The Old Mill and the Covered Bridge by Anonymous

Until it was moved to Carillon Park, this Covered Bridge was in daily use southeast of Dayton. It was on the Feedwire Road and spanned little Sugar Creek about one mile east of Wilmington Pike. Neither the largest nor the smallest of Ohio bridges, this one is typical of the medium-sized structure. It is 55 feet long and 14 feet wide.

The old grist mill and the covered bridge are links with America’s past which, even today, have not passed entirely from the scene. Each was a part of the fabric of our young and growing nation and each made its own contribution to our progress.

By today’s standards, the old grist mill, driven by water-power and with everything except its grinding stones made of wood, is somewhat primitive. Yet even today, one must admire the fine craftsmanship with which the water wheels and the various wheels and shafts which transmitted the power were fashioned.

The old mills, and particularly the grist mill, marched with the pioneer who wrested the wilderness from savage beast and Indian. It is debatable whether the grist mill or the saw mill had priority in our productive history. But it is altogether likely that the grist mill came first in construction, with the meeting house a close second. The Bible and the plow, and sometimes the rifle, always advanced together. “To mill and to meeting” was an old-time admonition.

The covered bridge, battered by time and tempest, is bound up in history and geared to the march of events. Washington and his men clattered over many a covered bridge. The floors of scores of them resounded with the hoof-beats of the caravans that moved westward and southward to bring the invigorating breath of civilization to virgin areas. Those that survive are mute reminders of a unique craftsmanship and the sturdy qualities of our early builders.

The grist mill represents a pioneer American industry with a charm and picturesqueness all its own. We are so absorbed in the tumult of mass output that we scarcely realize the part played by the old mills in rearing the cornerstone of our vast industrial activity. The phrase, “horse power,” now geared to myriad millions of units, in all likelihood, began with the horse-operated grist mill. A horse provided the power. The creaking water wheels with their rhythmic splash, were the outposts of the hydroelectric age which has harnessed rivers and falls and wrought marvels of production the world over.

Old Mills, quite a few of which are still in existence, are picturesque reminders of an earlier day and favorite subjects for artists. This is particularly true where the mills were built of stone as was frequently the practice in the eastern part of the country. A limited number of these mills still operate and find a market for their product because many people believe that meal ground between the old-style millstones has a superior quality.
The Old Grist Mill
In the early days of the seventeenth century countless little mills buzzed busily throughout the inhabited part of this country, supplying many of the things essential to the life of the colonists. They were operated by hand power, animal power, and wind and water power. Sometimes the water power was furnished by tides. It is interesting to note that, in their primitive way, they projected the mechanical principles used in present-day industry. The staff, post, wheel, crude pulley, wedge, inclined plane, and screw were all in use. Those pioneers builded well, little dreaming of the wonders that would be unfolded by the industrial revolution.

The grist mill represents a striking evolution in the process of satisfying the hunger of man. The Indians pounded corn in a hollowed rock which was a crude mortar. Peasants all over the globe performed the same kind of service to obtain flour from wheat. It was the earliest hand power era. The Puritans, Cavaliers and Pilgrims probably obtained their first grist in this way. They were familiar with the use of grinding stones in Europe, so it was not long before the grist mill sprang up in the first clearings. As a matter of fact, some of the first millstones in this country were imported from England and France. The first mills were operated by hand or horse power. Then came the familiar water wheels. One of the characteristic features of the old grist mill was its picturesque location.

The old grist mill was a sort of community center for the people of the adjacent countryside. The “jolly miller”, as he has been designated in song and story, like the New England tavern keeper of the Concord coach days, was an important personage. He was a friend and philosopher to all and sundry. His mill, which he often built with his own hands, was a rallying place—a social rendezvous. Here news was gathered and gossip garnered and spread. The mill had a social value akin to that of the old country store with its potbellied stove and cracker barrel. Over this informal country club presided the “jolly miller.” Many poets have sung of his virtues.

