Madison County History and Genealogy

History and Genealogy

History of Madison County

Mills and Factories

From History of Madison County, W. H. Beers & Co, Chicago, 1883

The first saw mill in Canaan Township was erected by Ori Beach about 1820, on what was then known as "Finch Run." It was situated on the south bank, west of the Plain City pike, on the brow of the hill; and traces of the old mill race are still visible, although the mill itself has long since passed away, and is now one of the things of the past. The building of this mill was one of the great enterprises of thai day, and it took the courage and energy of such a man as Mr. Beach to accomplish such an undertaking. To erect a saw mill on such a stream as this at the present day, would be considered unpractical; but when we consider the vast amount of territory drained into this run, which in those days (in consequence of the imperfect drainage) required months to drain land as perfectly as the same number of days would at the present time, one can readily see that this large amount of territory acted as a feeder, which gave him power sufficient to run his mill for many months in the year. Mr. Beach did a vast amount of sawing at this mill, for which the people were very grateful, and many a good house wife was made to feel a little proud when the old puncheon was exchanged for sawed board floor, and with quite as cheerful a feeling, perhaps, as the lady of the present day with her Brussels carpet. This mill sawed all the lumber for the first frame buildings erected in that part of the county, and for the National road bridges across the Big and Little Darby, and we may safety say that few persons of today, without mature reflection, can have any idea or appreciation of the value of this mill in producing convenience and comfort by the lumber it sawed for the various uses for which it was needed in this then new settlement. This saw mill, with one subsequently erected further below on the Darby at the grist mill by Isaac Fuller, have been the principal water-power saw mills of the township; since their day, there have been several portable steam mills located here and there over the township, as occasion required, and transported from point to point as the timber was found and lumber desired.

About 1814-15, Isaac Fuller having located on the east bank of Big Darby, about two miles south of Amity, and right opposite on the west bank, he erected a grist mill, which was one of the first in this part of the country. Although it was roughly constructed, and of course did not perform work like the line mills of the present day, yet this was to the people of that day as a grist mill what Mr. Beach's mill was as a saw mill, a great convenience, and saved the people of this community from the necessity of traveling long distances over almost impassable mud roads to distant mills to get their grinding done. Mr. Fuller ran this mill for thirty years, when he was succeeded by Mr. Byers; he died and was succeeded by John Acton in the ownership of the mill, and he by Mr. J. Carter, who died, and Isaac Francis, his son-in-law became owner, and is its proprietor at the present time.

A little below Mr. Beach's saw mill above spoken of, the same enterprising man, Ori Beach, soon after erecting his saw mill, built a large two-story frame building with a basement which was quite an imposing structure for that day. The basement was where the power was placed for driving the machinery. The power made use of was unique and the wonder of the age; cumbersome, yet efficient, and fully met his expectations. It consisted of what was called "tread-power." A large tread wheel was placed in a horizontal position, or rather at an angle or incline of about ten degrees, and this by its revolutions which communicated motion to a smaller cog-wheel fitting into it. which by an upright shaft communicated the motion to machinery, above. Then upon this inclined tread-wheel was placed a yoke of oxen, which were tied in position and the wheel tended to move downward by the weight of the oxen, to the lowest point of the wheel, the oxen were made to keep walking up the incline of the wheel, which kept it in motion; and thus the machinery of the factory was kept in constant motion. The stopping of the machinery, at the will of the operator, was done by means of a heavy friction brake, let down by lever power upon the tread wheel. The entire arrangement was a curious device, but nevertheless effectual and powerful, propelling a large amount of machinery. This factory was in use for fifteen years or more, employed about forty hands, and was a great benefit to the people of the new settlement. It was succeeded by one built just below Amity, by his three brothers—Roswell, Obil and Oren Beach—who purchased tbe machinery of the old factory, added some new machinery, and made various improvements preparatory to carrying on business on a much larger scale, and the whole to be run by water-power; also a pair of buhrs were put in for grinding corn. This mill, after being run a few years, was declared a nuisance, the factory dam torn away and the mill became useless.

About 1833, Mr. Willey erected a large building in Amity for the manufacture of combs. This it appears was quite an extensive business, as he employed several hands to work in the factory. This ran about four or five years, then ceased.

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