Madison County Historical Society




 Long gone now, mills were the center of pioneer trade and social life

If White River could talk, it would tell of the significant roles played by five water-powered mills that once stood proudly on its banks.  They were unquestionably one of the most important economic and social centers of pioneer life in early Madison County.  And, just as quickly as they came, they faded into obscurity with the advent of steam-powered mills.

The records are not clear as to when and who built one of the earliest mills and its dam.  One source credits Uriah Van Pelt in 1837, while others state that David Williams in 1832.  Regardless, if the river could talk, it would tell that whoever built the mill conveniently took advantage of the nearby Myers Ford located today where East Lynn Street reaches a dead end near the White River.  The mill enjoyed the patronage of everyone for miles around, especially those who traveled from the river's north side and used the ford to facilitate their crossing.

In those days, farmers hauled their grain to the mill to have it ground into meal.  Depending on where you lived, the experience could take three days.  After arriving, they often had to wait their turn which consumed more time.  it was during the wait that the social part of the experience occurred in the form of exchanging news, and a tip of the jug.  Not long after it was built, the mill was purchased by Andrew Jackson and for many years was known as Jackson's Mill.

In 1857, Jackson sold the mill to his son, David B. Jackson, who lived in a house on a nearby hill a short distance downstream from the mill.  That house, which was built in 1875, is today located at 1223 Maple Street.  It was from this home that the family was aroused around 11 o'clock one night by neighbors crying fire.  The old mill was completely engulfed in flames and was never rebuilt.

Northwest of Chesterfield, Uriah Van Pelt is credited with building a mill for Frederick Bronnenberg on White River in 1838.  It was located at the site of the Bronnenberg Ford.  Van Pelt ran the mill for one year before moving to the Moss Island Mill.  Both the Jackson and Bronnenberg mills served the people in the eastern part of the county.  But, in the western part of the county, William Parkins had been in the milling business since 1826.  Before that, all the milling in Madison County took place on Fall Creek at Pendleton.

If the river could talk, it would tell of a historic feature associated with Parkins' mill that is partially concealed by the river.  In 1835, Parkins erected a dam made of stones held in place by a log crib across the river.  The slack water created by the dam supplied water to his mill on the river's right bank at Perkinsville.  After the mill exchanged ownership several times with an equal amount of modifications, it passed into history the night of August 19, 1884, when the mill, all its machinery and a large quantity of grain were destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.  Any evidence of the mill has been obliterated by the addition of land fill to the area sometime in the past.  Clearly visible and lying just below the river's surface are the crude poles of the log crib embedded deep into the river's bottom.  From the river's bank, it is difficult to determine how much of the log crib has been destroyed.  The stones still lie where they were placed on the river's bottom years ago.

In 1836, another mill 2 1/2 miles west of Andersontown opened.  Joseph Mullinex selected the site because of its close proximity to the planned northern extension of the Central Canal from Indianapolis with its destination being Lake Erie at Toledo, Ohio.  Even with the failure of the Central Canal, the mill served the surrounding area as both a flour and sawmill.  Known in local history as the Moss Island Mill, it had numerous owners before it was torn down in 1935.  The mill took its name from a family named Moss who took ownership around 1867;  it was Samuel Moss who rebuilt the mill after a fire destroyed it in 1873.  So popular was the Moss name that long after the family sold its interest in the mill, it retained the name.  As well-known as it was, the Moss Island Mill was not the most famous of the mills along White River.

If the river could talk, it would tell of the construction by William Sparks of the Killbuck Mill on its right bank just above the place where Killbuck Creek enters White River.  Its name was derived from the creek that entered the river just below the mill.  At the same time, Sparks dug a 2,000 foot mill race from a dam he built on Killbuck Creek to his mill.  Sparks first built a single-story sawmill in 1860.  Here, logs brought in by customers were cut into usable lumber.  The sawmill was the only mill on the site until 1862 when Sparks formed a partnership with Mr. A.Siddel and built a larger grist mill, the Killbuck Mill, immediately to the east.

In 1872, and after a series of improvements under different owners, the mill was capable of producing a maximum capacity per year of 40,000 to 60,000 bushels.  For many years, the Killbuck Mill manufactured the popular flour called "Killbuck Flour."  John Goehring owned the mill in 1907 when the Union Traction Company bought it for the dam on Killbuck Creek.  Water was needed to increase the supply to operate the boilers at the nearby Indiana Railroad Power Plant, thus bringing to an end 45 years of mill operation.  The dilapidated structure, used for storage and a Union Traction signboard, stood until after World War II, when it was removed by its last owner, John Rock, to make way for several businesses that have occupied the site including Maxwell's Auto Trim Shop.

If the river could talk, it would tell of the tail race that delivered the water used by the mill to the White River.  That shallow ditch can be followed today from near its original point to the place where it enters the river.

If the river could talk, it would say that these five mills were at the very core of pioneer life in Madison County.  And, because much of what was used and consumed by our pioneers was a product of their existence, they have left an indelible mark on our history.         

Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian

 Throughout Indiana's Bicentennial year of 2016, Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian, will be authoring "If The River Could Talk."  This series will feature people, places, and events that takes place in and around White River.

The series is an officially endorsed legacy project of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

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 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|