Many of the old millers were artisans of the highest skill, full brothers to the builders of the covered bridges, whose craftsmanship perished with them. One of them was Oliver Evans, a noted millwright who lived in Pennsylvania in the late 1700’s. He introduced various innovations. One of them was a tiny elevator with metal cups to carry ground grain from the stones to the bins for storage. Before the advent of these elevators the newly ground meal was ladled out of the pile beneath the millstones with great wooden shovels.

This interior view of the Old Mill in Carillon Park shows the mechanism by which power was transmitted from the water wheel to the grinding stone.
The grist mills were usually run by water wheels. These were made up of two immense wheels on the same shaft with spokes of heavy flat boards mortised to fit close together at the hub and joined together at the rim by paddles, floats, or palettes of heavy wood which made an endless, revolving stairway. Some wheels had compartments on each float, the better to catch the water. The overshot wheel required a dam and was turned by the weight of the water which fell on it from above.

The wheel was located wherever the dam or flume was placed. Usually it was exposed to the weather but sometimes it rested under a shed or penthouse. The wheel pit was a danger hole. If a man fell into it while the wheel was turning he had little chance of escape. Millers were known to have been drowned in their own mills when someone opened the water gate at the wrong time.

There were two kinds of mills—the water wheel construction and the tub mill. A tub mill was the simplest and cheapest of all types of grist mill. In it the wheel was located down in a pit or “tub” and lay horizontally with a vertical axle, whereas the water wheel type was a wheel rotating on a vertical plane and mounted on a horizontal axis. One of 5the first mills hereabouts was a tub mill built by Daniel C. Cooper where The National Cash Register Company lumber yard now stands.

The millstones were fashioned out of material usually common to the locality in which they were used. New Hampshire granite was widely employed and what was called burrstone, originally imported from France, and later discovered in Arkansas, also came into use. A sandstone found in New York State found its way to many mills. Before roads were opened up to the West and South, millstones for the new settlements were broken up, carried on pack horses to their destination, and then assembled with iron bands to hold them together.

In size the millstones ranged from one to two feet in thickness and from three to seven feet in diameter. All stones were “furrowed”, as the old phrase went. This meant that they were “packed” so as to carry the meal from the center of the stone to the edges. Thus all the grain was ground. The nether, or lower stone, harder of the two, was fixed, that is, immovable. The upper stone revolved with the mill spindle and could be raised or lowered. Each stone was pierced with an “eye”, a hole through which the spindle, or shaft, ran. The grain poured through the “eyes.” Due to almost constant wear the millstones had to be “dressed” periodically.

The face of each burrstone used for grinding wheat or corn consists of raised sections (lands) and furrows (grooves). Whole grain is crushed by the action of the lands and passes to the outside of the revolving stones through the grooves. Below, a miller in the Loranger Grist Mill, Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Mich., is preparing the face of a burrstone with a special tool.
It is a tribute to the efficiency of the old grist mills that long after they had been displaced by steam-driven plants, many people preferred, and some still prefer, the product ground out by the millstones. They maintain that the stones produce a higher grade of flour than can be 6made by modern machine methods. So great was the demand for the millstone-ground flour that a manufacturing firm in Indiana made a miniature grist mill equipped with stones which was used in many private homes and on some farms. Power was furnished by a motor, a far cry from the old water wheel.

This picturesque mill is located just north of Dayton and is more than 100 years old. It is in operating condition.
In the heyday of the grist mill one further operation followed the grinding. The grist was put through a bolting cloth which separated the bran. Sometimes the bolting was done in a grist mill. More often the sifting took place in what was called a bolting mill.

Many people who never saw or even heard of a grist mill know about the millstones because of the popular sayings that have sprung up around them. Everybody has heard the phrase, “he is caught between the upper and nether millstones,” which signifies that the person referred to is in a jam. Another phrase is, “It’s all grist that comes to his mill,” meaning that the individual gets all the breaks and capitalizes every advantage. Then too, there is the phrase, “run of the mill,” which has become synonymous with routine product or performance, and “he has a millstone ’round his neck.” Perhaps the best known of all is the saying, “The mills of the gods grind slowly yet they grind exceeding fine.” Many a man has had this hurled at him when his sins of omission or commission have eventually overtaken him.

