Pride of the Valley

Coming June 27, 2017

Pride of the Valley:

Sifting through the History of the Mount Healthy Mill

Cover art - trial 1 C - 5.18.2017 copy

Jediah Hill (1793-1859) was a farmer and businessman who, around 1820, built a sawmill on the bank of the West Fork of Mill Creek near Mount Pleasant, a village situated about halfway between Cincinnati and Hamilton, Ohio. A few years later, his son-in-law, Henry Rogers, (1806-1896) joined him in the business.

In 1838, Jediah, Henry, and their wives traveled from their home in southwestern Ohio to New York City to visit relatives and observe other mills, as they planned to expand their then-thriving sawmill to include flour milling. Henry kept a daily journal on the eastbound portion of the trip in which he recorded “all interesting subjects and things that come under my observation.”

Some 150 years after that trip, Henry’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Tracy Lawson, developed an interest in the journal that led her to conduct extensive research into the people, places, and things mentioned therein, and ultimately resulted in the book Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More, which was published in 2012.

Unanswered questions remained after the book was published. What had transpired after the family returned home? Did Jediah and Henry add flour milling to their enterprise, and if so, when? How had they, and the subsequent owners of the mill, had to update both the structure and their business model to succeed as the local and national economy changed?

The readily available printed records and family lore held only part of the story. As Tracy delved deeper in search of answers, surprising and tantalizing information began to appear — and to inspire. As the research progressed, Tracy and historic millwright Steve Hagaman met and joined forces. Together, they pieced together a much more robust physical and social history of the mill, infused with unexpected twists and remaining uncertainties. Pride of the Valley is enhanced by Tracy’s notes, which she hopes will provide a humanizing touch to the work and encourage others to take on similar research projects relating to their own families.

Figure 19.5 Indoor waterwheel

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I thoroughly enjoyed digging back into my family’s history to learn the rest of the story of the Mount Healthy Mill.

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s Introduction:

I’ve studied and written about Henry Rogers’ journal for over two decades, and I know my great-great-great grandfather as more than just a headstone in a cemetery plot or a name on a family tree. He was a skilled carpenter, a businessman, and an inventor. He was smart and funny and interested in just about everything. I wish he had left behind more than just one journal because, after Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More was published, I was left with an appetite for additional parts of the story. There was still so much I didn’t know. Figure 19.8 Sash saw blade in sawmill

Henry’s journal, however, ends abruptly upon the family’s arrival at Mr. James Townsend’s residence at 707 Greenwich Street in Manhattan,[1] with the notation “End of Volume One.” There is no evidence that Volume Two ever existed.

I couldn’t blame Henry if he’d failed to take an interest in penning daily entries on the return trip, but the lack of a defined ending to the story left me with many unanswered questions. Chief among them was this: did Jediah and Henry arrive home with a plan for expanding their business? If so, when did they begin the enormous structural changes that would be necessary to add flour milling to the enterprise? Scan 115

My first attempts to answer that question were disappointing. The National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Mount Healthy Flour Mill, prepared in July, 1980, reads in the Statement of Significance: “Following [Jediah] Hill’s ownership and operation, the mill was owned by Henry Rogers and then by his son, Wilson Rogers, who apparently continued operation as a saw mill. Around 1887, the mill became the property of Charles Hartman[n]. As timber in the area became scarce, Mr. Hartman[n] also began to mill coarse flour for nearby farmers for home use.”[2]

The land on which the mill once stood is now part of Winton Woods, one of the Great Parks of Hamilton County. Park officials shared their files, which recount the park’s efforts to preserve the vacant, run-down mill in the late 1970s. Interviews with Ralph Groff, the mill’s final owner, and with former Mount Healthy Mayor Albert Wolf, a grandson of Charles Hartmann, seemed to confirm what I’d read in the available local histories.

Apparently, three generations of my family had operated a sawmill. Scan 114

But that couldn’t be right. I didn’t want to believe that Jediah and Henry went to the trouble of taking that trip back east, only to give up on their plan to expand the mill.

I found a glimmer of hope in the Hamilton County Great Parks files: a photocopy of an 1869 Hamilton County map showed a “G & S Mill,” which I took to mean “Grain and Saw Mill,” on Henry Rogers’ land. When I interviewed Carolyn Kettell, a local historian, longtime resident of the area, and one-time owner of the Jediah Hill homestead, I asked her about the map, and she told me the notation had to be a mistake.

Shouldn’t I be able to trust a map drawn during the time period in question? It would be a long time before I had the answer.

 

[1] Thomas Longworth, Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register and City Directory for 1839. (New York, NY: 118 Nassau Street, 1839) p. 654. James H. Townsend, a dry goods merchant, is listed at 707 Greenwich Street. It is likely the family was there on an errand for a relative, Isaac Dukemenere, who owned a dry goods story in Fletcher, Ohio.

[2] US Department of the Interior National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form http://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/oh/oh0400/oh0415/data/oh0415data.pdf.

Old mill In New Burlington

 

 

2013-06-04 10.58.04 copy

 

 

 

 

 

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