Hamilton County, IowaThe Mills Of The County
By Effie McKinlay Kantor
The Model Mills, Steam Mill, The Ten Eyck Mill, Tunnel Mill & Turbine Mill.
A roof to shelter and a loaf of bread were the first needs of the pioneer home. The trapper or hunter could bake his corn cake over the hot ashes of a camp fire and find the sky's blue, and the thick leafy boughs of the woods enough for a shelter. But the settler needed a home; and a home meant a woman, children, four walls, a roof, and bread. So it was that the first activities were sawmills, then grist mills.
Water power was abundant, costing nothing but time and time had not then found its wings. With great labor the necessary machinery was carted with oxen from the eastern boundaries of the state and the production of boards and shingles was begun. As fast as money was forthcoming the sawmills added to them grist mills with two burrs if possible; one for wheat and one for corn, and white bread was no longer a luxury. The early loaf was a far different production than our present one, for in the many processes of bolting and sifting, properties once found in wheat flour are eliminated and white bread has lost in flavor and nutrition. The dark nutty wholesome loaf has disappeared and in its place is one much whiter but with less flavor. Bread earned by the sweat of the brow always has more flavor, and no pioneer bread was forthcoming without hard labor.
In this narrative, particular care has been taken to go wherever possible to the mill-wright, the miller, and the man with the grist. They each have their story and their great part in making this one-time wilderness to blossom. Those who were here in the early fifties have but a few more years among us, and indeed from many, it is too late to hear the story. Mill history gathers to itself poetry and sentiment as naturally as the early stone fences gathered to themselves delicate vines and wild roses.
The locations of the mills were in the most picturesque spots, surrounded by deep woods, by the side of running water, by day the ring of the woodcutter's ax, the hum of turning mill wheels, the buzz of busy- saw; by night the soft voices of the wind from wood and water. Romance thrives on just such fare.
(Surnames: Eckerson, Bone, Wicks, Pringle, Bryan, Snodgrass, Atherton, Bell & Perry)
The second mill was built by David Eckerson, a Methodist preacher with some means. This was built in about 1853 near the site of Bell's mill. It was a grist mill and at first had corn burrs which also ground buckwheat. Later, having more means than the average settler, he installed wheat burrs. He had a flourishing business. This mill was run, as probably was the Bruce mill, with a wooden overshot water-wheel. It was widely patronized by settlers, for at the time of its building there was no other grist mill nearer than Story City on the east, northern Wright county on the north, or the Bruce mill on the south. But misfortune, like ill health always makes its appearance once in a lifetime, and one day it called upon David Eckerson forcing him to give up the mill. In 1867 it was bought, rebuilt and operated by Joseph Bone. A. A. Wicks of this city and M. E. Pringle were among the carpenters on the mill. In 1869 Alanson Bryan, father-in-law of Joseph Bone, came from Powesheik county to Hamilton county, buying a half interest in the mill. At this time James A. Snodgrass, a Virginian, now of Vancouver, Washington, was the miller. Business was very prosperous with the mill, running day and night during the busy season in common with all busy mills. French burrs were imported and used in all flour mills of any pretensions. The valley between the beautiful hills was often dotted with teams in waiting. Joseph Bone built a new home for himself on the brow of the hill above the mill, in addition to the old log one. He was regarded as not only a fine miller, but a man foremost in promoting good in the community; an uplifting force in church or school affairs, patriotic to the core —an ideal frontiersman.
