Fayette County History & Genealogy

History of Fayette County

From R. S. Dills' History of Fayette County


To the pioneer in the wilderness, remote from civilization, with all its attendant mechanical appliances, the conversion of the product of the soil was one of the most serious difficulties to be met. While the forest supplied abundance of game, with which his larder could with but little exertion be kept well filled; this, however, without the accompaniment of bread, was not in the highest degree palatable, especially when fatigued by the constant exertion which the pioneer was compelled to undergo, from morning till night, in clearing out the forests which surrounded him on all sides. To meet this want machines were constructed, though extremely rude and simple, yet fully accomplishing the purposes for which they were intended.

The first step in this direction was


A block of hard wood was selected, and by means of boring, hacking, and burning, a depression was made capable of holding sometimes nearly a peck of corn. To work in this, an instrument having a large end nearly the size of the depression in the block, and whose convexity corresponded roughly to its concavity, the upper part of which was shaven down to a diameter of one or two inches, so as to be grasped by the hand, was made.

To facilitate the operation of this, a hole was fixed in the ground, a rope, piece of bark, or grape vine attached to the upper end bent down and connected to the pestle so as to assist in lifting it up.

In this manner, and by this rude machine, our forefathers ground their corn.

The next step in the way of improvement, was a stone-mill worked by hand.

From a specimen stone, now in the possession of Judge D. Mc Lean, said to be the base-stone of the first mill in the county which we examined, we give the following description: Diameter twenty inches, thickness about five, and rudely cut in grooves with a hole in the center, into which a small shaft was introduced, having attached to it another stone working upon the lower, which was operated by a crank turned by hand.


The first mill of this kind built in the county, was erected by Jacob Coile, in 1809, in Union Township on Sugar Creek.

The Yeargon horse-mill was put up a little later, and perhaps the second corn-cracker in this county, was put up in 1810, by Isaiah Pancoast, on Deer Creek, about a mile from Waterloo, close to the county line, between Fayette and Pickaway. It was made out of solid boulders with a hole drilled through. This primitive machine was subsequently converted into a mill for grinding wheat, then into a fulling mill, next into a woolen factory, and now is a flouring mill.

This unique structure consisted of an upright beam, or shaft, running on pivots at both ends; passing through this, below at right angles was another shaft, about twenty feet long, at the end of which was attached a team of horses, who walked in a circle as in our modern horse powers. At the top of the upright shaft was attached a large wheel, which communicated its motion by means of a rawhide belt to another wheel, which in turn worked in a cog-wheel attached to the stones.

These burrs, or stones, were made generally out of the native boulders with holes drilled through them, roughly dressed, and running upon each other which ground the corn very coarse, and left it with all the refuse materials accompaning it, which were removed by means of a sieve, made by taking the green hide of a deer, removing the hair, stretching it tightly over a hoop and piercing it full of holes. When the pioneers were educated to the luxury—if luxury it may be called&38212;of wheat bread, mills for grinding and bolting this grain were invented.

Bolting was done by hand, or rather the apparatus, which was a cloth cylinder turned with a crank, which it was expected the man or boy bringing the grist to operate.

Before these mills were erected by the early settlers, according to the county atlas, Springfield, Clifton, and Chillicothe were localities to which they resorted for flour and meal. Several neighbors would unite to make up a four-horse load, take along forage for the teams and provisions for themselves, and make the journey in seven to ten days, during which time their families lived on bacon, hominy, and potatoes, when they had them. Horse-mills were soon established at various points, and hand-mills were constructed, so that most families were able to obtain bread by working for it. The hominy-block was an invention of the times; it was made by burning a hole into the end of a block of wood. They pounded the corn in these mortars with a pestle, made by inserting an iron wedge in a suitable stick. When the corn was fine enough it was sieved, and the finer portion used for bread and for mush, and the coarser boiled as hominy. Corn-dodgers were in general use, and the children of that day, now grown old, can speedily recall the circumstances connected with their first meal of wheat bread. The mills of early days ground very slowly. The settler went to mill early, and remained late to get his sack of meal. The flour made in the horse-mills was like the brown, unbolted flour of the present. That it should be large in quantity was more to be desired than fine in quality. Thomas Moon, Sr., erected the first flour and sawmill, and the first distillery in the county during the year 1810, upon a good site ten miles south of Washington. The mill is still running.

A third mill was built during the war of 1812, by Asa Davis, on Main Paint, two miles south of the county seat. Many years have passed since its removal.

One McDonald built a water-mill two miles north of town, in 1850, and sold to Stafford.

An effort was made to establish a mill on Main Paint, ten miles northwest of town, by Solomon Salmon; but the dam being established on a bed of quicksand, continually broke away and prevented its success.

Still another water-mill was erected in Washington Court House by Jesse Millikan. The saw-mill was in operation in 1817, and a year later, 1818, he had a grist-mill running. Millikan died in 1836, and, about 1840, his son Curren Millikan applied steampower. A water-mill was built on Sugar Creek, four miles south of town, with which a distillery was connected. This mill dates its erection to 1820, at the hands of Adam Caylor.

There was a horse-mill put up by Dughan, about three miles northwest of Washington, near Big Run, prior to 1814. These were soon superseded by steam and water-power, and now the old horse-mill has faded into a thing of the past.

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