The toll for having grain ground in a grist mill was usually paid in kind. In the pioneer days the fee for grinding was four quarts out of each bushel. Later this was reduced to two quarts. Some millers received one-sixth of the grain they ground. Millers also kept what was called the “mill ring.” This was the grist that remained around the stones after the grinding was finished. No wonder the old millers waxed fat, not only in girth but in worldly goods as well.

Although battered by time and outdistanced in the march of progress, many grist mills still stand as a link between the slow sedate era of American production and these humming times of swift and continuous output. The Stony Brook Mill at Stony Brook, Long Island, is an example of how the old mills endure. Built in 1699, it is still doing business in the same quaint stone structure that housed it at birth.

Grist mills are closely associated with the early history of Dayton and its pioneer personalities. The site of Dayton was purchased in 1795 by a group of Revolutionary soldiers seeking new homesites. It was laid out as a town the same year by Israel Ludlow and Daniel C. Cooper, and named in honor of Jonathan Dayton, a soldier in the War of Independence, who later became a United States Senator from New Jersey. Dayton was incorporated as a town in the year 1805.

The old Patterson Mill stood on Brown Street at approximately the present location of the NCR factory.
It was advertised as the Rubicon Factory.
Two miles below Dayton.

The subscribers inform their friends and the public, that their Carding and Spinning machines are now in complete operation, having this season made considerable improvement in their Factory—they are prepared to Card and Spin wool in the best manner.

Carding common wool
6 1·4 cts. per lb

Spinning chain per doz.
18 3·4 cents,

do. filling per do.
15 do.

Carding, Spinning and Weaving Cloth in 500 Reed,
31 1·4 do.

all above 500 in proportion,

do. Casinett,

do. Satinett,
37 1·2 cts.
Every attention shall be paid to work committed to them, that it shall be done in the best manner and to the satisfaction of those employing them.

Produce will be received, in part payment, at the market price.


May 12th, 1823.73 if
An old water wheel near Dayton, long since retired from active service but still in position. The millstone in the foreground was probably brought here on pack horses for its sections are bound together with iron bonds.
In those early days, manufacturing in the Miami Valley was limited. Here, as elsewhere throughout the country, the stone block for crushing corn was succeeded by the hand mill which, in turn, was superseded by a mill operated by horse power. The next step was the change to water power which brought the water wheel into use.

The first mills immediately around Dayton were built by Cooper who at one time owned most of the downtown district. He set up the first mills within the limits of Dayton proper at the head of Mill Street. The street received its name in 1795 because of the ease with which mills could be located there.

About 1798 Cooper moved to a 322-acre farm located south of Dayton where he built a grist mill. It was known as Rubicon Farm. Through subsequent events it became bound up in the history of Dayton. It was bought by Col. Robert Patterson and later became the site of the NCR plant, as well as Old River Recreational Park and the adjacent lands.

Patterson was not only an able soldier and a doughty woodsman, but something of a statesman as well. He founded in Kentucky what is today the city of Lexington, heart of the famed bluegrass country. One of the early governors referred to him as “one of the earliest, bravest, and best of the pioneers and heroes who made the Great West.”

Once in Dayton, Colonel Patterson impressed his personality upon the town. He owned a grist mill, a fulling mill, a saw mill, and a double carding machine. All these were located on the Rubicon Farm. They 9were at their best around 1809. In October 1815, while in full operation, all the mills were destroyed by fire. Always resourceful, Patterson recovered quickly from the blow. He built a grist mill known as “The Stone Mill” which became a Dayton landmark. It was located on the Brown Street road where the Rubicon crossed it. Stonemill Road takes its name from this fact.

Rubicon Farm was destined to be linked with the drama of American industry. Colonel Patterson had ten children, the youngest of whom was Jefferson. He succeeded to ownership of part of the estate and the mills. Here on December 13, 1844, his son, John H. Patterson, founder of The National Cash Register Company and a notable figure in industrial development, was born and spent his boyhood, serving a hardy apprenticeship in work.