The days were never dull for the miller's family. There was always the busy mill with its patrons who came for miles to mill, and an occasional immigrant train passed through, halting to exchange commonplaces and receiving the use of the oven for a baking of raised bread. The ash cakes were cooked, or baked, while in camp, but whenever possible the women of the party gratefully accepted the kind proffer of ovens for raised bread. In the winter, bands of Indians were often passing, stopping to barter with beads and baskets for sugar and meal if possible and the element of danger was always present when they were about, for resentment still smoldered in each Indian breast and only the majority of whites made the settler safe. As the winter passed the fear of the ice gorge arose in the miller's heart. Only those who have lived in a miller's household know with what apprehension the opening of the river was greeted. Often a warm night in early March broke up the ice and the swelling, menacing roar aroused the family. Great cakes of ice weighing many tons, carried by the swollen flood piled up in the bend of the river, wedged against the bridge piers, against the mill foundation, hurling themselves upon the corner of the mill which stood upstream, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. Once while members of the Bone family stood in tearful helplessness on the bank at this mill, the entire end of the mill from roof to foundation fell out into the stream, leaving the interior with its stacks of grain bags and machinery exposed to view. Fire could be combated with water, but water and ice knew no defeat; they carried everything before them. So the greatest enemy of the mill was the ice gorge. In 1873 Joseph Bone sold his interest in the mill to John Atherton and September 10, 1875, Alanson Bryan disposed of his interest to members of the Bell family and returned to Powesheik county. The home he built and lived in while here still stands, remodeled by Jasper N. Bell, the "Old Hickory" of the Boone and used as his home. In 1878 John Atherton sold his interest in the mill to Benjamin Bell and his son, John Bell. In 1880 they sold the mill to Jasper N. Bell who ran the mill successfully eight years. Mr. Bell has always been a prime mover in all pioneer historical work and no old settler's gathering is complete without him and his estimable wife. In 1883 Mr. Bell retained as his miller Lyman G. Perry, whose child met a shocking death. The child, a son named Van, was playing about the mill and attempting to cross the headrace, fell into the forebay. The mill which had been running as usual, stopped and Mr. Perry going below to ascertain the cause, was horror-stricken to find his child's dead body drawn in under the mill wheel. This was the only accident that occurred at this mill. On the night of March 2, 1888, Benjamin Bell died, and the same night a flood carried away the dam, stopping the wheels of the mill forever. This mill was never rebuilt after Joseph Bone rebuilt it, but while J. N. Bell owned it, new machinery was added. The mill has long since been torn down and now nothing remains at the mill site of thirty- five or forty years ago, except the empty house on the hill, and the Bell home under the hill. Even the bridge has been rebuilt and the road changed. Nothing remains—and yet much remains, for the beautiful hills under whose lofty brows this industry flourished, are unchanged only when colored by the seasons' paint brushes. Trees may rise and fall along the sides of these hills, but they still remain among the most beautiful in this section of Iowa. The river sings the same song it did to the mill-wheel fifty years ago—the same blue sky is overhead, but "the sound of the grinding is low."
(Surnames: Williams, Fisher, McConnell, Sternberg, Brock, Ross, Clark, Hyatt, Chase, Bradley, Kimbell, Page, Kimbrell, Bone, McKinlay, Hill, Snodgrass, Tremaine, Barr & Osborn)
The site of Bone's mill was for years one of the beauty spots of the county. For a half-mile back on either side of Boone river native timber of walnut, oak and maple made it an ideal home for the settler and a desirable location for a sawmill. Ruthless hands have since cleared this all away and converted the rich soil into farms. About six rods north of the site of Bone's mill, Thomas Williams built his sawmill in 1854. He had come with his family from Dark county, Ohio, to carve for himself and family a home out of the wilderness. This mill was first run as a feed and sash sawmill. Mr. Williams was unfortunate in his choice of a building spot and a location for the dam. The first spring after his mill was built the mill and the entire dam was eaten out by the icy jaws of the spring gorge, and he moved his machinery to the site of Bone's mill. Charles Fisher, who bought the Groseclose mill, was the millwright and took for his pay, land belonging to Williams, which is now the W. O. McConnell farm. The mill, which was a grist mill, was to have been completed in three years, but work was delayed and the property was transferred to Lambert Sternberg. Mrs. James Brock, of Webster City, is a daughter of Thomas Williams and well remembers the troublous times following the destruction of the mill by the ice.
Sternburg put in a new dam of logs and large poles bolted together, also adding machinery for grinding wheat. This addition made it a one-run mill with one set of burrs driven by the old-fashioned Rose wheel. The mill was about fourteen feet in height, a story and a half structure besides the basement. Settlers came from distances of thirty and forty miles with their grist. If they had to wait two or three days, as sometimes happened, they slept in the miller's office, in his hay loft or perhaps lodged with the miller's family. These unexpected guests were always welcomed by the women and children of the family, for they brought news of the outside world and after the evening meal sat smoking in the gathering darkness, regaling each other with stories.The usual pay or toll of the miller at this period was every sixth bushel of wheat. Very little actual cash was exchanged, except where the miller sold flour outright. In the late summer when the water ran very low, the miller could not grind at all. No water ran over the dam for two or three months and grists were stacked ten and fifteen grain bags high and the miller watched for heavy rains.
