Thanks to Gary Simmons for this video.

Mill and Area History

About 1773 the first permanent settlers arrived here by following an Indian trail across the Allegheny Mountains. Among their number were Valentine and Susanna Cook who built Cook's Fort, about a quarter mile down the valley from the mill.

By 1774 thirty tracts averaging 290 acres had been surveyed in the valleys of Indian Creek and adjacent Hans Creek, indicating that much of the fertile bottom land had been claimed by this time.

In 1777 Greenbrier County was formed from Botetourt County.

During 1778 and 1781 nearby Cook's Fort, which covered 1 ½ acres, sheltered up to 300 settlers during Indian raids. By 1795 the Indian threat had vanished.

By 1797 a gristmill had been established on this site as indicated in the will of Valentine Cook, although the original date is unknown.

In 1799 Monroe County was carved out of Greenbrier County to accommodate the increasing population in this area.

During the early to mid-1800's the mill remained in the ownership of the Cook family, spanning least three generations.

In 1831 the Indian Creek Post Office was established at the mill but about 1861 it was moved into town where it retained the same name.

In 1846 the town of Centreville (original name for Greenville) was laid out. The Militia used this central site for musters prior to, and during, the Civil War.

Late in 1857 the Cook family contracted with James Humphreys to build a new mill, apparently on the site of the original one that may have been small and outdated. It is an example of the Gothic Revival style as indicated by the ornamental verge boards along the eaves, and the board-and-batten siding on the façade.

During 1862 Union troops were in town and a mill was burned. Which mill is unknown, although another grist mill, a carding mill, and a powder mill are known to have existed in town in the 19th century.

In 1863 West Virginia became a state although local sympathies remained with the Confederacy.

In 1877, Riley B. Cook, the last of the Cook mill owners, left for Kansas and during much of the rest of the 19th Century, the mill was run by members of the McNeer family. About this time the twin turbines were installed in the mill to replace the original waterwheel.

In 1890, the name of Centreville was changed to Greenville to reduce confusion with two other towns by this name in the state.

Deeds indicate that by 1894 the Centreville Mills included a Flouring Mill and a Saw Mill, but that by 1897 the name had become Greenville Roller Mills. This indicates that the technologically advanced roller mills had replaced the traditional stone wheels by this time.

In 1906 the mill was acquired by George Kesler who built the concrete dam using old horse shoes for reinforcement.

From 1916 to 1943 the mill was owned by Jack Johnson and his descendants still farm in the area.

From 1943 to 1964 a succession of mill owners controlled the mill during its final years as a grist mill.

From 1964 to 1987 the mill was converted to the Landmark Furniture store and the machinery removed. The owner, Harold "Ernie" Labelle disappeared in 1972 but his remains were not positively identified until 2006 as a murder victim. The business was continued by his son, Dave Labelle.

Between 1987 and 2002 the mill was owned by Jim and Nan Wells who carried out major repairs to the mill pond, dam, mill foundation and roof. They were able to acquire antique grist machinery from defunct mills in the vicinity. They also built the large forge building adjacent to the mill and moved the log house to the site. Essentially, they saved the mill for posterity with the help of grants from the West Virginia Department of Culture and History.

In 2002 the mill properties were bought by current owners, Fred and Barbara Ziegler. To date, the mill windows have been redone, the log house has been restored, the forge building has been updated, and the miller's house has been restored and expanded.

References: A History of Monroe County, West Virginia (1916) and The History of Greenville, WV (2000), both available through the Monroe County Historical Society, Union, WV. The Monroe and Greenbrier County Courthouse records were also consulted.

The Mill

We know little of the size or machinery of the original mill on this site but we know of its existence through the 1797 will of Valentine Cook which includes a gristmill and we know that he had carved out a 650 acre tract here by the time of a 1774 survey. We can surmise that the mill was built soon after because much of the tillable farmland along Indian Creek had already been claimed and was presumably being cleared and farmed to some degree. So, there would have been a real need to grind corn and wheat in an area so remote from other facilities. The mill would have been small and powered by a waterwheel connected to at least one run of grindstones by wooden shafts and gears. More elaborate mills existed at the time, with elevators, sifters etc., but a mill on the frontier would have been more basic. Valentine Cook also had a gunpowder mill by 1797, using saltpeter from local caves, but whether this was on this site is unknown.

