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Patron+ GOOD OLE DAYS -Millers were often confidants to more people than likely anyone in the community

The Lost Mills of Alabama

Rikard’s Mill

Near Beatrice, Alabama, one can find a beautiful and truly historic site: the old Rikard’s Mill.

rikard's millThe Rikard’s Mill near Beatrice, AL. (Photographer Carol Highsmith -Picture courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

This gristmill, built along the gorgeous Flat Creek by Jacob Rikard in 1845, is functional to this day, grinding corn into meal and grits through hydraulic power. The mill is home to the Rikard’s Mill Historical Park and Museum.

 

The Rikard’s Mill is one of many such gristmills built long ago. These mills functions via a wheel pushed by water that operates the mechanisms for grinding and crushing. The mills would grind for toll, meaning someone could bring grain and have it milled for a fee.

Old Mills, Old Laws

Gristmills have been around since the early settlement days, built by the pioneers who migrated to new land. In the early 1800s, Alabama became more populated and settled, and it was on December 7th of 1811 that the Mississippi Territorial Legislature passed an act to “encourage the building of Public Mills.” This act also proclaimed that all gristmills already built were, from that point on, public mills under territorial law. Just over a year later, on December 12th of 1812, this act was amended and expanded.

pioneer gristmillA pioneer returning from the gristmill. (photographer Marion Post Wolcott -ca. 1939 Image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

For the Greater Good

The new settlements were growing at a significant rate, and many sought to build dams and mills because of this. The growing number of mills made regulation necessary, for economic and sanitary reasons. Under Alabama law, any proposed mill would have had to for public use, or operated for the public. Additionally, it was necessary for anyone proposing a dam to demonstrate that the proposed dam would not overflow and cause flooding to the surrounding lands, residences, and properties.

a house in old alabama townA house in Old Alabama Town in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photographer Carol Highsmith -Picture courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Fits like a Glove

One advantage of Alabama’s water powers was that many were naturally suited and adapted for mill and dam sites, and therefore building mills and dams did not cost much. For the places that were unsuited to mill sites, dams were constructed.

mill house birminghamA mill house in Birmingham, Alabama.  (Photographer Carol Highsmith -Picture courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Gone Fishin’

One incidental creation of the dams and mills were the mill ponds, the water which was accumulated by the dam, and the hunting and fishing culture that emerged from these ponds. Fish populations were introduced to these ponds, and the ponds would then become habitations for water birds. Boats would be provided around these areas, and therein, many hunters and fishermen would find a suitable spot to practice their hobbies.

fishermen in monroe countyFishermen in Monroe County, AL. (Photographer Carol Highsmith -Picture courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The Miller – A Community’s Pillar

But what of the men who operated these mills? Millers had important roles in their communities, roles that sometimes changed depending on where they were. They would be sociable, jovial, and outgoing as the situation demanded, and at times they would be introverted, reserved, and solitary. Millers would be confidants to more people than likely anyone in the community except for its local physician.

miller at workA miller at work. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Rule of Thumb

A miller and his employees were required to “grind grain for toll,” and to grind “each turn in rotation as it is received in the mill.” Millers would be responsible for any injury to the grain caused by grinding at his mill. To test the quality of the grain, millers would take a small amount between their thumb and forefinger and pinch. The toll millers charged was set by county commissioners, but the act passed in December 9, 1820 set the rate at “one-eighth part of the grain so ground for toll, and no more.”

Many expressions used in the English language, such as “rule of thumb,” are actually believed to have come from milling and mill practices. This link illustrates a few.

Old Mills

These long-standing mills, then, have a long tradition and history in Alabama. From the days of pioneers and settlement, to the daily grind of modern life, these mills can be found throughout the state, and many are still functioning.

boshell's millBoshell’s Gristmill, in Townley, Walker County, AL.(David Deising, PhotographerHistoric American Engineering Record, Library of Congress)

SOURCES

Photos:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller
  2. http://www.loc.gov/

Research:

  1. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography – Thomas McAdory Owen & Marie Bankhead Owen, 1912.
  2. A Digest of the Laws of the State of Alabama: Containing All the Statutes of a Public and General Nature, in Force at the Close of the Session of the General Assembly, in January, 1833 : to which are Prefixed the Declaration of Independence … with an Appendix, and a Copious Index – John Gaston Akin, 1833.

 

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VINEGAR OF THE FOUR THIEVES: Recipes & curious tips from the past    Now in paperback, makes a great gift!

 

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This book is a compilation of some of the funny and helpful tips from our past history. Some recipes and tips date back to 1770s. One or two sound a little dangerous and I would never try them myself, but I’ve included then in this book for their humorous and historical value. A few are useful, especially for our ‘green’ society today

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23 comments

  1. This is a wonderful site & much appreciated, Thank you!

  2. Linnea Robinson Israel

    Mark Rickard, is this your family mill?

  3. Annette Wells

    My Grandmother talked of going to the mill.

  4. Donald Wheeles

    Remember going to the mill and having cornmeal ground.

    1. Alabama Pioneers

      That’s why our meals tasted so good back then. Everything was so fresh.

  5. Georgia Brown McKay

    I had a friend who told the story of taking corn to the mill for his dad . He said it was so exciting because his dad finally said he was old enough to be responsible enough to take some of the chores for the family ! The corn was taken to the grist mill to be made onto corn meal which was a necessity for their large family . When he got home safely his dad asked how he “made out” at the mill . He told his dad that he saw the miller steal cans of corn but when he turned around I got it back ! This was the toll charges for grinding the corn ! LOL

  6. Larry Wiginton

    Earnie, call you remember going to Ford’s mill. Of coarse you wasn’t raised on a farm, but you could have ventured off down there anyway.
    Trying to think of the one armed man’s name that ran the mill. Can you remember. WIG

  7. Tommy May

    Funny how the posted photo of the old mill in Mtn. Brook, AL… It was never a working mill… LOL

  8. Marsha Scheidt

    Aunt Ann Howle, did the Beasons have a mill?

  9. Ann Howle

    Yes, Beason’s mill. On the road to Charlie’s.

  10. I could walk to Rikards mill from my home when I grew it was called Water Mill Hill.

  11. Hughie Wylie

    I think I worked here when it was being restored a few years back.

  12. Karen Tucker Ziglar

    I have been to Rikard’s Mill and had a great time!

  13. Nancy Gay Morse

    The mill in this picture was never a working mill. A picturesque landmark near Birmingham though.

    1. True. I trapped beaver out of that creek. Not a working mill just decoration. Caught the biggest beaver of my career just to the right, downstream, of the bridge.

  14. Mary Mock
  15. Virginia Parks

    The best grits I’ve ever had was purchased from Rikard’s Mill.

  16. Karen Mellema

    My family had a Grist Mill in Conecuh Called Wells Mill, they even have a road there called Wells road where the pond is, people use to be baptisted in the pond at the Wells mill pond.

    1. Wayne Wells

      Your cousin, Mildred was baptized there. The mill was gone when I came along in the late 1930’s but my sister remembers it. There was a country general store connected to the mill.

    2. Karen Mellema

      I hoping by posting this maybe someone will remember it, or has a picture of it.

    3. Wayne Wells
    4. Karen Mellema

      I know right,it would be wonderful to see a picture of the place of somebody has one, or of James Wells.

    5. Wayne Wells

      That would be absolutely fantastic!!

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