This mill for a time changed owners rapidly. Lambert Sternberg sold to Jay Sternberg in 1863. Jay Sternberg sold the property to John Ross in 1868. It was at this time, when John Ross was the owner, that a tragedy which is still a mystery, occurred. One day in the early summer of 1869, the body of John Ross with a bullet wound in the back, was found in the wheel pit under the mill. Suspicion was at once directed toward a nephew of the murdered man, John Ross, Jr., who had made his home for a time with the uncle. It was known that the nephew had requested and been refused a loan of money. And this fact coupled with the immediate disappearance of John Ross, Jr., was the only clue to the murderer. He was apprehended and brought back to Webster City for trial. The Webster City Freeman of February 18, 1885 says: "A long and complicated trial ensued, in which Charles A. Clark appeared for the state and N. B. Hyatt for the accused, who was but eighteen years of age. The case was tried before Judge D. D. Chase in the December term of district court of 1869, John II. Bradley acting as district attorney." The accused was acquitted by the jury and the matter rested there. No one save the guilty person knows the murderer.
In the fall of 1869 the mill property was transferred back to Jay Sternberg, who sold the mill in 1870 to James W. Kimbell. He put in a feed burr and what was known as a Lafell turbine, forty-eight-inch water-wheel, instead of the old Rose wheel. This Lafell wheel was a clumsy, heavy affair, weighing three tons and was hauled by Mr. Page from the Illinois Central station to the mill, six miles south of town, in a rudely constructed cart. The cart was made of an axle of a new wagon, and an oxcart with sawed-log wheels. A yoke of oxen completed the equipage. The trip was made in two days, breaking through a small bridge near the Treat farm and delayed by minor incidents.
In the fall of 1870, Kimbrell sold a half interest to his son, Ben Kimbrell, upon his death, soon after, the widow's interest was sold to Joseph Bone, who had rebuilt and run Bell's mill. The following year Joseph Bone bought out the J. W. Kimbrell interest and became the sole owner. At this time he began extensive improvements—building over the house, putting a stone foundation under the mill, and soon after installed the new process of making flour. This necessitated one extra burr, a purifier, a sixteen-foot double reel bolting chest and some other new machinery. He also raised the mill twelve feet, adding one and one-half stories, thus making it the largest flouring; mill on the river at this time. He discarded the sawmill to make room for other machinery. A. D. McKinlay who had been miller for John Hill at the Hill mill, later for Kimbrell, was also retained as miller.
A little touch of romance is added here. For the second time Joseph Bone retained his miller as son-in-law. James A. Snodgrass, his miller at Bell's mill, married his eldest daughter, and A. D. McKinlay, his miller at this place, married another daughter. In 1880 the mills were named "Excelsior," to distinguish them from the other Bone's mill known as Bell's mill. The firm name at this time was Bone & McKinlay and on until 1889. During the years of Cleveland's first administration a postoffice was installed at the mill and named Tremaine for Ira H. Tremaine, whose farm lay near the" mill property. This was later discontinued.
The modern child in kindergarten sings lustily of the miller with his mill wheel turning round, but must sing ignorantly, for he may not learn by experience how musical was the song of the mill. The water mill of forty years ago had none of the metallic, rasping sounds that modern machinery gives forth. When most of the mechanism was of wood the sound was a muffled humming, indescribably sweetened by the splashing of water over the dam, the churning of wheels below in the flume. Inside the mill the sound was louder and a clean, sweet odor greeted the senses. The beginning of bread has a charm also. Not far from the door stood the great wheat hopper from which the miller took his toll and into which the wheat was poured to be cleaned; the great round mill-stones with their little grooves which had to be chiseled out on dull days— sharpening, it was called; the long, clean bolting chest that had its reel covered with the expensive bolting or sifting silk once in ten or twelve years; the dust- room with its thick, wheaty odor; the grain bags stacked high on which many a tired child climbed to view these interesting surroundings, but remained to sleep awhile, lulled by the humming of the mill; and the fine, white flour dust settling thickly over all—the miller's hat, his coat (for the early miller wore no white uniform), powdering his hair and eyebrows with its hoary frost and making a miracle of the cobwebs high in the corners; and over all and through all the hum of the mill. No industry was more productive of contentment and a man who was once a miller never finds occupation more to his liking. This mill was sold to P. G. La Barr in 1889, who ran it until 1895, when it became the property of P. B. Osborn, now of Ellsworth. Mr. Osborn installed a boiler and steam engine, but in 1899 an explosion destroyed these and the house in which they were placed, rendering the mill useless. He then transferred what machinery he could use, to his steam mill in Ellsworth and disposed of the land in small tracts. With these events the long period of usefulness of Bone's mill was brought to a close.
