Very old photo of Rock Mill that was for sale on ebay. The seller said the back read, "The old water mill near Lithopolis was father's boyhood home. Two boys and father and mother on wheel". Then under that someone has written more in pencil, "Lithopolis Mill where where father lived when a boy and took corn for meal". Photo courtesy of Marc Taylor of Baltimore, OH.

Century Old Rock Mill Ready to Tumble Into Deep Ravine

"Lancaster Eagle Gazette", Lancaster, Ohio, March 7, 1928, p 10.

Rock Mill, one of the oldest in Ohio, and a beauty spot in central Ohio, located two miles west of Hookers, is practically on the verge of falling to pieces. It was built about 110 years ago.

Should the weakening timber of this famous old structure be not repaired, then the day is not far off when Rock Mill will tumble to the pit of a 45-foot ravine, upon the edge of which it stands. The distance from the bottom of the precipice to the tip of the mill roof measures about 100 feet, and more than likely little will be left if a hard windstorm ever strikes the historic building from the proper angle.

James BROOK erected the mill in 1820, as near as can be ascertained from pioneers in the neighborhood. B. M. BROOK, grandson of the builder, gave the estimate on the date, relating that his father fell into the deep pool of water at the bottom of the ravine when he was about 5 years old, at the time the elder Brook was constructing the mill.

To creat a mill race, the builders were forced to hack a run through the solid rock with pick and chisel. This race is still visible and measures 30 feet in length, 18 feet in depth and three feet wide, almost completely segregating a block of rock 100 feet square. From the end of this cut the water was conveyed to the waterwheel by means of a trough which long since has disappeared.

The mill itself is six stories high and is built entirely of oak timber. The roof, according to W. S. ALSPAUGH, present owner of the mill, is about to cave in unless repaired.

What was once upon a time believed to be a bottomless hole is the pit into which the water poured from the dam of the creek. At present the depth of the pool is estimated to be 50 feet, having been partially filled with mud since the dam was torn out to relieve back lands of high water. Years of gouging by the fall water made this a treacherous hole. It was in here the the builder's son fell when a boy.

As far as can be determined, the first owner of the mill was Christian MOREHART, grandfather of the present owner. Next it passed into the hands of Phillip HOMRIGHOUSE and then to John FORE. A company, named SOLT, ALSPAUGH Bros. & FORE then operated the mill for a period, after which Ed ALSPAUGH, one of the partners, bought the others out. A man named TALLEY was the next owner who was bought out by J. P. GUNDY and F. H. BARLOW. They sold it to the present owner, ALSPAUGH.

Of interest is the fact that the pit of the mill pool lies on four farms and in two townships, Greenfield and Bloom, both in Fairfield county. The pit belongs to ALSPAUGH, Luther WILLIAMSON, C. W. TAIS and George McKEE.

Out of the bare rock on the floor of the ravine flow two springs. In order to facilitate the scooping of water from the springs two rectangular gouges, each about two feet long and a foot wide, were picked into the rock. They are about a foot apart, one being on the WILLIAMSON and the other in the ALSPAUGH farm, while the township line passes between them.

WILLIAMSON draws his entire water supply for household use from his spring in the ravine by means of a bucket which he lets down into the springs on a guy wire.

Rock Mill, photo taken ca 1991, courtesy of Brenda Krekeler

Rock Mill ca 1991
Photo courtesy of Brenda Krekeler


Rock Mill Tragedy Recalled

"Lancaster Eagle Gazette", Lancaster, Ohio, March 15, 1928.

The publication of the history of Rock Mill in a recent edition of the Eagle has caused a number of inquiries to be made at this office as to the date of the tragic death of Mr. Fred Myers. This tragedy occurred in the fall of 1873. Mr. Myers, a grocery keeper of South Columbus St. was a member of a German Singing Society which held meetings in the spring and fall at Rock Mill. At the close of this particular meeting Mr. Myers had gotten into his buggy which was near the brink of rocks overlooking the pool fifty feet below. His horse becoming frightened, started to back towards the edge and Mr. Myers who was a large man, got out of the buggy, but owing to the rough footing, stumbled backwards going over the cliff. His injuries were of a serious nature and he passed away at his home the following Tuesday. J. L. Alspach, father of former Mayor Alspach, lived near Rock Mill at this time of the accident and later, in partnership with a brother, purchased the mill and operated it for many years. In 1898 the old fashioned overshot waterwheel was torn down and a modern turbine wheel subsituted.