Mill and Forge from Bridge The present mill must have been built in 1858, to judge by a contract signed late in 1857 by Jacob A. Cook, Riley B. Cook and the builder, James Humphreys. The contract specifies a waterwheel driven mill and implies that the machinery was to be constructed on site rather than factory built. At least two run of stones were included, together with a range of hoppers, screen chests, bolting chests, etc., all to be connected with elevators and conveyors. Clearly, this large mill was fully equipped to take advantage of all four levels and could produce a large volume of flour and feed. A wooden dam was used and remnants are still visible when the pond is drained.

By about 1870, the waterwheel succumbed to a double turbine system, and the grindstones were replaced by roller mills about 1893, a technology still current. The concrete dam was built about 1906. (The red waterwheel attached to the forge building is non-functional and was brought to the site from another mill.) A photograph from about this time shows a saw mill attached to the west side of the mill. By 1964 milling ceased altogether and the building was used as a furniture store for 23 years. Starting in 1987, Jim Wells rebuilt the foundation and dam, restored one turbine to running condition and assembled a variety of milling equipment from disused mills in the area.

Present plans are to develop the mill and associated buildings as a center for artisans interested in utilizing traditional techniques. Woodworking equipment is already installed on the second floor of the mill, while the adjacent forge building contains blacksmithing equipment. The small building to the west of the mill contains a loom with the intention of developing it as a weavery. Much space is available and interested artisans and artists are urged to contact us for further information.

The Millpond

Mill and Forge Across Pond The water supply for the millpond emerges from a large spring just one quarter of a mile upstream. In fact the dam causes the water to pond all the way to these springs. Perhaps half the water comes from the Laurel Creek watershed which lies to the north of the main Indian Creek drainage. A cave system over one mile long brings the Laurel Creek waters to our millpond. In the late 1800's another source was discovered when a portion of Indian Creek opposite Greenville dried up. The waters above town disappeared down a fissure and sawdust was used to trace them to our millpond! So deeds to this property over a hundred years ago included rights to the waters of Laurel and Indian Creeks! Just below the mill, the pond drains into Indian Creek.

Pond, drained, and Old Dam Today the pond has a concrete dam which was built by George Kesler, presumably about 1906 when he acquired the mill property. He obtained hundreds of pounds of horseshoes from local blacksmiths which he used as reinforcing material.

Prior to this a timber dam held back the water, and the remains of this dam may be clearly seen when the pond is drained.

The Log House

This building dates from about 1843 and was moved to this site in 1990 from War Ridge, a small community about six miles to the northwest. In the early 20th century it was the home of David and Ora Bailey Lively and their family of ten children, including William D. Lively (1911-1992). He provided this information to the Mullins family who bought the property in 1976. There was a huge stone fireplace and living area on the first floor, and sewing room and bedrooms upstairs. Also, there was a kitchen on the back which we plan to restore. Eventually, the building was used as a barn. The log house was donated to the site by Bob and Betty Mullins of Greenville in 1990 after the roof was blown off by strong winds.

Log House Closeup The roof and huge fireplace were replaced by Jim Wells in 1990, while the chimney and porch were completed by Chip Sills, working with the current owners, in 2004. Wide-board floors and insulation were also added at this time. The building measures 22 by 18 feet and a 15 by 10 foot log structure has been located and will be added to the rear of the building to house a kitchen and bathroom. The building is furnished with antiques and will be offered for rental in future years. The log house is typical of the area in that the notches at the corners are sloped outward to convey any moisture to the outside of the building. Many such buildings exist in this area that were eventually covered with clapboards or shingles on the outside and lathe and plaster on the inside.

The Forge Building

Forge Closeup This large building measures about 24' x 100' and was erected in the late 1980's by Jim Wells to house a blacksmith business. It contains a number of early 20th Century metalworking and woodworking machines and is currently being updated with new windows and doors, while more old machinery is being added at the same time. Our intent is to develop fully functional blacksmith and cabinetry shops that will also demonstrate the technology of 100 years ago. Space is available for local artisans interested in pursuing their crafts using traditional approaches.

The Miller's House

Guest House and Miller's House The yellow house across from the mill is our house, and was originally built to house the miller, as distinct from the mill owner who lived on a farm south of both the road and Indian Creek. It was probably built in the late 1800's and a small house next to it was added in the 1950's. We expanded the miller's house in 2005 with a timber frame addition and restored much of the older part of the building in 2006. Tourists, genealogists and mill enthusiasts may knock on our door at any (reasonable) time for information, and we will try to provide it!

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