The more complicated the history of a tract of land, the more likely it is to be known by a multiplicity of names. This gets especially confusing with the sites of grist mills.
Where Old Liberty Road in Liberty Township crosses the main branch of Sandy Creek in the present-day community of Melancthon (named after the nearby German Lutheran Church) is a mill known to those few who actually remember the building pictured above as “Nixon’s Mill.” Demolished in the late 1940s, the mill was known in the 20th century more for its recreational picnic and swimming grounds. But history associates it with one of Randolph County’s best-known historical characters, the Regulator Herman Husband.
Cornelius Julian, the Franklinville correspondent of The Courier, opens a window for us on Nixon’s Pond in the 1920s when the annual picnic of the Franklinville “Betterment Society” was held there.
“A Picnic at Nixon’s Pond [August 17, 1922]
“On Thursday, August 10, the Franklinville Betterment Society held its annual picnic at Nixon’s Pond on Sandy Creek which is an ideal place for a day’s outing. Bathing, rowing, and games were enjoyed by both children and grown people. A tempting dinner was spread on the ground, and all were invited to help themselves. Soon after dinner a watermelon feast was provided, the melons being raised in Randolph County, which raises the best.
“About 250 people enjoyed the picnic which not only afforded a good time, but also made everybody feel better for having spent a day in the great outdoors. The Betterment Society, by inviting the entire community to join in its picnic, increased our interest in the community and made us all feel that community fellowship is very beneficial.”
“Community Picnic at Nixon’s Pond [August 30, 1923]
“The annual picnic of the community under the auspices of the Betterment Society, was held at Nixon’s Mill Pond on the state highway, a short distance east of Gray’s Chapel, Friday. The Randolph Mills closed down for the occasion and a large crowd attended. Fifty or more automobiles conveyed the crowd out to the picnic grounds. At 5:30 dinner was spread upon the grounds in real picnic fashion. During the evening quite a number of games and contests were participated in. At 6:00 about three-fourths of a ton of watermelons, which were furnished by John W. Clark, were cut, adding very much to the enjoyment of the evening. Some of us want an annual picnic every week.”
They went at least once more, cited in advance on July 31, 1924: “The Betterment Society will go on their annual picnic to Nixon’s Pond, Sandy Creek, Friday afternoon, August 15th. Everybody is invited to go and take a basket of rations. They expect to leave the Academy at three o’clock PM.”
It wasn’t just the Franklinville worker’s club who used mill grounds; on August 11, 1927, one of North Carolina’s best-known recording stars was to attend and perform: “A reunion of the Poole family will be held at Nixon’s Pond, Sandy Creek, on State highway 62, Thursday August 11. A picnic dinner will be served. All relatives and friends of the family are urged to attend. Charlie Poole, of near Leaksville, promises to have his string band at the reunion. Mr. Poole’s band has recently been playing for records for the Edison Phonograph Company, and have been in New York City for some time on this mission.”
The father of the present owner purchased the mill in September, 1943 (DB 370, P519) from the Thomas Nixon estate. Thomas Nixon obtained part of it in 1912 from A.T. Nixon (DB282, P40), and the mill itself from Quentin Nixon (see 234/556). The recreational nature of the site was acknowledged in a five-year lease in March 1924 (DB205, P197), when Nixon rented to Charles Melvin “all that body of water known as Nixon’s Mill Pond… together with such portions of Sandy Creek flowing into or out of said Nixon’s Mill Pond… together with the right… to the reasonable use of the banks of the said mill pond and the said Sandy Creek for the purposes of fishing in the said waters…”
Old Liberty Road, looking east at Sandy Creek.
The two-and-a-half-story mill illustrated above stood on the south side of the current one-lane concrete bridge, with the dam on the north side of the bridge impounding a 10-acre lake. The present owner says that during a hurricane in the 1950s (possibly hurricane Hazel), “the county broke the dam so high water didn’t wash away the bridge.”