Rock Mill Said To Be Oldest In State, May Be Taken Over By Ohio Archeological Society

"Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio, July 26, 1928

An effort will be made this fall by Judge Van A. Snider through the Ohio Archeological and Historical Society to secure funds for the preservation of the historic Rock Mill, three miels west of Hooker Station. It is now claimed that the famous grist mill is the oldst in the state of Ohio, having been built in 17[??], one year before the village of Lancaster was laid out by Ebenezer Zane.... The Rock Mill has not been in operation for many years, and for over half a century has been owned by the Alspachs. Kraemer's History of Lancaster has the following to say regarding this historic mill.

Late in the fall of 1799 the first grist mill in Fairfield county commonly known as Rock Mill was erected by the public benefactors, Joseph Loveland and Hezekiah Smith. The two men [evinced?] enterprise sufficient to announce a log roll for this purpose. The news spread throughout the border and nearly the entire population of willingly lent a hand. In the fall the upper and nether millstones were placed in position and formed what is now known as the famous and historical Rock Mill at the headwaters of the Hockhocking, and 'going to mill' ceased to mean a horseback journey through to Maysville, Ky., or some other equally remote point. The mill was completed in record time and a great celebration was held in honor of the event.


Rock Mill Proposed as State Park by Lantz

Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio, June 5, 1959

Photo courtesy of graveaddiction.comSpeaker of the Ohio House James A. Lantz is taking steps to prevent an historic Fairfield County landmark from passing into oblivion. The native Lancastrian has secured an item in the state's Additions and Betterment Bill, requesting that beautiful Rock Mill and it's environs be acquired by the state and converted into a state park. The Lantz proposal calls for acquisition of at least 90 acres of land, including the mill and surrounding areas, and major restoration of the scenic grist mill... The mill is located at the upper falls of the Hock-Hocking about 4 1/2 miles west of Lancaster. Here the river, after flowing through a narrow gorge, widens and as the red men viewed it from the rocks above, they thought it looked like a bottle. Hence they named it Hock-Hocking, which in their language meant 'bottle'. Just at the top of the hill on the Lithopolis Greencastle Road may still be found the walls and mounds of an ancient prehistoric fortification. It is now all but obliterated by time, worn down and despoiled by the plow. Mounds of the foritification afford a panoramic view of the approaches of the valley. Perhaps no site in Fairfield County is as rustically picturesque as the site of Rock Mill. No wonder the pioneers, coming up the Hocking were attracted to this spot. History records that in the spring of 1799, two Yankess, Mr. Joseph Loveland and Mr. Hezekiah Smith came up the Hocking on their way west. They decided to go no further, but to stop there and build a grist mill. This enterprise was of sufficient important to announce a log rolling. The news spread and the entire population let a hand. By the autumn of 1799 the upper and nether mill stones were in place at the falls of the Hock-Hocking. The venture was a success, and going to mill ceased to be a horseback trip to Maysville, KY. It appears that soon a romance developed. Mr. Loveland courted and married a Miss Shellenbarger, whose father had a grist mill at the lower falls, now Deed's MIll. The first Rock Mill was built low down among the rocks. The grists were taken in at the gable and let down to the hopper by ropes. Their next venture was a store. Their goods had to be brought in by horseback from Detroit. So Rock Mill became the gathering place for the settlers. It became a stopping off place for travelers going west to take up homesteads. To care for these travelers to the North West Territory, Mr. Loveland and Mr. Smith built the famous Blue Ball Tavern. These first settlers lived in bark camps. They rove seven foot forked sticks into the ground. They laid poles across the top and covered them with the easy peeling bark of the slippery elm. Later 16 feet square log cabins were built. Here two or three families lived until they could build another cabin. In connection with the Blue Ball Tavern, these two men built a distillery. This, however, after a while, became a curse, and destroyed the happiness of many respectable families. Not only whites, but also Indians stopped there. They came from miles around and stopped and traded anything they had for fire water--whiskey. This proved to be their ruination. The hither-to friendly Indians became unmanagable saves, and old Rock Mill became the scene of many a drunken brawl. Whiskey was traded to the Wyandots and Shawnees for valuable furs. One Indian always kept sober to keep the butcher knives out of the way. This fur trade necesitated building a tannery near the tavern. Finally, the opposition from the good people of Rock Mill became so great that Loveland and Smith were forced to leave the country.

There is legend that horse back riders stopping at the tavern overnight were never seen again. Then in a few days their hosts would have strange horses for sale. As a climax, years later, when the water was too low to run the mill, the neighbors went up to the river to the low swamp lands. There in directing the swamp water into the main stream, they found the bodies of seven men, wrapped in horse blankets.