(Surnames: Bruce & Huffman)
The first mill of any kind in Hamilton county was three miles north of the mouth of Boone river near Stratford. This was built in 1851 or '52 by Bruce, a millwright and a miller. This was a grist mill with "nigger-head" burrs made of Iowa rock resembling granite. Later the name of Huffman seems to have been associated with this mill, but nothing more has been ascertained.
(Surnames: Willson, Stoddard, Pray, Babcock, Sketchley, Mason, Holcomb, Sackett, Perry, Hill, Kimbrell, Chase, La Barr, Closz & Stearns)
In 1855 Sumler and Walter Willson built a sawmill near the site of the old Chase mill. This was, as nearly as can be ascertained, the first sawmill in Webster City. This mill started upon its career auspiciously enough for the settlers were in need of boards and shingles. In 1856 the Willsons disposed of their mill to Chas. B. Stoddard and W. S. Pray. They established a planing mill in addition to the sawmill and made shingles also. A little later the flourishing industry added a furniture factory, and the first work done on a turning lathe was executed here. Cabinetmakers were in demand, and among those, who at one time and another, won local fame as workers in wood were, P. C. Babcock, J. D. Sketchley, B. S. Mason, Lewis Holcomb. Elisha Sackett and Frank R. Mason. There are in the town, pieces of the furniture made here, still in use. They were built to last a lifetime and many of the carefully constructed articles have long outlived their owners. Gilbert Perry has a chair from this factory and there are doubtless others. The only coffins used in the settlement were made here and members of the Pray family still remember how, during a typhoid epidemic, the small force of cabinetmakers worked day and night to fill the orders for coffins.
During these years a corn cracker was added to the other branches of the mill and J. D. Sketchley ran it. Settlers hailed with delight this addition and shelled corn by hand to bring to mill, that they might obtain that delicious old- time dish—hominy. "Samp," was the pioneer name given to the dish. In 1868 John Hill came to the settlement with his family and bought the mill of Stoddard and Pray April 8, 1868. He sold a third interest to Preston Kimbrell, his brother-in-law, who held his interest until death. John Hill was a fine millwright and at once proceeded to build an entirely modern mill. He used every known appliance in the construction of the mill. Business was very good and the flour put out was of excellent quality. The pioneers were not critical of their bread or their flour however, for they were philosophers enough to accept the goods of the gods and be thankful. The times made men philosophers: when hard times came they plodded uncomplainingly on; when good fortune smiled upon them they as quietly accepted it.
John Hill in 1873 sold a half interest to Judge D. D. Chase and the other half was sold to him in 1877. Mr. Chase employed various men at different times to run the mill as a flour mill. Among these were the La Barr brothers: then in 1882 Charles Closz rented and ran it for about three years; successor to him was P. G. Stearns, who ran it as a feed mill for a year or two, until he bought and operated the Plansifter Flour mills near the Crooked Creek station. With the removal of Mr. Stearns the Chase mill was abandoned. It rapidly lost its windows and began to assume the air of "better days" that a once useful or popular person presents when he ends his period of activity. But the timbers of which it had been built—its bones and sinews—were of too hardy material to so quickly succumb as many of its predecessors had. So it stood for years, the last mill upon the river, the "last leaf upon the tree," in dignified solitude, a sightless old landmark with its solid old walls as firm as they had been fifty years before and became unwillingly the haunt of owls and bats by night, its only companions the complaining wind through its deserted rooms and the murmuring waters of the river.