As the years sped on, Dayton and vicinity became an important milling center. By the winter of 1822-23 there were fifty grist mills along the Miami River. Montgomery County, alone, had eleven grist mills.

While some of the old grist mills still perform their time-honored task to the music of purling mill streams, the vast majority have vanished, or stand as crumbling landmarks of another generation. Yet in their day they were indispensable to life and labor. The memory of them will always be as green as the moss that clung to the dripping paddles of the great water wheels.

When the mill was not in operation, the water was deflected from the water wheel, as shown in this view of a mill near Bristol, Tenn.
The Covered Bridge
For many years the covered bridge was a familiar part of the country scene in America. This bridge still stands in the White Mountains, New Hampshire, with Mt. Liberty in the background. Photo by Winston Pote from A. Devaney, Inc., New York.
Like many other supplanted or vanishing features of early American life, the covered bridge is enshrined in song, legend and story. It has been a prize subject for etchers and painters. Innumerable post cards bearing the picture of some famous bridge crowd the mail pouches, especially in the New England States.

Just as the railroad sounded the doom of the Conestoga wagon, the Concord coach and the narrow inland canal, so did the automobile end the larger era of the covered bridge. The motorist wanted a steel, iron or concrete ground-hold for his car when he dashed across a river. Although the old bridges were built for good, solid wear, and sometimes a lot of tear as well, they could not stand up against the speedster. They were built for slow traffic. In the old days, teams were obliged to proceed at a walk, under penalty of a fine ranging from $2.00 to $5.00. The motor car, however, had stout allies in bridge destruction in fire, flood, and changes in highway routes. Many of the oldest and best known of the covered bridges were destroyed by fire or high water.

Although the covered bridge, as we know it, is distinctly an American institution, it did not originate in this country. There is a record of a roofed bridge built over the Euphrates in Babylon in 783 B.C. The Tiber at Rome was crossed by several covered bridges. The best known structure of this type in Europe is across an arm of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. It has a steep, arched roof, is built entirely of timber, and is used only by pedestrians.

The covered bridge in this country underwent no evolution such as was the case with the great girder and suspension structures that span our big rivers. It began with a simple pattern and followed that pattern with few changes. The origin is interesting. In the early days when our civilization was young, the ferry was the traditional method of crossing a river. It was slow, cumbersome and inadequate. The farmer who wanted to drive a flock of sheep or a herd of cattle to the market found it difficult. Then began the era of open wooden bridges. The log pilings soon became subject to rapid decay and to destruction by floods and ice floes. Stone piers then replaced the wooden pilings, but these did not prevent the bridge floor from rotting under attacks of the weather. To meet this situation a shed was built over the floor. Soon the shed had sides. Before long there was a path for pedestrians. In this way the covered bridge came into being.

For years there has been a difference of opinion as to why the old bridges were covered. Some have maintained that it was to prevent the horses from shying at the water. Others have contended that the roof was built to protect the driver, while still others believed that the bridges were roofed to provide a refuge from storms. The basic reason was to protect the floor from the elements.

Covered bridges were part of the Dayton scene until the early 1900’s. This bridge spanned the Miami River at Third Street. It was built in 1839 and razed in 1903. Another covered bridge crossed the river at Main Street, and another on the site of the present Dayton View bridge.
This sign on the Carillon bridge is original and specifies the fine that was imposed for violation of the “law of the bridge.”


Most covered bridges were built along identical lines. They usually had a single tunnel with sides boarded to the eaves. The two-tunnel bridge was something of an exception. One of the few changes in bridge construction came with latticed sides which relieved the bridge from the gloom that pervaded the original type. This gloom had its compensation for lovers, who found freedom from prying eyes in the friendly dark. More than one old structure was called “The Kissing Bridge.”

The original bridges with the planked sides afforded a great opportunity for the billposter. The walls blazed with lurid circus posters, advertisements for patent medicines and brands of tobacco. It represented the first phase of what has come to be known as “outdoor advertising.”