The present mill was built up on the rocks, just above the old one. It was erected in 1824 of the heavy oaken timbers of that period. The structure is 101 feet high, being four stories on the road side and six stores on the lower side. The mill was built by a Mr. Bartless as a combined grist and woolen mill, but the woolen machinery was never installed. The "bottomless pool' at the foot of the falls has been measured and found to be about 50 feet deep. The pit of the pool lies in two townships, Greenfield and Bloom. Another odd fact is that it lies on four farms.

After the Loveland and Smith ownershep came Christian Morehart and Joseph Knaben[s?]hue. Next the mill was owned by Philip Homrighous, then John Foor.

Remodeled in 1899 - In 1899 the mill was remodeled. A turbine over the falls replaced the ancient water wheel. The turbine proved unsatisfactory, so they changed to steam power. This remodeling was done by Marion Solt, John Foor, and two Alspach brothers, Edward and Jacob Alspach. Edward Alspach bought out his partners. One record shows a Mr. Talley as the next owner, he being bought out by J. P. Gundy and F. H. Barlow. They sold the mill to the present owners, the Sherman Alspach family.


Letter Throws New Light On Old Mill

Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio, August 5, 1959.

A letter to the Eagle-Gazette from a retired professor of Syracuse University has thrown new light on the history of old Rock Mill.

The letter is from G. C. Morehart, a native of Fairfield County and a grandson of Christian Morehart, who owned and operated the Mill for some years until the time of his death of June 4, 1859. Prof. Morehart states that 'since the Morehart annual reunion is scheduled for August 23 in Wollarman's Place near Columbus, a little more on Christian Morehart might be timely. 'I have done considerable research on the Morehart genealogy, and since I am a direct descendant of the Moreharts, Runkles, Stansberys, Hookers, Rollers, Wares, Robenolts, Kneers and Alspachs, it seems appropriate for me to furnish The Eagle-Gazette with some dates on Christian's family and connections. The original Rock Mill was erected in the spring of 1799 by two Yankees, Joseph Loveland and Hezekiah Smith. They later built a store near the mill and, in order to accomodate travelers passing through the area, opened the Blue Ball Tavern. [More details but nothing new to other articles posted here]. Prof. Morehart says his grandfather lived in a house near the mill, and that his estate included more than 700 acres in the vicinity of the mill. Many Germans, including the aforementioned families, came to Ohio from Pennyslvania over the Forbes Military Road, says Morehart.


Claim Price Put on Historic Mill is Beyond Reason

Newark Advocate, Newark, Ohio, May 9, 1963

Columbus, Ohio AP - Rep. Clarence Wetzel, R - Columbiana, said today a House Mines and Natural Resources Subcommittee will look into a proposal for state purchase of Rock Mill near Lancaster for a memorial. Wetzel, chairman of the full committee, said members felt the $25,000 asking price for the old flour mill, idle since about 1906, was too high. The late Sherman Alspach acquired the water-powered mill, now owned by his daughters, Mary and Urcela Alspach.


Covered Bridge to be Restored

Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio, June 19, 2003

"By autumn a newsly restored covered bridge will span the Hocking River once again at Rock Mill Road". Money for the restoration came from a state grant of $129,000. Total cost for restoration is $193,000.

"A bridge has been over the river at that location since 1828. The first one was destroyed by a flood. The second one, built in 1846, caught fire and burned to the ground... then came Jacob Brandt who built many of the covered bridges in Fairfield County".

The bridge has been modified and reinforced over the years. During this restoration the bridge was removed to make repairs, then returned to it's original location. Completion date was set for June 30th, but with the spring rains it might have to be moved to the fall.


"From Rock Mill to Park - Area to be preserved, designated by December"

Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio, Oct. 29, 2003

"BLOOM TOWNSHIP -- The Rock Mill area, which includes Rock Mill and Rock Mill Covered Bridge, soon will become a part of the Fairfield County Historic Parks system." Rock Mill, Fairfield Co., Ohio, April 1940.  Photo courtesy of graveaddiction.com

Robert Stebelton purchased the mill about 10 years ago and wants the mill to be preserved for generations to come. He donated the mill to the parks system and may donate additional land around the mill. "The mill is one-of-a-kind and needs to be saved", Stebelton said. "I have been talking with the historical parks people for quite some time. I've been doing work on it, and secured it. But I ran into some problems. It's pretty much intact, but it's going to take some work to finish it."

