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Mills offered sustenance for pioneers

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Spencer County had several mills near Salt River, Brashears Creek

By Tom Watson

Pioneers who settled along streams of water like the Salt River and Brashears Creek often decided to build a mill. The mill was a common enterprise and attracted settlers who could not build their own facility for making flour and grinding grain.

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Spencer County had several mills and perhaps the best known were the McKenzie Mill near the Salt River at Taylorsville, the Beauchamp Mill on Brashears Creek at Taylorsville and the VanDyke Mill on Brashears Creek at Rivals.  
The McKenzie Mill was at the corner of Garrard and Main Cross Streets in Taylorsville. J.L. Dulin told me several years ago that his family lived directly across from the mill in the Linton house from 1914 to 1916. J.L. said when he was a youngster, he and his buddies played in the old mill quite often.
The McKenzie Mill was made of stone. It was some 80 feet square, three stories tall and had a tapered smoke stack in the rear. The stack was about 100 feet tall with a 20-foot diameter base.
Unlike the VanDyke and Beauchamp mills, the McKenzie was run by steam and thus the reason there was no mill race or “leat,” as the British called them. A mill race was a ditch or canal through which water was allowed to flow from a river or creek and turn a large wooden wheel, which then turned the gears and mill stones that ground the grain. The water would return to its source as the mill race continued downstream.
The mill race at Rivals was about three-quarters of a mile long.
J.L. said Innes Beauchamp owned the old mill and may have operated it for a time, although Innes also had a mill on the creek (north side of Taylorsville).
The John Simpson family occupied the house next to the McKenzie Mill, which is on the west side of Main Cross Street, directly across from the Assembly of God Church. Simpson was a former town marshal of Taylorsville.
Charles Dawson Stout grew up in Rivals and was always the VanDyke Mill historian.
He once told the Spencer County Historical Society that the VanDyke Mill, built in 1790, was a classic-type mill with a five-point, gamble roof. The mill had a cellar and rock foundation with posted beam timber 40 by 60 feet. The ceilings were nine feet tall, and it was 36 feet from the first floor to the roof tree.
Stout said the roof tree ran due north and south, although Beauchamp’s Mill was somewhat off that plan.
Such construction was so the east side caught the morning sun and the west side the afternoon sun so the green timber used in the mill’s construction could dry out more quickly.
The oak beams on the first level were 18 inches square. They were 14 inches square on the second level and eight inches on the third level.
The beams were oak, ash or beech and the flooring and siding was yellow poplar.
One of the best descriptions of the interior of the VanDyke Mill came from Louisville Courier-Journal writer Howard Hardaway. He wrote the following Oct. 19, 1841 after touring the mill:
“Huge timbers extend in a single piece all the way from the front to the back of the structure. At the joints, corresponding Roman numerals are chiseled into timbers where they intersect. This, of course, was done so that the timbers could be hewn and fitted together on the ground and then placed in the building by matching the numbers. The number four, I noticed, is not IV, but IIII.
“Mr. Stout took me all over the mill, following the wheat as it is cleaned in three or four different ways, carried up to the fourth floor by automatic elevators, and then ground, sifted and bolted as it descends again to the lower floor. The flour, after automatically dividing itself into different grades, including the finest, or patent flour, appears at the various chutes, ready for sacking.
“Corn, of course, goes through a much simpler process between the burrs. The lower burr is fixed, while the upper one revolves. At this mill, as in some others I have visited, the burrs are of French origin. These burrs came in sections and are cleverly fitted together.”
The VanDyke Mill last operated in 1944 and was torn down in 1960. There were small mill operations at other locations, including the Froman-Watson Mill just up the Salt River from Taylorsville and the Purcell Mill on Plum Creek.
Note: The McKenzie Mill has also been spelled “McKinzie,” but “e” is correct. It is McKenzie.