Archive for October, 2011

Hoover’s Mill (aka Rush’s Mill, Arnold’s Mill, Skeen’s Mill)

October 31, 2011

Every historic site has both a public and a private history.   In the case of this mill site on Covered Bridge Road in Tabernacle Township, I have a thirty-year personal association that gives me an intimate knowledge of it.  In the summer of 1975 I participated in the archeological excavation of the Mt. Shepherd Pottery which is located about a mile southeast of this site.  At that time the Skeen’s Mill Covered Bridge still stood on Covered Bridge Road, and I convinced some friends to join me in an expedition up the Uwharrie to see if we could discover if there was actually a mill anywhere around the Skeen’s Mill Bridge.  Over the course of an afternoon we not only found a site of surprising natural beauty, but well-preserved evidence of an elaborate mill seat.  And a “For Sale” sign.

Not knowing anything more than that, I convinced my parents to return with me the next weekend, and eventually prevailed upon them to purchase the tract which included the entire junction of the Uwharrie and Little Uwharrie Rivers.  After graduating from college and returning home, I actually lived in a trailer perched high above the site of the dam for two years while researching and writing my architectural history of Randolph County.   The property is still owned by my family.  But for two hundred and thirteen years previously, it had been owned by a parade of other people, and it has taken me years to piece together not just the history of this one tract of land, but the story of the surrounding neighborhood, part of what has been called the “Uwharrie Dutch” community, where this mill and the Mt. Shepherd Pottery were commercial landmarks.

Map of the "Uwharrie Dutch" region from MESDA Journal

The historic layout of the property took some time to puzzle out.  State Road 1406 runs from Hoover Hill Road on the East to Tabernacle Church Road on the West; and the one-hundred-foot-long Skeen’s Mill Covered Bridge (Tabernacle Township Site 18 in my architectural history) spanned the Uwharrie River about twenty feet north of its modern replacement.  It was built before March 1900, when C.T. Hughes was paid $11 for “repairing the bridge at N.R. Skeen’s.”  The bridge was one of only three remaining in North Carolina when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1960s, but it was unappreciated and neglected by its nonresident owner and was destroyed by high water about the year 1984.

The mill was located to the South of both the covered bridge and modern bridge, about 150 feet from the road.  The foundations trace the footprint of a building thirty by fifty feet in plan, with its western side built into the side of a hill where the miller’s house  stood about fifty feet above and 200 feet southwest.  What was initially very confusing is that the mill race ran in the opposite direction that it should have if the dam was located anywhere near the covered bridge.  The tail race obviously flowed back into the Uwharrie River downstream from the bridge, but the head race was dug into the side of the hill, ending at least twenty feet above the mill perfectly situated for an overshot water wheel.  But the race ran south, curling around the hill at the foot of the miller’s house until it bent into a horseshoe shape and began running in a canal paralleling the Little Uwharrie River, where we finally found the evidence of head gates and a dam.

Only iron bolts drilled into the river bed indicate the location of the dam, which ran diagonally across the Little Uwharrie at a 50-degree angle to the flow.  Water was funneled into the head gates, and then ran in a horseshoe-shaped canal approximately 1,340 feet around the hill to the site of the mill, a very impressive engineering achievement for some unknown millwright.   Parts of two sets of mills stones were then in evidence, made of the individually-quarried blocks set in plaster that were characteristic of “French Buhr” stones.   The road which crossed the Uwharrie at the covered bridge stopped at the mill and then continued South, parallel to the river, in deeply-cut double tracks, one wide enough for a horse and wagon, the other just wide enough for a horse.  The tracks converged to cross the Little Uwharrie at a ford just northwest of the confluence, and then continued south west.

Research into previous ownership was the first order of research, beginning with the most recent and going backwards.  The recent history of the entire neighborhood was clear:  the surrounding lots had first been sold  in 1963 as part of the “Thayer Plantation” subdivision (See Plat Book 10, Page 116, Randolph County Registry).   Lee C. Thayer was the operator of a sawmill located on the railroad in Trinity, and owned hundreds of acres in Trinity and Tabernacle townships.  He lived in the Queen Anne style Victorian house at the northwest corner of Covered Bridge and Thayer Roads which was the center of a tract totaling more than 350 acres.  When the business hit bad times, the land was sold , roads were pushed out into the woods and hundreds of small lots were sold at auction.

The Thayers acquired the mill tract in 1943 (DB 386/PG 340); for the previous  thirty years it had been owned by the family of Julian Pearce, who bought it at auction in 1910 (DB134/PG276).  The auction had settled the estate of J.R. Skeen, son of Noah R. Skeen for whom the covered bridge was named.   The Skeen Mill tract consisted of 52 acres on both rivers, and included a tract “bought by N.R. Skeen from John Hill known as Boy Hill in the forks of the two prongs of Uwharrie River just below the Skeen Mill…”

Reaching back into the 19th century the information grew sketchier, but Skeen acquired the mill about 1890 from Penuel Arnold, who bought “Rush’s Mills” from the Estate of Nineveh Rush in 1881 (DB58,P352).  An article from The Courier of 1934 described Rush’s Mills: “the Little Uwharrie came down on the top of a hill just west of Big Uwharrie.  And 120 rods before it emptied into the bigger river it was forty feet higher on a level than the big river.  So Rush, with the help of his slaves, built a small dam on the hill, plowed and shoveled a canal or race around the hill and landed the water on a 20-foot wheel which operated a long saw placed so as to give it speed up and down.”  The grist mill was forty feet further down the race, where “two sets of stones were put in, one for wheat and one for corn.  When it rained enough they could run the saw and the grist mill at the same time.  When rains let up they could not run either one.”  (R.C. Welborn, “First Saw Mill in Tabernacle Dates Back to 1820”)

Rush bought the mill and 300 acres in February 1826 from the Estate of Jacob Hoover (DB16, P319).  Jacob Hoover (b. 1754) had acquired 35 acres, including “the mill seat where Jacob Hoover now lives… in the fork of the Uwharrie”  in October 1794 from the estate of his father Andrew Hoover (DB7, P263).  Andrew Hoover was the anglicized name of Andres Huber, who had purchased 275 acres on both forks of the Uwharrie from Henry Eustace McCulloh in February 1763, when the area was still part of Rowan County (see Rowan DB5, P343).