"The mill and the covered bridge will form the centerpiece of Stebelton Park at Rock Mill. The park will overlook the scenic upper falls and gorge of the Hocking River.

The donation of the mill by owner Robert Stebelton will be official by December, parks officials said.

David Fey, director of the Fairfield County Historical Parks, is pleased with the addition to the historic parks system.

'This reinforces what I have been saying about the county historical parks, and the significant role they play in preserving the history of Fairfield County," Fey said. "I know of no other place in the state that offers what will be available at the new park.'

Rock Mill was built in 1799 and remodeled in 1824. It is the first mill built in Fairfield County, and is believed to be the oldest surviving mill in Ohio. It was also the only mill with an original and authentic covered bridge nearby.

'We plan to restore the mill and put it back into operation. There's work that needs to be done to it, such as rebuilding the water wheel,' Fey said. 'It will be worth it to bring the old mill back to life.'

Fey credits Stebelton with saving the mill.

'Bob was taking on a monumental effort to save the mill. If it wasn't for his work, the mill would most likely be lost," Fey said. "Through grant money and other funds, we will be able to get knowledgeable contractors out there and ensure that the mill lasts for another one or two hundred years.'

While grant money is available, Fey will be able to accept the grants only if money for a matching fund is available. And money will be available if the 0.5-mill, 10-year Historical Parks levy is passed on Tuesday.

'We hope the taxpayers realize that this is a small price to preserve the county's history, which is something you can't put a price tag on,' Fey said.

Fey said the Fairfield County Engineer's Office has been working on the restoration of Rock Mill Bridge and should be finished by the end of next month. The bridge then will be open only to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

'People will be able to walk across the bridge and look out over the falls and gorge,' Fey said. 'There will be an observation deck where people can watch the mill in operation. People already come from all over the country to see the mill and bridge. Stebelton Park, when completed, will attract even more people. This is a real treasure.' "

"Campaign Under Way to Fix Historic Mill"


Columbus Dispatch, Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 27, 2005

According to this article, the five-story Rock Mill has been a fixture in Fairfield County since 1799, and county officials want to make sure it stays for years to come. The Fairfield County Parks Comission is seeking donations to finance the $500,000 renovation. The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places.

David Fey, the director and secretary for the parks commission, warns that if the money isn't found, the mill could vanish as well as the valuable tourist dollars it could bring. "A donation of $250 will help us replace one of the 28 broken double-hung windows," he said. "Anyone who is willing to donate that much will get an honorary plaque below the window they helped buy."

The mill needs much repair; water is seeping in through rusted metal siding and through plastic tarps covering broken windows as well as a bad hole in the roof.

"The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing $14,000 toward the $21,000 cost to repair the roof. A family in North Lewisburg donated $100,000 worth of antique milling equipment similar to that once used in Rock Mill."

"But other funds are scarce. The parks commission maintains 15 historical sites spanning 468 acres on an annual budget of $88,000. County budget cuts trimmed that from $100,000 in 2004."

The mill is the oldest in Fairfield county and one of the oldest in Ohio. The goal is to make it a working mill and include an interpretive center, restrooms, and gift shop to be opened to the public. Currently it's closed. Ballott issues to fund the parks' care and restoration have failed eight times since 1996.

RESTORATION RALLY HOPES TO PUT MILL BACK ON MAP

Columbus Dispatch, Dana Wilson, Sept. 16, 2007

The massive wooden wheel is missing, and steel beams help correct a sideward lean, but Rock Mill still stands after more than 1 3/4 centuries. That is reason enough to save the circa 1824 gristmill in Fairfield County, say volunteers working to restore it. The six-story building sits on two sandstone cliffs overlooking the upper falls of the Hocking River and an adjacent covered bridge.

Too many historic sites are bulldozed and replaced with bronze plaques, so the Fairfield County Historical Parks Commission pledged two years ago to restore the mill, said Dave Fey, the commission's director. "This is a chance for all of us to leave something for the future," Fey said. "Instead of a bronze plaque, they can see it, they can feel it, they can smell it." Fey and a team of about 20 volunteers held a restoration rally at the mill site yesterday to raise money for and awareness of the project. Visitors toured the building, which is normally closed to the public, and heard tales of its past. The rally continues today from noon to 5 p.m. about 4.5 miles north of Lancaster at the junction of Lithopolis and Rock Mill roads.