Grist mills once came in many sizes. Alexander Spencer, born on Fork Creek near what is now Seagrove, wrote that his “Grandfather used to own a little tub mill two miles down Little River from where he lived.” [Seagrove Area, 1976, p.82]. A tub mill was the smallest and most primitive kind of mill, a one-story building no larger than 15 feet square. A horizontal wooden wheel under the mill was directly connected by a vertical wooden shaft to a single pair of grindstones, and stream water was funneled onto the wheel from above, similarly to a modern turbine water wheel. A step above this was a two-story grist mill with both corn and wheat stones, and simple wheat cleaning and flour processing machinery. The 1801 Moretz/ Coffin Mill in Franklinville was an example of such a mill. More elaborate where the 3- or 4-story merchant mills, with multiple grindstones and more elaborate processing machinery; the Dicks Mill, Bell-Walker Mill, and Dennis Cox Mill on Little River (all built circa 1830) were examples. After 1880 boxy, multistory Roller Mills began to replace all previous grist and merchant mills, and were built in urban areas closer to the demand for white biscuit flour.
The mill here was larger than the Moretz-Coffin Mill; it was smaller, and probably older than, the Dicks, Bell/Walker, and Dennis Cox mills. Like the Cox and Walker mills, Nixon’s Mill had vertically-sliding wooden shutters instead of glass windows. Like all of those mills it has a steep gable roof, providing useable attic space, but without any dormer windows. One unusual feature of Nixon’s mill is the “lucam” running the full height of the attic gable, a survival from medieval European mills. A lucam is a projecting bottomless enclosure at the peak of the gable which shelters the wooden windlass used to hoist grain sacks out of wagons on the ground up to the top floor storage areas. Vestigal lucams all exist in the larger merchant mills, but have become more of a minor roof extension or cover than a fully-formed space.
What now remains at the site is the antebellum miller’s house, a circa-1930-vintage service station, and one of the only (if not THE only) surviving two-seat privies in Randolph County. The privy stood just to the rear of the mill, and is visible in the documentary photo at the head of this page. The service station and attached pool hall have been remodeled into the 1950s-era home that currently fronts the road.
Miller’s House, 2009.
The miller’s house stands between and behind the other structures, about 75 feet south of the road. One local story says that the miller during the Civil War hid grain from local deserters and outliers, and from the Confederate soldiers who camped in the area at the end of the war, by filling all the framing spaces between the exterior weatherboards and interior wainscoating with grain. Coincidentally, this also would have insulated his house better than the average dwelling at the time!
Herman Husband (1724-1795) moved to the area from Maryland in 1751 (and settled on the east side of the Ramseur-Julian Road “where W.P. Fox, Esq., now lives” said J.A. Blair in 1890). This mill site would have been about a mile south of the site of Husbands’ dwelling. Although local tradition says that this is the site of “Husband’s Mill,” Herman Husband owned a number of mill sites, and more than one just in this area of Sandy Creek. A surveyor by training, Husband purchased thousands of acres of land in the Piedmont (more than 10,000 acres, say some sources). There are 18 separate grants from Earl Granville to Husband: 1 on Horsepen Creek and 1 on Alamance Creek, tributaries of Haw River; 8 of them on Sandy Creek; 2 on Sandy Creek and Rocky River; 2 on Love’s Creek (a tributary of Rocky River); 4 on Deep River (one at “the Cedar Falls” and 3 near Buffalo Ford, not far). from his miller brother-in-law Harman Cox. One tract on Sandy Creek “called the Mill Falls” was entered by Husband in July 1760, and sold in 1768 to Jacob Hinshaw, “weaver.” In August 1768, Husband mortgaged 8 tracts containing 3,688 acres to Jacob Gregg, “millwright” (Orange County Deed Book 3, Page 522). Gregg’s loan to Husbands of “1500 pounds Virginia money” for 20 years was very unusual by colonial standards- unusual that Gregg would have so much cash, and unusual that Husbands would borrow and use his property (Husband’s “Cabbin” tract and adjoining property) as security. This may have been part of a plan to protect Husband’s property and investments during the Regulation period, where Husband was more than once arrested and imprisoned.
