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Eli Cox Sawmill (1857)


Posted By: Kent Transier (email)
Date: 5/11/2011 at 12:21:32

Winterset News
September 15, 1927

(Original document submitted for transcription and posting by Kory Darnall)

The Cox Sawmill

The following history of an old sawmill was read at the Cox family reunion by Alfred Cox of Union Township who now lives on the place formerly owned by his father and mother, Eli and Mary Cox. Many of the early buildings on the farm were built of lumber sawed by the old Cox mill and its history is of much interest.

I can well remember when a little boy I often went with the older boys or hired men on their trips hauling lumber or other building material. The creeks and rivers had to be forded as there was but few bridges in those days. Father was away from home most of the time building school houses, dwellings or barns for the early pioneer settlers. The roads ran up ravines out of river bottoms over the hill and across the prairies without regard to section or any other line. We were told last year about the old saw mill being transported from Keokuk by ox and horse teams. The history of the old mill was just begun.

The mill was very different from the saw mills of today. After the machine was on the ground, the next thing was to build a house for the mill. Father and his man went to the timber and cut and hauled great logs to the mill site. These logs were hewed and framed into a building 24 feet wide, 60 feet long, and two stories high. The engine and the boiler occupied the ground floor. The great saw which cut the lumber was on the upper floor which was several feet above the ground.

The logs to be sawed into lumber were hauled up an inclined track by means of a large cable which was attached to the machinery of the mill. After the frame of the mill was built, logs were hauled for enough floor to support the machinery on the upper floor. Then father employed a millwright to install the machinery. This took several weeks but at last the mill was ready to run. By this time it was getting late in the fall of 1857. An engineer was employed, a Mr. Henry Vanwyoe (Vanwy), one of the fine young men of the neighborhood.

Father and the engineer first sawed lumber to finish the flooring and roofing of the mill. Then came the work of sawing lumber and building the little two room house that was to be the home for the next ten years. At this time there were seven children, two grandmothers and with father and mother made 11 in all to occupy the new little house. Again let me say we cannot realize the inconveniences and hardships the ancestors had to contend with. They moved into the new house the following spring. The great fireplace in one end with the huge back log and blazing up toward the ceiling mad the little house a cheerful place to live.

By this time the neighbors had hauled such an immense pile of logs that it looked as if the little old saw mill would never get them all sawed into lumber. From that time on, there was never a time when there were not logs in the old mill yard. Since Grandfather was away from home so much, he had to depend upon hired help until brother John was old enough to do sawing. John was the head sawyer as long as he remained at home which was a number of years. Then Mr. S. (Seth) W. Barrow was employed. He was John and Sam Barrow's father. Mr. Barrow ran the saw mill a number of years. Then came brother George who was head sawyer as long as father kept the mill. Brother Amos also was chief engineer for a time. So ends the career of the old mill.

It seems that Father could not do without a sawmill for he soon bought another small portable affair that could be moved around quite easily. The farm has nearly always had a sawmill. We have a small mill on the farm now.

Coordinator's note: Transcribed and edited for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and pertinence of content.


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