Source: The Corydon Democrat

Blue River once home to sawmills
Celebrating Statehood

by Karen Schwartz

October 01, 2013

Did you know there were 13 mills along Blue River from Totten Ford Bridge down to the mouth of the Blue River where it empties into the Ohio River?

Early pioneer families were always looking for a good source of water when they were selecting settlement sites. Not only did they need water for cooking, cleaning and drinking, but also for transportation and as a power supply in the days before electricity and gasoline powered motors.

Mills were an absolute necessity for early Indiana pioneers for grinding the grain at the grist mill, cutting lumber at the sawmill and performing other tasks. The mills also served as a community center and gathering place where information was exchanged.

This journey along Blue River begins in Harrison County and will conclude in Crawford County, providing details about the 13 mills, six of which were operated by the same family, the Rothrocks.

This family floated down the Ohio River, paddled up Blue River, settled at Wyandotte, then began to expand milling operations up and down Blue River. The family also operated Wyandotte Cave, and accompanying hotel, as a tourist attraction. (*denotes Rothrock Mill).

1. The Dee Ott Mill at Totten Ford Bridge was a gristmill and sash sawmill built in the early 1870s and powered by one water wheel.

2. The first mill at Milltown was built in 1818 by the Leavenworth brothers, Seth and Zebulon. It was a grist, flour, carding and sawmill. It was powered by three 48-inch water wheels. The second mill stood from 1868 to 1958. The dam is still standing, and boaters make a portage around it today.

3. The Jenner Mill was two miles below Milltown at Slick Run, where a wooden dam was built. This mill operated until about 1889.

4. *The next mill coming down the river was built in the 1840s by Hiram Babcock. It was operated, and later purchased, by John Rothrock as a saw and gristmill until 1890. There are still remnants of this dam today.

5. *The next Rothrock mill was built by Solomon Rothrock, son of Peter, in the 1820s and served as a saw and gristmill until 1852. It was powered by water directly from the dam.

6. The John Bell Mill stood on the river below Thompsons Chapel in the area known as Beech Bottoms, on the Crawford County side of the river.

7. *The third Rothrock Mill encountered in a trip downriver was built by Philo Rothrock, son of Solomon, in 1856. It was a sash and grist mill with a planer. Philo’s sons, Luther and Henry, built a second mill in 1909, which stood until 1986. When people today mention Rothrock’s Mill, this is usually the one they are talking about. It was sold to the Linnfoot family and was eventually purchased by the state of Indiana. It was torn down in 1986. Today, this is a public access site operated by the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources.

8. Horatio Sharp built a grist and carding mill at Sharptown in 1845. It burned to the ground on April 18, 1897.

9. The Moser sawmill stood between the Elbow and Buzzard Roost along Blue River.

10. *The fourth Rothrock Mill was built by Abram Rothrock at Slabtown, where Harrison Spring empties into Blue River. It was a gristmill, sash sawmill and handle lathe. The mill burned Jan. 18, 1913.

11. Territorial Gov. William Henry Harrison, who went on to become the ninth president of the United States, built a grist and sash sawmill in 1807 on a tributary of Blue River known as Harrison Spring. The spring is the largest in Indiana. Harrison also had a cabin, distillery and orchard on the site. Timbers from the mill were still visible beneath the waters in the 1960s.

12. *William Rothrock built a grist, flour and sawmill at White Cloud in 1880 near the location of an earlier mill constructed by Swan and Arganbrite. It closed in 1950 and collapsed in July 1968.

13. *Peter Rothrock, patriarch of the Rothrock clan, built a flour, grist and sawmill at Wyandotte on Blue River just below the Wyandotte Cave in 1818-1819. It was closed in 1910 and torn down in 1920. This mill was located near the Rothrock Cemetery at Wyandotte.

Karen Schwartz, president of the Historical Society of Harrison County, serves on the legacy group of the Harrison County Committee for the Indiana Bicentennial. In preparation of Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016, she is providing a monthly column — focusing on a person, place or event from Harrison County’s history — that gives insight to our history. She said the columns should serve as an introduction and/or summary of a topic but are not intended to include all known facts and information. To suggest a topic, contact Schwartz at 736-2373 or 738-2828, by e-mail at karengleitz@hotmail.com or by regular mail at 5850 Devil’s Elbow Road NW, Corydon, IN 47112.