The covered bridge also afforded an opportunity for robbers to ply their trade. It was easy to hide in the deep shadows, pounce upon the unsuspecting wayfarer, and despoil him of his possessions. Murderers also lurked in those dark confines. Crimes on the covered bridges were numerous. This led a contemporary writer to say:

“Boys have lost a year’s growth by going through a covered bridge; girls have become gray before their time; stout farmers have had a queer feeling when the moon is high, the roads deserted, and the echoes of the horses’ hoofs are loud and strong.”

The two main types of covered bridges were the lattice truss of wood and the Howe truss of iron and wood.

One outstanding fact in connection with the old bridges is that they were not built by engineers or professional bridge-builders, but by local 13carpenters who put up the houses and barns in the adjacent countryside. This explains what has been termed their “homely simplicity.” They represented honest work. Those men had no knowledge of scientific building. Wind pressure and load limit were the first considerations. One builder constructed his bridges “high and wide as a load of hay.” That was his only specification.

In commenting on the work of those covered bridge builders, a well-known engineer wrote:

“Those early builders knew nothing of the theory of stresses; indeed many of them did not even call themselves engineers, but the long and honorable service of the structures they built, under loads far greater than the builders could have foreseen, is a striking testimonial to the excellence of the materials and the skilled workmanship that went into their construction.”

A second striking fact in connection with the bridges is that the abutments were piled stone. The structure was held together by pegs of hard wood. No mortar, cement, bolts, or nails were used. The marvel is that so many of them have stood up for more than a century. In their way they were masterpieces of construction.

A third feature of interest is that while most of the old bridges followed the same lines of construction, no two were precisely alike. Many writers have emphasized the fact that each bridge has a certain individuality. Nor was this individuality lacking in attractiveness. Some of the structures were architecturally beautiful with an old-time charm.

On many a covered bridge it was a long way through and the trip was much more pleasant in the daytime than at night.
Crude as were the methods and materials employed, the old bridge builders left monuments to their skill. The bridge across the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia, built in 1813, had a span of 340 feet in length. 14When constructed, it was the longest span in the world. Another long bridge was at Charlemont, across the Deerfield River near the scene of the famous massacre of settlers by Indians in the early New England days. It was 324 feet long.

There were many different types of covered bridges. This one was built with two lanes, although speeding traffic was much less of a problem in its day than now.
The covered bridges cost from $300 to $6,500. They were built by towns, individuals and companies. Often a lottery provided the cost of construction.

As on the old turnpikes, toll was charged on many of the bridges. The rate for a foot passenger was two cents; for a cow, two cents; one sheep, one-half cent; a horse, four cents; horse and rider, six cents; cart, sleigh, sled, or wagon and one horse, ten cents; two horses, thirteen cents; wood per cord, fifteen cents; all other loads with one horse, ten cents.

Most of the private companies operating covered bridges fared exceedingly well. Some bridges paid as high as 18 to 20 per cent a year.

The exaction of tolls created bitter opposition in many communities and became an issue in politics. The Lyman covered bridge between Hartford, Vermont, and Lebanon, New Hampshire, completed in 1804, was known as the “Inter-State Hold-Up” because the tolls were so exorbitant. Even ministers were forced to pay to cross the bridge.

So deep-seated was the unrest over toll charges that in many instances the tolls were withdrawn. The first free covered bridge across the Connecticut River, where the earliest of the bridges was built, was opened to the public in 1859. This bridge, which spanned the river between Norwich, Vermont, and Hanover, New Hampshire, was built by the two towns at a cost of $6,500. It was 400 feet long and stood 40 feet at low water.

The classic covered bridge story and the perennial delight of all writers on the subject deals with a farmer who drove up to a long bridge with a load of hay on the way to market. He stopped at the entrance and squinted down the dark tunnel. Then he said:

“I can git through this end all right, but there ain’t room to squeeze through that little hole at the other end.” With this remark he turned his team and drove back home, his hay unsold.