Mill house in the 1950s.
In the aftermath of the Battle of the Alamance, Governor Tryon and the militia forces camped on Husband’s “plantation” for more than two weeks, and must have used Husband’s Mill to supply the needs of the troops for fresh flour and meal. It appears that all of Husband’s property was either confiscated or destroyed by Governor Tryon, and it isn’t clear whether Gregg’s mortgage was respected. Husband himself had left the state before the battle, and made his way to western Pennsylvania, where he was later involved in the Whiskey Rebellion (their version of the anti-tax Regulation revolt).
Within just a few years after his arrival Husband planned and built a grist mill, which was at that time considered a public utility and was regulated by the County Court. He was given “leave to build a public Grist Mill on his own land on waters of Deep River” in September, 1759, by the Justices of the Orange County (Abstracts from ORANGE CO NC COURT MINUTES 1752-1761, by Weynette Parks Haun). This section of modern Randolph was then part of Orange County, and Sandy Creek is a tributary of Deep River, so this could date this mill site to circa-1760.
If Tryon burned the colonial mill in 1771 it’s unclear when it was rebuilt. The mill pictured would have been built, in my estimate, circa-1820. It might have been earlier, but without seeing anything more than these two photos, that’s my best guess. Herman Husband’s son William (b. 1763) was evidently a miller; when he moved to Christian County, Kentucky in 1801 he purchased “a water grist mill on the Barren Fork of Little River” (Deed Book A, Page 133 of Christian County, KY, dated 9-21-1801). William Husband had inherited some of his father’s property, including “60 acres on South side of Deep River, known by the name of Cedar Falls” (sold to Joseph Hodgin for $15 on Sept. 20, 1797 in DB7-280); and 243.75 acres on Sandy Creek sold to John Brower, Jr., for 927 pounds, 10 shillings on October 13, 1800 (Deed Book 6, Page 252). The large sale price indicates substantial improvements, so may have included this mill, or could be the site presently known as “Kidd’s Mill,” which was once also known as Brower’s Mill.
A lot of work remains to be done to untangle Herman Husband’s history in Randolph County. In 1975 I received a $250 grant (large for those times) from the Sophia and William Casey Foundation of New York, to assemble materials about Herman Husband and to determine whether I could write my undergraduate thesis at Harvard on him. I used the money to travel to Somerset, PA, where Husband lived the last quarter century of his life, and to copy his material in the NC State Archives and the Secretary of State Land Grant Office. I ultimately decided that it was too big a project for a 100-page thesis; I’d like to take this first opportunity in print to thank the Casey Foundation, belatedly, for their support!
P.S.— I forgot to mention that the photographs came to me in a circuitous way. They were taken by local historian Calvin Hinshaw, who took them in the late 1940s/ early 1950s. Calvin gave them to local historian Warren Dixon, who gave copies to nearby business owner Ed Christenbury, of ChrisCo Machinery, who emailed them to me.Warren notes that Calvin told him “ ‘First building was built for Herman Husband and was burned in 1771. 2nd mill was known as Walker’s Mill during the Revolution.’ (Everyone takes for granted that Tryon burned the mill, although Tryon says nothing about it. It stands to reason that he would, although historically mills were left alone because of their value to the community.) ‘In 1830 the Browers bought Sam Walker’s Mill. A slave sent down to the mill one night used a burning pine knot for light and caught the mill on fire. The 3rd mill, Nixon’s Mill, was built about 1850, and was known as York’s Mill during the Civil War. ‘” Note that Calvin’s dates based on local tradition are 20-30 years more recent than my dates based on the photos.