(Surnames: Groseclose, Hook, Crary, Strickler, Comley, Hill, Fisher, Butterworth, Messmore & Dayton)
The third mill on the river was moved here from Polk county by Andrew Groseclose, who came here and built a dam across the river on section 15-87-26, near the David Hook farm, in 1852.
The mill was moved later, in 1853, and it was set up by Lewis M. Crary and William Strickler. This mill was also run by an over-shot wheel. The burrs used were the common ''nigger-head" burrs two feet across. Corn and buckwheat were ground only, for there was scarcely a bushel of wheat raised here at that time. There was no bolting chest in the primitive mill; settlers did their own bolting at home. Later a hand bolting machine was added to mill machinery, necessitating a "hopper-boy," who fed the grain by hand into a hopper which was turned by hand, fanning out the graham and retaining the fine flour. An old miller from Ohio, Father Comley by name, employed at times in local mills, related how he as "hopper-boy" in an old mill together with a companion, was instructed by the miller, who was to leave the mill in their care for the day, to carry down several bushels of wheat which was stored on the second floor. This wheat had been fanned or cleaned and was to be poured into the hopper to be ground. Elevators were then unknown so, no sooner was the miller out of sight than the ingenious boys hastily constructed a long trough, one end of which they tacked to the floor above and the other end to the hopper. Then boring a hole in the second floor directly over the trough they had but to pour the wheat into the hole and their work was done. But alas! upon his return the thick-headed old miller saw what they had done and mistaking their cleverness for laziness, made them carry the wheat back upstairs and down again by hand, in the good old-fashioned way.
Andrew Groseclose had a large family, one of whom was Mrs. Morgan Hill, now living in Missouri. In 1855 Dr. Charles Fisher, an early-day practitioner, also a millwright and miller, came to this county and bought the mill of Groseclose. Settlers came from such distances in the grinding season that they often had to wait three and four days for their grist. Dr. Fisher had two log houses and always lodged his customers, often providing them food if their own store of provisions ran low. And it was told of him that he always furnished food free. The pay of the miller of this period was every fourth bushel. This mill also ran a saw and made laths and shingles. The mill itself was a small frame one-story building, which finally took fire and burned. It was never rebuilt.Early settlers also remember the erection on Lick-skillet—a bottom land below Bell's mill, of a sawmill in 1854. This was owned by Butterworth and Messmore. Hiram Dayton bought it soon after and moved the mill west of Homer, where it was later operated under a different name.
(Surnames: Camp, Bennett, Worthington, Sketchley, McFerren, Cooper, Treat, Perry, Averill, Harris, Christie, Bradenburg, La Barr, Atherton & Mauler)
The first mill on this site was a sawmill, built by Wesley Camp in 1855 or 1856. Camp sold to Hiram Bennett, who began at once the construction of a grist mill. The timbers of this mill were of black walnut and the "raising" of the mill was an event which many settlers still remember. Irving Worthington and J. D. Sketchley were there and perhaps others are still living. William McFerren was the mechanic; William Cooper, father of Mrs. L. L. Treat, also Lyman G. Perry helped construct the mill. This mill did a considerable business also and was generally prosperous. Averill bought the mill of Bennett. then in a year or so the property reverted to Bennett, who finally disposed of it to Levi Harris. While Bennett owned the mill it had two run of burrs propelled by a turbine wheel. Among those who have been millers in this mill are found the names of Christie, Averill, Ross Harris, Bradenburg, La Barr and Atherton. Copying from a Webster City Freeman: "It was at this mill that occurred a frightful accident, by which Mr. Mauler lost his life. It was in the winter and while waiting about the mill for a grist he was strolling about on the second floor of the mill near some gearing into which he was drawn by a long coat he wore. He was badly mangled and only lived a few hours. This was the only serious accident about this mill, except broken limbs, which are not uncommon about mills of any kind.''
Levi Harris in time shut down the mill and it was rented later for a slaughter house by a local meat market.
