Water-Powered Mills Were Once Used By Many Russell County Industries
Old Mills Were Important To Paper, Textile, And Oil Industries
Times-Journal - Ca. 1975
Russell County's heritage is steeped in industrial enterprise, and Russell County continues to play host to a number of important manufacturing concerns. Perhaps the major difference between the early industries and those located in the county now is relative to number and size. In the early part of the county's history, due to the problem of transportation, industries were of necessity located closer to the consumers. For this reason, the textile and milling industry found it profitable to organize a number of small operations in order to serve the needs of the county's residents.
Since the county had its beginning in the Creelsboro area, there were a number of small water-powered industries in and around this region; however, because of the topography of the land, the streams running through the rich river bottoms lacked the necessary force to drive any large water-powered projects. This, though, was not the case in the Jamestown area. Greasy Creek presented an excellent (if not the best) place for local industry to locate. In particular, that portion of Greasy Creek between the old Highway 127 bridge and the bridge on Moore's Schoolhouse Road was especially well-suited for harnassing, for the stream drops 150 feet as it travels from Moore's Schoolhouse to the present 127 highway crossing. This sudden drop created an unlimited number of possible water-powered locations. During peak stream flow in the winter, some enterprising operators were able to produce more than 100 horsepower from turbines as small as 15 inches.
The first industry to locate on Greasy Creek was a pulp paper mill, around 1800. This project, using the stream for both water power and raw material for the production of paper, was located just below the existing Moore's Schoolhouse Road Bridge. There is evidence that this business operated successfully for a number of years, possibly until 1823. In fact, the earliest recorded deeds in Russell County, which at that time was a portion of Green County, were recorded on paper produced by this mill. They still exist in the Green County Courthouse at this time. Evidently these early paper manufacturers produced a very durable product, for a number of these deeds are nearly 200 years old. According to reliable sources, this mill produced enough paper that sales were not restricted to a local basis. There is evidence that the paper was rafted down the Cumberland River to the Tennessee and finally up the Ohio to its destination at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Evidently the owners of this mill produced a product of high demand, for shipping at that time presented a problem, especially when traveling up stream.
Unfortunately the owner or owners of this project, like many early industries, remain unknown. For this reason, the paper mill is simply known by its deed title, "The Old Paper Mill Tract."
Greasy Creek has also been the site of a number of textile industries. This has been the most significant enterprise ever endeavored upon the stream. Even now, there are remains of a project that started before 1824, known as "The Old Farmer's Woolen Mill."
This project was created by English immigrants skilled in both mechanics and textiles, and presumably, some of the early Sharp ancestors. Very little is known about this first mill, except that it was powered by a small overshot water wheel and that the dam across the creek was built of hand-hewn timbers joined by wooden pegs. A portion of this dam used to exist below the present mill site. During a big flood, it burst and was swept downstream. It is not known whether or not this mill was successfully operated or even if the original owners rebuilt the dam after its destruction.
The old Nelson Mill near the head of Lily Creek, just south of Jamestown, as it appeared in the early 1900s. This famed Russell County landmark was torn away around 1942, but the dam is still partially intact.
This site next became the concern of joint ownership, Patterson and Meadows, and was operated in this fashion until around 1877. Much like the first operation, this mill was powered by a wooden water wheel, and the dam was also constructed of wood. Sources report that Patterson and Meadows also suffered the misfortune of having their dam carried away by floods; however, there is evidence that these hearty businessmen quickly rebuilt their operation and continued their production of textile products.
In 1877 the Reese family became owners of the woolen mill operation. Even though the woolen industry is now defunct, the Reeses have continued ownership. The textile industry in Russell County was at its peak production at this time, and in keeping with this, a huge 24-foot overshot water wheel was installed to provide power for the mill's looms. Not only were improvements made in the power production at the mill, there were also a number of new buildings erected. These, of course, were totally hand-constructed.
A flood occurred in 1914 that demolished the existing wooden dam. At this time, the first permanent dam was constructed. This construction was, at the very least, a marvel of engineering technology and a great deal of good horse sense. The dam was constructed of huge blocks of hand-hewn powder rock (an extremely hard type of limestone). These blocks, weighing as much as three tons each, were lifted using handmade block-and-tackle into place.
This dam, the largest ever constructed on Greasy Creek, was 230 feet long and 14 feet high with wooden sluice gates mortised in place. Perhaps that this dam has endured up until the present time lies in the fact that, like most major dams (Wolf Creek for instance), it is built semicircular; a design that incorporates the strongest pattern possible.