Another anecdote is connected with the “Walk Your Horses” sign at the entrance of the Hartford covered bridge. A woman was summoned to court for disobeying this injunction. She hired a clever lawyer and contested the case. When it was called in court the lawyer said:

“Your Honor, the law reads that a fine be imposed on any man who drives a horse across the bridge faster than a walk. I move that this case be thrown out. My client is a woman and she was driving a mare.”

The case was dismissed.

The covered bridge served purposes for which it was not originally intended. On wet nights it became a sort of informal community center. Preachers, on occasion, used it for camp meetings. The local militia drilled in it. Once a school teacher, whose little red schoolhouse burned down, held some of her classes under its shingled roof.

The view from the Dayton Art Institute is one of the finest in the city, but it has changed materially over the years, as is evidenced by this drawing made in the 1840s. The covered bridge, standing on the present site of the Dayton View bridge, was part of the scene when this sketch was made.
The story of the covered bridge is not altogether a narrative of the past. No one knows accurately just how many were standing at the peak of their use. One thing, however, is certain. There was a time when the entire New England countryside and a considerable portion of the rest of the country, was dotted with covered bridges. They crossed streams in twenty-six states. One reason why they were so widespread lay in the fact that when New Englanders, the first builders, moved west or south, they constructed the same type of bridge that they had known and found satisfactory back home.

The walls of covered bridges lent themselves only too well to the activities of the bill poster. Such posters as these extolled the virtues of the products they promoted in the days of the covered bridge.
One of the most zealous of the covered bridge historians has computed that there are still 2,000 of the old structures intact and still in use. Ohio ranks first with 592 bridges and Pennsylvania next with 336. Indiana has 202. Vermont with 200, has more covered bridges than all the other New England States combined. Massachusetts, where many of the earlier bridges were built, today has 26, while Connecticut is at the bottom of the list with only 7.

Of the 2,000 bridges still standing, many have unique names and associations. The second Lyman bridge, which replaced the “Inter-State Hold-Up,” was called the “Bridge of Spooks.” It was dimly lighted at night by swinging kerosene lamps. Children avoided it after sunset and grownups went through in a hurry.

One of the oldest and most noted of the covered bridges is Esperance bridge on the famous Mohawk Valley Turnpike on which all stagecoach traffic in and out of Albany, New York, traveled. The first bridge on this site was built in 1793 and was destroyed by a freshet. The present structure went up in 1811, the second to be erected by the State of New York. No covered bridge ever earned more money. The tolls by 1846 amounted to $1,000,000. More than 700 teams crossed in a single day. In view of its long and fruitful history New York has preserved the bridge as a state monument.

Most of the covered bridges are gone but they are not forgotten. Their distinct place in the category of early Americana is widely recognized. Many have become museum pieces. States and individuals are conserving them. Henry Ford’s collection of covered bridges at Dearborn, Michigan, is the largest in the country. The inclusion of a covered bridge in Carillon Park is recognition of its status in the evolution of American life.

This is the longest single-span covered bridge in the United States. It is 210 feet long and is located near North Blenheim, N. Y.
The diorama in the Wagon Shed depicts a scene in the Miami Valley as it might have appeared in the early part of the nineteenth century.
The diorama in the Wagon Shed presents a composite picture of some of the Carillon Park exhibits as they would have appeared in actual use. The three-dimensional, accurately scaled model shows a canal boat approaching a lock. Passengers sitting on the top deck are dressed in the costumes of the day. The boat is the packet type designed to carry passengers and representing in its day a considerable degree of luxury in travel.

In the background is a covered bridge and to the left, an old mill built beside a stream. At the right a settler’s cabin typifies the rural housing of the day and the settler, himself, watches the boat pass. Traveling the road beyond the canal is a Conestoga wagon and a Concord coach.

Thus, against the background of the rich countryside which made possible the great development of the Miami Valley, are many of the elements which contributed to the way of life of its early settlers.


One of a series of Carillon Park booklets.
Price ten cents.


Transcriber’s Notes
Silently corrected a few typos.
Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook is public-domain in the country of publication.
In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by _underscores_.