I am writing a 3 part series of articles for the weekly history column in the Louisville Courier-Journal. For the first part I included more diary entries from John to his father, Rob Morris. Here is the article. (The photograph is from our archives at the Oldham County History Center- it is a image of the Browns Mill on Curry’s Fork in Oldham County- no longer there.
Nancy Stearns Theiss
The explosion of technology that resulted from WWII distanced our connections from things that sustain us. We no longer needed to shovel the coal to the furnace, cut wood to heat the fireplace, pump the water from the cistern or grow the wheat to grind into flour. Most folks (who remembered doing those years- now few and far between) pray gratefully to be distanced from those labor intensive tasks. But as we have forgotten the connections to things that sustain us it has come with great cost. The mass production of “things”, most of which are not sustainable, have created an explosion of problems. We no longer need to identify the soils, or water, or trees, or plants in our backyard. These basics of knowledge grounded our brains to the places we lived. The knowledge became a blueprint for our brains that connected how things operated in the world which revealed a pattern of reliance that some call ecological thinking.
Gristmills and watermills are examples of the way that people worked through the environments where they lived in the past. You grew your wheat or corn. Then you threshed the seeds from the wheat or you shucked (often by hand) the kernels of corn. You loaded the seeds and kernels on a wagon, driving it by ox or horse to the local mill. Most counties in Kentucky had 20 or more mills. Mills were powered by water. It took time to grind the wheat or corn. The mills were simple machines that operated by gears and wheels and shafts. The mill was an example of mechanics and physics which became another lesson for the community. The mills were also places where you meet, you greet and you gossip. The following are some excerpts from diary entries written by John Morris who lived by a mill.
In 1857 John Morris was 14 years old. He was the oldest son of Charlotte and Rob Morris. At the time, his family lived at Lodgeton, Ky. between Hickman and Fulton, in the far western corner of the state. John’s father, Rob, who later became Poet Laureate of Freemasonry in the 19th Century, traveled extensively and John was “in charge” of the family when his father was absent.
In a series of letters and diary entries to his father, John described life at Lodgeton often referring to the local mill as a source of community news. The following excerpts from John’s diaries to his Father describe activities around the mill.
Aug. 11, 1857
My Dear Father
Mr. Cincey has bought the largest pile of wheats I ever seen. He has got the mill all full just room enough for the machinery and a path to walk about in and he is filling up the old store house with wheat. He runs the mill night and day just as hard as he can. One of his negros run a way and he has not caught him yet. He offers 150 dollars for him, dead or alive and there is a good many men after him so eager for the 150 dollars.
Wednesday, Aug 1857
The mill run all night again last night. It has not stopped.
Today was a very pretty day although it was a little cool in the morning and evening. Alfred (John’s younger brother) has been shelling corn all day till a while after dinner. He had to go and help lead some wagons with wheat over at the orchards to haul to Hickman to be shipped to New Orleans. Mr. Cincey didn’t buy it. I went up to the mill this evening to look around. Everything looks well- a weeks steady running makes a good deal of differences.
Tuesday, August 25
The weather has been very disagreeable for it has rained all day so that you could not get about. The mill has been running all day and is still going. It ran faster today than I ever seen it before. They have took the rocks off that they run all last week to sharpen them and run the others awhile. Mr. Cincey has not received any wheat this week and says he is not going to receive any for he has got the mill and the old store house piled up.
Today was as pretty a day as I have seen in a long time but some too hot. The mill has been running all day, they are out of barrels and they have the flour to sack up in sacks but it is not as good as barrels.
Sept. 2, 1857
It has been another good day. The mill has been running all day grinding wheat. I went up there this evening and went up in the fourth story of the mill house and one of the wings of the fan had broke and stopped the fan and the band had rubbed the wheel till it was right hot.
Monday, Sept. 7, 1857
It has been a very pretty day but hot but good enough to pull fodder. We wanted to commence yesterday but it was so cloudy that we didn’t pull any. I have been helping about the mill today just for fun. I had nothing else to do. Mr. Cincey has gone after his negro. He is up about Chicago.
Wednesday, Sept. 9, 1857
Today has not been such a pretty day as the other two days in this week but this is always the way in fodder pulling time and there is lots of people got fodder pulled down. I stuck up at the mill all night last night and I did not go to bed till after twelve o’clock.
Saturday, Sept. 12, 1957
Today was as fine a day as you ever seen for this time and that is generally wet weather. The mill did not run all day on account of the hands. They are all knocked up by not getting sleep enough and they give them half the day to sleep in.
Next week’s column focuses on Ben Hassett who restores watermills and windmills across the United States. Now settled in Louisville, Ben will discuss his projects including the restoration of the watermill on a farm in Louisville.
You can contact Nancy at: firstname.lastname@example.org