Harrison County, Missouri
Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

Pioneer Mills of Harrison County


In 1840 Phillip Harris settled west of Big Creek, three miles southwest of Bethany, and seeing the necessity for a grist mill began erecting one and the next year had it in operation and there was no longer occasion in that vicinity for "gritting." The first settlers had to go down to Grand River near Trenton or Gallatin to get their com ground into meal, or else they had to "grit" it at home.

A "gritter" was made by taking part of an old coffee pot or piece of tin and punching it full of holes, bowing it up in the middle and nailing the edges to a board rough side up. The corn in the ear was first boiled in a kettle; then when cooled after removing was rubbed on the gritter to make it fine. It was then run through a seive.

About 1844 Isaac Hammers settled at Taylor's grove. He erected a horse grist mill, so when the water got too low at Harris' mill the "boss" mill could do the grinding, and the gritting process was permanently laid aside. Each man going to the mill was expected to furnish the team whilst his grist was being ground. Parson Allen is said to have remarked later to a neighbor, "Did you ever in cold weather go twenty milos to a horse mill and swing around the circle until you ground out a two horse load of corn?" To spin around that circle for four long, weary hours of a cold, dark, dreary night, punching up the team, is no laughing matter. Cheerless, but for the hope of the call to come, "Your grist is out," heard through the chink of the logs as the miller called it out.

About the year 1840 John Gibson settled in the southeast part of the county on Sugar Creek, and being somewhat ingenious and to save going a long way to mill,, he rigged up a hand mill for grinding com and made such good meal that on receiving patronage from the neighbors he attached a horse power to it and conducted the mill business in that manner for several years.

About the year 1843 Edward Hunt and Joseph Hunt built a dam across Big Creek near the south line of the county and put up a small corn mill which was a great convenience to that part of the county, and they did a good business for a number of years. Joseph Hunt was a blacksmith and put up his shop at about the same place in 1841, and he did the horseshoeing and mending of plows, wagons and other farm implements for many years and was a very useful citizen.

James Watson came from Indiana about the year 1841 and erected a mill on Big Creek in Daviess County a few miles south of Harrison County which was largely patronized and by citizens of this county for a good many years.

At an early day Noah Snell built a mill on Big Creek where the village of Brooklyn now stands. This was perhaps the best mill ever built on that stream and for nearly thirty years did a good business grinding corn and wheat.

Dr. E. B. Bush built a mill on Big Creek a few miles above Snell's mill which ground corn and sawed lumber. It was kept up by the doctor for about twenty-five years. Big Creek was a rapid stream and not well suited for mill purposes. The water frequently got too low for mill purposes, but in times of great rains and overflows from the extent of territory it drained it would become very high and swift, so it was difficult to erect dams that could withstand the floods, and the proprietors were put to great expense and trouble keeping them in repair. So all the mills on the creeks were finally abandoned. The Hunt and Watson mills were washed out and abandoned long before the Civil War and about 1880 all had been finally given up and abandoned.

Arthur Charlton erected a mill on Big Creek a few miles north of Bethany at an early day, where they ground com and sawed lumber. It was continued by Mr. Gates and Mr. Barnes for several years.

Peter Cain was an early settler in Mercer County not far east of Cainsville which is named after him. At an early day he built a mill on Grand River which he kept up and made of it a good grist and saw mill. It proved to be an excellent investment and a good location for a mill and did a good business.

C. L. and E. M. Jennings started the first steam mill at Bethany about 1851. It was then used to grind corn and saw lumber. They continued to run this at odd times, adding and mending parts for about fifteen years, when it was sold to Henry S. Laney, who added wheat buhrs and carding and spinning machinery. This mill was later destroyed by fire.

The first modem mill which was operated in Harrison County was by the McClure brothers at Bethany. They began operations here in 1878 and in 1887 installed a roller process, which was the first of its kind in the county. This was an up-to-date mill and had a capacity of about fifty barrels of flour per day. They also operated a carding and spinning mill in connection with the flour mill and manufactured woolen goods.

It is said that the winter of 1842-43 was the coldest and longest ever known by the white man in this country. That fall the Harris mill froze up and so remained until the last of March. The snow was very deep, and of course the roads were not good. There were not enough settlers to keep them open and in good condition and the "gritters" again had to be brought into use. Some jocularly called them the "armstrong" mill, and others spoke of the process as "planing meal," but whatever called and however primitive it was good business for hungry people and these were a people who could and did devise means to help themselves. Harris mill had plenty of patronage as soon as the winter broke. It is said his extreme honesty in the matter of taking toll kept him poorer than most millers usually are.


 Harrison County| AHGP Missouri

Source: History of Harrison County, Missouri, by Geo. W. Wanamaker, Historical Publishing Company, Topeka, 1921


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