The other day, we were driving through an area known as Valley Mills, a few miles from our home. The farms located there during my youth are gone, but there are quite a few houses there anymore. I can’t remember if there’s even a sign to tell you when you enter that grand metropolis. Incidentally, any place name that has the word “mill” in it once had a grist mill for grinding flour, as the mill was always the very first business in a community.
As we tooled along on our drive, I noticed that the building my old school bus driver and his family called home many years ago was in a sorry state of disrepair. It was obvious that it was no longer in use and didn’t have too many more years left in it. I remember my dad telling me that it used to be a hardware store, according to his father, and the best one for miles around. I assume he meant that if they didn’t have it, you didn’t need it. It was only a moderately sized building for such variety, so I assume that they carried only a few of each item.
My granddad was born in 1880, the bus driver around 1930. I wonder if even he knew the building’s history. If he did, I wonder if that information was passed on to his kids. Am I the only one living who knows the building’s story? Who’s to say.
And then there’s the name of the place, Valley Mills. Notice it’s plural--there were apparently at least two mills once located there. Where were they? There are no indications of foundations, ponds or mill races. Also the valley is rather broad for such a small stream, making it unlikely that there was any large pond. The stream banks are fairly high for such a small stream, so I wonder if they didn’t just build small dams to fill the stream to the top of the banks and then use an under-shot wheel, rather than an over-shot wheel.
Under-shot wheels aren’t nearly as efficient as over-shots, but they fill the bill when you can’t get a high “head” (surface) of water. The water only needs to be part way up to the axle of the wheel (axle-high is better), whereas an over-shot wheel requires a head higher than the top of the wheel. On rare occasions, the old-timers even used straight-paddled wheels like river boats used, just letting the flowing stream turn the wheel with no head whatsoever. Under-shots and paddle boards normally used smaller stones, since they lacked the power of over-shots.
I suspect another advantage of an under-shot wheel is that it would work even in high water, as long as the water didn’t get above the axle. The bottom of an over-shot wheel would be trying to turn against the current under those circumstances, thus off-setting much of it’s efficiency and probably rendering it useless after a certain point.
Really small streams even had what were called “tub mills” that were small horizontal wheels carved from one or two large pieces of wood. (You can find pictures in one of the “Foxfire Books.”) They only had the power to turn small stones, but it was still easier than hand-cranking and didn’t require a horse, as some earlier mills did.
So, most people know none of that and probably don’t care. Come to think of it; why should I? I guess I’m just strange that way. Copyright 8/13/2019