1989, published by the author, reprinted by the Pittsylvania Historical Society 2004. Index. 178pp. 6.2 x 9.3 inches. Hardcover with dust jacket. ISBN 0-930919-87-4.
This work opens by placing Southside Virginia in historical perspective with the outside world of 1750. It touches on the romance of water-powered milling and on the building and operating of eighteenth-century Pittsylvania County mills, which preceded all other industrial establishments.
After William Atkinson erected his mill on Harpen Creek in 1747, at least twenty-four more were to follow on thirteen of the county's fifty-four waterways before 1800. The book reflects the effort of the author who spent four years tramping along these waterways searching for mill ruins. By meticulous scrutiny of county records and uses of sketches, old maps, photos and documents, he has compiled a history of each mill that includes identity of original builder, subsequent owners and ultimate fate of each mill where possible.
Accounts of the lives of early county millers, the mill application process and an analysis of the qualities that made Pittsylvania ideally suited for water-powered milling are woven into the fabric of the narrative. the book adds dimension by examining each mill history in the light of contemporary events such as the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and the Panics of 1819 and 1837.
The author argues that these mills did more than grind wheat and corn for local citizens prior to their decline through the onset of railroads, steam, and electricity. They frequently served as post offices, polling places, and retail outlets. Mills inevitably evolved into social and recreational centers that attracted churches and schools.
Of the near hundred county mills identified by the author, only eight stand. Of these, only three operate. Therefore, some attempt at preserving their history seems laudable.
Herman Melton is a retired engineer and a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy. He holds a Master's degree from the University of Virginia and has been the recipient of two awards to perform research and writing as a Fellow in Residence at the Center of the Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy in Charlottesville, Va. His next book, Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills, is nearing completion.
He and his wife, Helen, a freelance writer for travel publications, reside in Chatham, Virginia.
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Copyright © 2003–2012 Patricia B. Mitchell.