distance to turn a large force/weight through a small distance.  

The pioneer mill wrights knew their physics. There was a logical reason for everything they did.  Milling was learned from their relatives/clan by apprentice style.  In cold climates the mills were kept running if at all possible.  Many times the frozen wheel would need the ice chopped off before it had enough force to turn.  Milling was physically tough work for long hours. Mills were built several stories high when time and resources allowed, as the grain was fed from the top and gravity used to move it down a serious of steps leading the final produce. Second generation mills were big structures.  They had to be, as they housed large "machinery" and commodities.  Thus all the grain had to be carried by hand to the top floors, or a series of ropes and pulleys utilized so oxen could be used to hoist it up to the top level.  

The dams were generally made by digging timbers down into the bottom or by trying to attach base timbers to limestone bed rock with hand forged pins driven into holes in the stone, formed by metal stone drills hit with big hammers.  The problem with the first dams was withstanding the huge water pressure created at their bases by 6-15 feet of water, and then of course the winter ice when it went out in the spring.  If stone/rock was available it was almost always incorporated into the dams.  Second generation dams might be entirely rock. 

The first generation mills often had just one floor above the wheel and gears which turned two relatively small mill stones.  Milling of grain might be done in one room, with a small storeroom off to one side.  The same wheel and wooden gears would be used to move a stiff, thick saw blade back and forth to rough cut logs for timbers and boards.  Almost every piece of the mill was wood.  

Second generation mills were much larger, multilevel structures, often built of native limestone blocks 5-6 feet thick at the base.  Big limestone blocks might also be used in the more elaborate dams.  

Millstones were often imported from France and brought overland by oxen during the 1800's.  One piece millstones were not too common before railroad transportation to the Midwest in the 1870's.  France produced some of the worlds finest millstones from granite in their mountain ranges.  They were made of sections held together by an iron band, with grooves cut in the faces of the stones to channel grain/grist/floor toward an opening to the outside. Periodically new grooves had to be cut by hand with metal chisels  in the faces of the stones.  Big mill stones often weighed 1500lb each.  Even small stones weighted hundreds of pounds.  

When granite millstones were not available the locals often had to resort to using much softer sandstone or limestone. 

When a mill was running the water level in the mill pond next to the "mill house" would drop and would eventually have to be allowed to recover to its original height.

The second generation, bigger and more elaborate mills on the Volga often were capable of producing about 50 barrels of flours a day, so one must assume the first generation, smaller mills would grind 10-20 barrels a day, and would not be producing flour but a course meal or grist.  The second generation mills had time proven engineering and kept the flour grinding evenly through the machinery on all floors by a belting system from a line shaft powered by either bigger and better wheels or by vertical turbines located in the water of the mill races in the lower levels or basements. Turbines did not require the big deep mill ponds.  Good turbine and wheels could develop between 50 and 75 horsepower. The simple yet complex system of wooden gears and pulleys ran the machinery which converted the wheat/grain into flour, or sawed logs, or ran carding and other machinery.  

Rough cut timbers and boards were needed for the rapid building of new structures on pioneer farms and in the villages.  It one does a close inspection of the remaining barns, houses, buildings out of the 1800's and early 1900's the timbers and boards will look like these freshly cut during the 2000 Lincoln County Missouri Old Thrasher's Days by using an 1870's steam engine for power and a big rotary saw blade, just like it was done until into the early 1900's.  The first generation water powered saw mills used a straight flat saw blade and often the cut was much rougher than that show below.  Oak and walnut where the favorites, but any wood available would be used in some fashion.  

The absence of good mill stones often limited the number of mills in the earliest days of the settlement of an area.  Mill stones were some of the earliest "imported" items in which men invested in during pioneer times.  Many were imported from Europe in the 1700's, and could be used as blast in ships. With the movement of the pioneers in the early 1800's toward the west, mill stones and millers became a very serious commodity and were in great demand.  Many people knew how to farm, cooper, smith, but to select the right spot to build a functional mill, and then to have the knowledge and experience to use local wood and stone to construct these very complex structures took true millers who had learned their trade young and had made the move west. These men build all cogs, gears, wheels for handmade leather belts from wood, stone, and a little forged metal, right on the mill site.  Many of the early mills had what is a big "overshot" wheel where the water runs over the top of a big wheel.  The type of mill wheel most of us visualize. These overshot mill wheels required very deep, large mill ponds.  