Andreas Huber was born January 23, 1723 in Ellerstadt, now part of the German Palatine.  As the ninth child of a vintner, Huber saw little opportunity at home, and at age 15 he arrived at Philadelphia.  He lived with a brother in Lancaster County until age 22, when he married Margaret Pfautz and moved to Carroll County, Maryland.  By 1763 he and his large family had settled on the Uwharrie.   After the Revolution he turned the mill at the forks over to son Jacob and moved further down the Uwharrie to the Jackson Creek area, where he died and is buried in the Hoover cemetery. (See Genealogy of the Herbert Hoover Family by Hulda Hoover McLean, published by the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 1967).

Nothing much was heard of Andrew thereafter until 1928, when his 3rd great- grandson Herbert Clark Hoover was elected President of the United States.  Though Herbert Hoover had been born and bred in Iowa, his distant cousins and proud Republican brethren of Randolph County didn’t miss the opportunity to turn the President’s ancestor into a modern folk hero.  A 1928 story by T.M. Pridgen published in the Charlotte News (“Myths of Prowess of early Hoovers along Uwharrie”) declared that Andrew Hoover was a Quaker and neighbor of Daniel Boone, and Hoover’s mill was “an important granary of the Revolution.”  “The story goes that Andrew Hoover was not afraid of man, beast or devil; that he climbed to the top of Eagle Nest Rock when others were afraid to; that he swam the raging Uwharrie to save the lives of his horses; and he set out to face the headless horseman on the Uwharrie trails, and braved the other ghostly figures that moved like lost souls down the valley.”

It is doubtful whether any of those florid claims are real.   Far from being supporters of the Revolution, the Hoovers were part of the German Pacifist community that clustered around this area of the Uwharrie during the 18th century.  I have written about this before in my article on the Mt. Shepherd pottery [http://www.archive.org/stream/journalofearlyso0601muse#page/20/mode/2up/search/21 ]  Historian John Scott Davenport has extensively researched the area, and asserts that though President Hoover was a Quaker, “the Uwharrie Dutch were predominately Dunker and Mennonite.  The Uwharrie Dunkers [German Baptists] were the largest settlement of that sect in North Carolina, 1778-1782.  Their minister was Jacob Stutzman, who bought Ramsey’s Place from Henry Eustace McCulloh in 1764, and led the congregation until he moved to Clark County, Indiana Territory, in 1801…. Dunkers did not have meeting houses until the mid-19th century; hence Mast’s Old Meeting House [across the Uwharrie just east of Hoover’s Mill; see DB10, P5) was a Mennonite church.  Mennonites, called “Dutch Friends” by the Quakers, fellow-shipped with Quakers, appeared occasionally as witnesses to Quaker weddings.  The Dunkers would have nothing to do with Quakers.  Land problems, brought about by their rigid pacifism during the Revolution, and the influx of Quakers into the Uwharrie following the Revolution, were largely responsible for the removal of the Dunkers from Randolph County.”  (Letter dated November 12, 1976, in the Hoover files of the Randolph Room)

Jacob Hoover (1754-1821) married Elizabeth Stutzman, a daughter of the Dunker minister, and it is likely that his mother Margaret Pfautz was also a member of the congregation.  But Andrew’s family must not have been as strict as others, as their numerous deeds were all properly sworn to and recorded.  It is said that disastrous floods in 1795 and 1798 caused all of Andrew’s children but Jacob and Jonas to move west to Indiana.  Jacob ran and rebuilt the mill, which was alternately washed away by a flood and destroyed by fire, until he was crippled in an accident during a flood.   It seems likely that the unusual configuration of the present mill race stems from a desire to protect it from flood waters; a breach of the dam on the Little Uwharrie would never wash away the mill on the other side of the hill.

Finally, we can take one additional step further back into history:  the 1733 map of North Carolina by Surveyor General Edward Moseley (A New and Correct Map of the Province of North Carolina) depicts both Deep River and the Uwharrie, but the only landmark noted in the whole area of the county is in the forks of the Uwharrie: “Totero Fort.”  This is a reference to the Tutelo Indian tribe, which appears to be far south of where they had been visited in September 1661, when Thomas Batts and Abraham Wood led an expedition from Fort Henry (Petersburg, VA) to Totero Town (approximately where present-day Salem Va. is located).   In 1701 John Lawson visited the Keyauwee tribe living nearby on Caraway Creek at Ridge’s Mountain, but said nothing about any Tutelos.   It may be that attacks by the fierce Iroquois tribe forced the Tutelos to move South, but in 1714 the Occaneechi, Saponi, Eno, Totero and others relocated to Fort Christanna in Lawrenceville, Va.   More research is needed to confirm or deny this single tantalizing reference, but the location- the hill above the bottomland in the forks of the rivers- would be a natural defensive position for a palisaded village.

With a variety of documented stories spanning nearly 300 years, the Hoover Mill site is certainly a landmark of Randolph County history.

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