(Surnames: Fenton, Funk, Rosencrans, Jones, Richards, Mabbot, Closz & Biernatzki)
C. T. Fenton, Jacob Funk, S. B. Rosencrans and J. M. Jones were the stock company which brought here a steam sawmill in the spring of 1856. It was erected east of the present Chicago & North-Western Railroad tracks, south of the flowing well. This was run strictly as a sawmill until 1860. At this time it was sold to Thomas Richards, who moved it to Batch Grove near the north county line. It is impossible to ascertain the exact date of its removal to Second street, but it was brought here and disposed of to Edward Mabbot. Mabbot installed machinery for grinding flour and feed and added a planing mill. The firm name at this time was Mabbot & Son. They did a large feed business and were very prosperous. Mr. Mabbot owned six business lots about where the armory now stands and his buildings, known as the "Model Mills," occupied these. The mills were modern in equipment at this period and contained three run of burrs run by a twenty-five horse power engine. Edward Mabbot sold these mills to Charles Closz in the '8os and he disposed of them to the Biernatzki Brothers.
(Surnames: Willson, Hilliard, Moore, Fenton & Sweeney)
In 1859 a stock company, of which W. C. and Sumler Willson were members, erected a brick steam saw and grist mill. This was built on the east bank of the ravine that ran north parallel to Funk street, and was on what is now called Third street. The bricks used in the erection of the mill were produced by Ira Hilliard from clay which was dug underneath the mill yard. The mills were known as ''Eagle Mills," and for a time put out an immense amount of flour The upper half of this mill was occupied by the miller's family and some still remember going to parties in the old mill.
The mill was partially destroyed by fire at one time and rebuilt, only to be again destroyed by fire in 1883, when owned by Moore and Fenton. The machinery for the mill was said to have been brought by ox wagons from Dubuque. Michael Sweeney was at one time the engineer here and it was while engaged in this work that he suffered the accident by which he lost his hand.
(Dixon, Eyck, Crandall & Vradenburg)
Hamp Dixon built a sawmill on the Ten Eyck farm one and a half miles north of Stratford, in about 1867. H. A. Crandall helped to build this mill. Vradenburg was at one time the miller. This mill was run about two years and then burned to the ground. It never was rebuilt for it was in a poor location to draw trade. One by one the water mills were forced out of business by the noisy steam roller mill and of the many millwrights operating on Boone river few made a fortune or were even prosperous in the last year they ran their mill.
Songs will always be written and sung of the water mill and the miller. Poems will be read and articles written, but the miller at the water mill long since has hung up his dusty coat and "shut down" the water gates. The busy water wheel is stilled, but the music of it still lingers and the miller who "ground his wheat with joy" still hears. But the road that leads to the mill is grass grown and the door is shut.
(Surnames: Watson, Perry & Dick)
It is impossible to ascertain the exact date when Robert Watson began his tunnel through which the river was to increase the natural current by a deeper fall at the dam, but the time was in the early '50’s. Watson laid his tunnel out with a pocket compass: the tunnel was four hundred feet long and was begun from each end and dug toward the center. Watson's accuracy in such primitive engineering may be judged from the fact that the ends of each starting point were but eighteen inches apart in the center of the tunnel. By such methods around the bend of the river from the dam to the mill site the fall of the river was six and one-half feet, and Watson had the privilege of a four and a half foot dam, making an eleven-foot fall of water—head and fall together. This industry in its infancy, was first a sawmill—later a corn grinding mill. Lyman G. Perry bought this mill from Watson in 1867 for $6,000. He ran it as a saw and corn mill until 1869 or 1870. At this time or about 1871, Gilbert Perry went into the business with him, grinding wheat with one run of burrs. This was one of Boone, Wright, Webster and Greene counties. In pleasant weather or weather the most prosperous of early mills on the river, settlers coming from Story, not too cold, they usually came prepared to stay four or five days if necessary. Mr. Perry remembers that at times the river bottom below the mill was dotted with wagons; twenty teams sometimes being in waiting for their grists. The way to mill was often a dangerous one. There were many things to be considered before starting to mill where one went thirty and forty miles to have their wheat ground. There must be some one to look after the needs of the family and the stock at home; very often this devolved upon the wife and mother and the frontier woman was a woman who could not quake at sight of a band of Indians who may only have come to beg, but more likely to steal or threaten. Provisions must be made ready for the journey and for those left in the home.