Mill wrights had not only to be capable of building complex mills, but had to understand the hydrology factors of building large log/earth/rock dams across streams.  Mills and mill dams were very large, complex structures generally build by 1-6 men using hand tools and ox teams.  Often one man with a young son or two, using only hand axles and blades, with one oxen would build the first mill on a small stream.  Or a couple of families in partnership.  They probably would have a relatively short, stiff "mule" saw blade.  My have ownership of a couple of smaller mill stones, or would shape some wedges of local limestone or sandstone and "bind" it in a home forged metal ring.  These first mill wrights would  make everything come together and work, and be the first to grind enough grain in an area to satisfy the local needs of 10-100plus entry level pioneer families. 

 Millers often became very successful for a number of reasons.  They were some of the first settlers into an area, they had multiple skills, they often had capital from another milling operation.  Millers were loggers, carpenters, coopers, smiths, masons, farmers, businessmen all in one package.  None of them could be lacking in drive, goals, ability very long and exist.  Their mills were generally the first "industry" in an area like Fayette, Iowa or Shelbyville, Missouri, entering with the first farmers.  Mills always attracted supporting craftsman and merchants, and were the roots for small villages to spring up.  The early millers often acquired substantial land as they were in the area early, bought land cheap, then sold for double or triple within only years.  May have moved on and started the process all over, or often their offspring had gained milling skills and knowledge by the time they were in their late teens or early twenties and would push out into newly opened territory.  Small milling stones would be in the 18" range, while the larger stones would be 4-6 feet across.  Stones could be made from granite boulders, or quarried, but local mid-western limestone would not work well, as it was soft and ground away.  Sandstone was similar. The best mill stones were one piece stones of good granite.  Local stones were used if nothing else was available.  Often large stones were made in pie like segments held together by a big strap of metal forged by the miller or a blacksmith.  A flour mill was often as good as it mill stones.  The legend of the early millers continued until all the land was gobbled up from the Native Americans, and the big industrial mills like the ones in the Duluth area took over with the advent and ability of the railroads during the later quarter of the 1800's.  

Early settlers would bring their corn/wheat, oats, barley, rye, etc. for miles around to these water mills to have their grist ground. It also has to be remembered that these mills often served two functions, grinding grist and sawing logs.  Most early pioneer mills had both grist stones and saw blades, and it was just a matter of changing the gearing to run either.  In the early 1850's in Fayette County, Iowa, the mills of Alexander at Westfield, Marvin at Albany, Earl at Albany would be of major consequence to the farmers of the area.  By the late 1850's through the 1870's, mills all along the Volga, at the settlements of Westfield, Fayette, Albany, Lima, Wadena, Volga would take on a similar function of being the center of local social/business gatherings.  Sometimes, they would have to wait for two or three days for their turn. This necessitated their coming prepared to spend a night or two at the mill, consequently they would bring along their camping outfits for the occasion. Going to mill was a great event for the household. The corn was shelled by hand at home, or wheat/oats thrashed, and made ready to be ground into meal when their turn came at the mill.  Generally the grain was placed into wooden "flour" barrels and loaded on an ox cart or later large "farm" wagons drawn by big Morgan or Belgium draft horses.  Skin bags could be used, and later when more cloth was available, flour bags.  Going to the Mill  was also an occasion for a lot of visiting while waiting your turn and visitors were able to get the latest news and gossip of the community. Many games, wresting, boxing and shooting matches were engaged in at these times. Only about two trips a year were made to the mill if you had a very long distance to go.  The mill in the Albany valley was a very favored mill during the 1860''s, and the area of Albany would have been an area of "rendezvous" for the early farmers. It also must be remembered that these milling villages were only a few years old, so everything was freshly built and cleared, or in a very natural state.  These were tough times, hard work times, but also very active, exciting times for the first "land" owners.

In these days very few people had the money to pay for the grinding of the meal. The miller received his pay by taking "toll", a portion of the meal that was ground. This extra meal that the miller acquired he usually traded it for pelts, beeswax or some other commodity that was used as a medium of exchange in those pioneer days.

By 1868 Cole's Mill near the Big Rocks and Alexander's Mill would be gone.   Three mills would be left on the Volga in the Fayette and Albany area. Westfield Mill at Fayette, Earl's and Marvin's at Albany. No water powered mills would be found upstream from Fayette.  There would be mills downstream at Wadena and Volga City.  By this time steam powered mills were coming into operation and functioned out on the prairie were water power was not available and mill construction and operation know-how was not as common.  Steam powered mills did not take the great building and operational skills of the water powered mills.

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