Rock Mill is thought to be the largest and oldest surviving mill in Ohio, Fey said. The biggest challenge is raising an estimated $750,000 to restore the site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Jan Elzey, a parks volunteer. So far, the commission has averaged about $15,000 a year in donations, but Elzey is aiming higher to move the project along. "We're hoping that this year we'll be able to generate $100,000," he said. The restoration includes a replica of the original, 26-foot water wheel built of white-oak timbers. Ben Hassett, a millwright from Lynchburg, Va., who specializes in restoring old windmills and watermills, said old black-and-white photos of Rock Mill will help make its restoration authentic. "You can't place a value on it," Hassett said. "It's so unique."

When the project is complete, Elzey envisions it as a tourist destination that could help to lure business to Fairfield County. The mill represents an important piece of local agricultural history, said Fey, who dressed as a miller for yesterday's rally, wearing a white hat and apron and flour smeared on his face. The original mill was built in 1799 but collapsed in 1820 during a flood. A replacement was erected on higher ground in 1824. When the mill was built, grain farmers no longer had to haul their corn, wheat and buckwheat to Pennsylvania, Virginia or Kentucky, Fey said. "People were reluctant to settle here until the mill was constructed," he said. Most visitors seemed to see hidden potential in the old site. "I don't know how you could even estimate the value of it," said Paula Sams, 75, of Lancaster. "I'm hoping they come up with the money." Erin Shriner, 32, drove from Glenford in Perry County to tour the site with her three daughters, ages 6, 4 and 2. "We were just interested in what they were doing," Shriner said. "I always thought it would be neat to live 100 years ago."

Restoration of Hocking River mill to reveal pre-statehood ingenuity

John Switzer, For The Columbus Dispatch, August 24, 2008

Last week, I took one of those dreamy summer day trips into Ohio's past. First, I went to Fairfield County to see the very old Rock Mill on the upper falls of the Hocking River. The mill is being restored by Fairfield County Historical Parks. The first gristmill in what is now Ohio was built on the spot in 1799, when the area was still part of the wild frontier. In those days, the Wyandot and Shawnee Indians called the stream the Hock-hocking.

There's a fascinating story about that first mill, which was built by Joseph Loveland and Hezekiah Smith. The settlers were desperate for a mill to grind their corn and wheat. Otherwise, they had to take it to Wheeling, W.Va. (then in Virginia); Limestone, Ky. (now Maysville); or Pittsburgh. The millers at the mill on the Hocking were paid with part of the grain brought in to grind. They piled up such a large amount of grain that they had to come up with a way to turn it into income. They decided to turn the ground corn into whiskey, according to David Fey, director of the parks commission. They built a distillery and tavern next to the mill and sold their whiskey to the settlers and also the American Indians in the neighborhood. That riled the settlers, because they thought the whiskey made the Indians more aggressive. So the settlers ran Loveland and Smith out of the township, Fey said.

In 1820, a flood took out the original mill; a new mill, the one currently standing, was built on the site in 1824 by Christian Morehart. That mill operated until 1907.

The mill stands six stories high, two of which are in the Black Hand sandstone gorge, where the water wheel once turned. It is the largest surviving mill in the country, based on the size of the water wheel, and the plan is to restore it to operating condition. Windows have been replaced, and white oak siding is being placed on the mill's exterior. Surprisingly, the interior is still in good condition. The gorge below the mill is 40 feet deep. Restorers already have a knot-free, white oak log that is 12 feet long and 3 feet in diameter and will serve as the axle for the 26-foot-diameter water wheel. The mill is called Rock Mill because the wheel turns in the bottom of a rock gorge. The wheel will have 81 buckets on it and weigh 8.5 tons. Completion is three to five years down the road because the work is being financed only with donations. There is an old covered bridge next to the mill that was recently moved there from a road not far away. It no longer carries traffic but adds to the historical allure of the site. The mill is on Rock Mill Road off Lithopolis Road, near Greencastle.

A rally to raise money for the restoration will be held Sept. 13 and 14 from noon to 5 p.m. each day. It will include games for children, food for purchase and tours of the mill and gorge. Fey said that about 2,000 people attended the rally last year.

Rock Mill Bridge, Fairfield County, Ohio.  Photo ca 2001 by D. Beckham Rock Mill Bridge, Fairfield County, Ohio.  Photo ca 2001 by D. Beckham Rock Mill Bridge, Fairfield County, Ohio.  Photo ca 2001 by D. Beckham
Rock Mill Bridge, Fairfield County, Ohio.  Photo ca 2001 by D. Beckham Standing on the bridge, looking down; Rock Mill Bridge, Fairfield County, Ohio.  Photo ca 2001 by D. Beckham Rock Mill, Fairfield County, Ohio.  Photo taken ca 2001 by D. Beckham

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