The greater storage capacity created by this dam made it possible for the Reese family to operate two projects from the same power source. In the early 20th century, Mr. Esco Reese installed the first turbine in Russell County to operate a sawmill. The installation of this turbine, a Lefelle-type only 15 inches in diameter, created quite a stir. People accustomed to water wheels as large as 30 feet did not believe such a small machine could be capable of powering the huge saws necessary to rip hardwood logs.
The Reese sawmill with its diminutive turbine proved a complete success. At times of peak stream flow, the Reeses were able to produce 100 horsepower from the small turbine and to also operate the woolen mill at peak production. Convinced of the effectiveness of turbine-powered machinery, Mr. Reese undertook to install 30 or 40 such turbines for other businesses in the next several years.
Around the turn of the century, or perhaps a little earlier, another mill was built downstream of the existing mill site. This enterprise, built by the Carnes family and later known as the Carnes-Reese Mill, engaged in the production of flour and meal. The dam for this mill was situated near the mouth of Joby Creek and was above the big falls. Not a great deal is known about this operation, except that the mill began producing flour and meal using the traditional stones. Later the mill was converted to steel rollers and made use of a hammer mill.
Greasy Creek evidently proved to be an excellent place for grist milling. Below the existing Highway 127 bridges, another operation was created and known as the Wooldridge Mill. This business was the last mill constructed on Greasy Creek, and consequently, it did not operate long enough to make any notable history.
Probably the most unusual business for Russell County to host was once located on Greasy Creek. Few Russell Countians know that a foundry operated for a time on Greasy Creek and produced stoves. This enterprise was located at or near the existing bridges, and at times of low water, the location is discernable by the rusty-looking soil and the scattered remains of the foundry's ash pit. Even though this appears to be a very strange business for Russell County, the ironworks, nonetheless, operated quite successfully for a time.
Raw materials for the mill (iron ore and coal) were locally produced, mined not too far from Greasy Creek, on the Wooldridge Schoolhouse Road and in the lower end of the county near Creelsboro. Iron ore was also hauled by team and wagon from nearby Clinton County. Sources claim that the majority of the foundry's coal also arrived from Clinton County. The creek itself was not primarily used in the production of pig iron, but in the manufacture of stoves. The creek was employed to provide power for the foundry's forges.
Power Plants Planned
Greasy Creek has played host to a number of successful businesses in the past. At one time, the Texas-Louisiana Power & Light Company contemplated building a number of turbine-powered powerhouses along the creek to supply Russell County with electricity. This plan almost became reality, for company officials visited the stream a number of times, and engineers were consulted regarding the optimum location of the power sites. These engineers also consulted mill owners, in particular Mr. Reese, about the potential of the operation, but before construction could be started, the plan was abandoned. Probably Texas-Louisiana Power & Light officials knew of the proposed construction of Wolf Creek Dam. The eventual impoundment would ruin Greasy Creek for any possible power sites.
Russell County is rich in history concerning the Industrial Revolution of the early 20th century. In particular, the introduction of the gasoline engine and the subsequent oil boom gave rise to at least one successful business in the county. Russell County's only oil refinery was erected in the 1920s by the Carnah Company and was located on the Creelsboro Road, just above what is now the Jack Miller farm.
According to reports, crude oil was transported by wagon from the Creelsboro area and, to a lesser extent, from other parts of the county. Here the crude oil was placed in handmade distilling vats. These vats rested on limestone kilns and were heated by hardwood fires. The heat applied to the vats of crude oil caused the lighter petroleum products (gasoline and kerosene) to vaporize and collect in the tops of the covered tanks. Then in order to collect the vaporized gasoline, a water well was drilled, and the cool water was applied to the coils causing the distilled gasoline to liquify. The process was not unlike the practice many moonshiners used.
The refinery itself was not too large and occupied probably not more than an acre of land. At its peak production, it housed at least four or five distilling tanks. At one time, production became so great that it was necessary to sink another water well for the purpose of adding extra cooling water.
Not too much is left of this refinery today, but amid the scrub cedar and honeysuckle that abound on the hillside, it is still possible to find the large limestone kilns used to heat the crude oil. The iron casings for the cooling wells still protrude from the ground.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the engineering operation is found in the manner in which the refined gasoline and kerosene were transported from the refinery to the river landing for an awaiting steamboat. The refinery is about one-half mile from the river, and through a system of pipes, the refined products were carried, solely by gravity, to the awaiting holds of a steamboat. By using the available lay of the land, all pumps were eliminated.
It is obvious that Russell County's industrial concerns have never reached their potential, but it is apparent that the earlier residents of the county proved to be far more enterprising. They exploited the natural resources of Russell County to a greater advantage than their heirs.