Lyman Perry continued running this mill in partnership with his brother about nine years. The dam at this place was never taken entirely out by the ice gorges, but each spring sections were gone and had to be replaced. The tunnel laid out by Mr. Watson was curbed up with planks three feet long and the excavation was in itself three feet by two feet nine inches. It needed constant repair as the water rotted the boards. They also added improvements from time to time and about 1884 changed from burrs to rolls. At this time and for two years previous, they were busy all season. In 1882 they ran the mill steadily for nine months, Sundays and week-days, stopping only long enough to repair and oil machinery. Mr. Perry's manner of pay was to take one-eighth toll of wheat. He weighed every grist just as most millers did. He never did any exchange work as many did, giving flour in exchange for wheat.
On April 14, 1889, the tunnel caved in. This was repaired and work at the mill was resumed.
On November 14th of the same year, he and his son had been grinding buckwheat all day. In fact they had been grinding buckwheat for about three weeks, but this day a hot box annoyed and hindered the work and they shut down the mill at about 7 o'clock in the evening and repaired to the house completely tired out. At 2 a. m. Solomon Dick and his sons awakened by a lurid glare in the sky, hastened to arouse the sleeping miller. They were too late. All that remained of the once flourishing flour mill was a pile of smoking embers. The loss was complete; no insurance was carried and in addition to this, there were stored in the mill, five hundred bushels of winter wheat, one hundred bushels toll wheat, five or six tons of buckwheat Hour, two or three tons of white flour, two hundred bushels of corn, two hundred bushels of grists belonging to farmers. A kit of carpenters' tools was also in the burned structure. During its years of activity the mill was also a postoffice and a small store was kept in addition.
(Surnames: Sterling, Watson, Brillhart, Gillette, Robinson, Farmer, Arthur & Perry)
The bed of all streams is constantly changing as the current makes deposit of sand and soil. Especially is this true of Boone river just west of the J. C. Sterling farm, five miles south of Webster City. Not many who enjoy the picnic parties and the camping pleasures in this beautiful place know that a mill once stood on the west bank of the river a short distance above the Whist club cabin. This mill was built in about 1869, by Robert Watson, an eccentric character, known locally as "Blue Jacket" Watson. He was a man who possessed not a small amount of ability—a natural surveyor—as shown by his manner of working on the Tunnel mill. The subject of this sketch was called the Turbine mill by reason of its water wheel. A turbine wheel is a horizontal water wheel, while an over-shot water wheel is a vertical one. Most of the other mills on the river had turbine wheels with the exception of Bone's and Chase's mills, which were run by double turbines, called Lafell wheels. Robert Watson sold this property to Brillhart in 1870. Brillhart to Gillette in 1871, Gillette to H. H. Robinson in 1873, H. H. Robinson to Henry W. Robinson in 1876. Robinson sold a half interest to Farmer in 1876. The mill was in a very poor location. There was no bridge near this point and the ford—a mile above the mill—was not always possible; then again the steep hills on the west side of the river made the transportation of grain from that direction, in any weather, a difficult task. Dull business followed as a matter of course and ill feeling began between the two owners. The proceeds of the business grew almost too small to be divided and one day in 1878 a hot quarrel ensued in which Robinson left the mill in anger, going to the small house in which they had lived together, and procuring a shotgun, returned. Farmer came to the mill door to see where Robinson had gone and seeing him approaching with a gun, turned to go in, whereupon Robinson fired, wounding him in the back. Farmer, though wounded, managed to lock and bar the mill door, and securely covered with a box of wheat, a trap door leading to the basement. Then he jumped from a window on the east side of the mill, a drop of twelve feet, while he thought his assailant busy trying to stop the water-wheel. But Robinson heard him drop and gave chase up the mill race until Farmer escaped by running across the river on the ice to the home of A. D. Arthur, now known as the J. C Sterling farm.
Farmer brought suit against Robinson, but strangely enough, Robinson plead self-defense and on these grounds he was cleared, although he had assailed his victim from the rear.
The trial brought out the fact that Farmer took great pleasure in arousing another man's anger, while apparently holding his own in leash. Farmer fully recovered and bought Robinson out in the same year.
In 1880 he sold the mill to Lyman G. Perry, who also ran it as a grist mill. Mr. Perry was connected with four water mills in Hamilton county during his life. He was a carpenter on the Harris mill, and was miller at the Turbine, Bell's and Tunnel mills. In 1880 or 1881 Perry sold the place to A. D. Arthur and the mill was torn down never to be rebuilt.
(History of Hamilton County, Iowa, Vol. 1, 1912)
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