Madison County, Iowa



By H. A. Mueller

Some of this information was taken from the book, The History of Madison County, Iowa, Herman August Mueller, 1915, pages 150–55. — Judy Wight Branson


Pre-1850 Mills

When the first settlers arrived here in 1846 they were many miles from either a saw or grist mill and were compelled to go to Oskaloosa or Parmalee’s Mill in Warren County for corn meal or flour, which at that time meant hardships and many risks. The mills were very primitive, being built of logs, covered with clapboards and floored with puncheons, but as the country began to settle there at once sprung up a demand for saw and grist mills. This article will only mention the mills run by water power, of which many were built in this county but have long since passed away.

The first mill erected in the county was what was known as a corn cracker. It was created by Hart & Hinkley on the present site of Buffalo Mill. It was a rude affair, constructed of logs, and the dam was equally primitive, being made of brush. The burrs were made from boulders. Although grinding was slow, the service of this old mill in a measure met the demands of the settlers, especially during the hard winter of 1848-49.

Some other mills were projected, as a clipping from the Iowa Star, published at Des Moines, shows. The Correspondent probably was A. D. Jones, and his article reads as follows: “Winterset, April 30, 1850. There are already five mills in process of erection in Madison County, one of which has commenced grinding with one run of large burrs and is doing a good business. The proprietors are Messrs. Simmons & Casebier, and anticipate their sawmill will be in active operation some time during the summer. This mill is situated on Middle River about a half mile south of the county seat (Buffalo Mill).

“Mr. Jessup is building a grist, saw and carding mill on the stream about four miles below (Weller Mill). Mr. Bertholf has his building and draw partly done and will be able to grind and saw after harvest. This mill is also situated on Middle River, about two and a half miles from town (Afton Bridge Mill).John Hagy’s sawmill would have been in full operation ere this had not sickness prevented (smallpox broke out among the workmen in this mill that boarded at Thornburgs). This mill is also situated on the Middle River, about four miles from Winterset (at Drake’s Ford, Lincoln Township), and yet another is building on North River, erected by William Combs, on section 12, Douglas Township. This county is certainly a very desirable place for a few skilful millwrights, who could undoubtedly obtain immediate employment.”

Thus, it is seen by the above that within four years from the first settlement five mills were in process of building and about 1860 many more were erected along the streams, which today are all gone and there is scarcely a mark left to show where once was such a busy life as usually existed in and about these industrial concerns.

Reigle Mill

Briefly, the location of these mills, who built them and when they ceased to be operated, will be mentioned. On North Branch of North River there was one mill – a sash, or what is known as an “up and down” sawmill, built by Jacob Reigle, about 1854-5. It was located on the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of section 35, Jefferson Township, and cost a considerable sum of money. It did quite a bit of sawing but never proved a profitable investment. The mill was last run by John Wiggins, about 1972. He also had attached a burr and ground corn meal and feed. The structure was washed away about 1874.

David Barrow Mill

On North River, the first one on the east was David Barrow’s corn mill, situated on the north half of the northeast quarter of section 2, Union Township. There is no longer a stream here but a bayou just below a small bridge. In 1854 Mr. Barrow constructed a dam, put up a small shack and installed a run of burrs. The power was obtained from water. This continued to furnish meal for the neighborhood until about 1870.

Eli Cox Mill

Located in Section 5 of Union Township, the Eli Cox sawmill was a steam driven mill run by his sons and for a time, employed Seth Barrow. The mill was installed and functioning by 1857. See the story of this mill in our documents section.

Seth Barrow Mill

In 1877 Seth Barrow, son of David Barrow, built a water mill above the Eli Cox bridge, on section 5, Union Township. He sold out to Alfred Brittain in 1879, who operated the mill until 1881, at which time the high water cut around the dam, when the mill was abandoned

Combs Mill

The Combs mill, mention in the communication of Jones, was built by William Combs in 1849-50, near the west line of section 13, Douglas Township. This was an “up and down” sawmill and also a corn cracker. It was operated until 1857, when the dam was washed out by the flood of that year. Jonathan Myers, Myers, son of Alexander Myers, was drowned below the old dam in 1853, while getting a grist ground; he had gone in bathing. Parts of the mill stood until 1858, and even later; some of the logs are to be seen today. The two burrs are in possession of O. L. Evans.

Sulgrove Mill

The Sulgrove mill - a sash sawmill - was built in 1856, by the Sulgroves, on the south side of the stream on the north half of the southeast quarter of section 9, Douglas Township, above the present Sulgrove bridge. The mill was operated until 1868, when the dam was washed away. The frame of the mill was torn away in 1876 by the high waters.

Wood’s Mill

An “up and down” sawmill was built in the fall of 1851 by Gilbert D. Wood, on North River, just below the mouth of the Howerton; that is to say, on section 17, Douglas Township. George B. Chase helped build this mill and operated it. Wood & Chase made the wheel and Mr. Harlan built the frame work. The mill was operated until 1854, when it was destroyed by fire.

Huglin Mill

Huglin’s grist and sawmill stood on the south bank of the Middle River, about the center of the southeast quarter of section 35, Crawford Township. It was built in 1851 by John M. Johns and H. A. Bell. In 1852 John J. Bell and Abner Bell, Jr., brothers, ran it two years. It was later owned by Abner Bell, Jr. and George Jordan. Joachim Huglin bought it in 1866 and built the flouring mill, which continued to run until torn down and moved away in 1879.

Weller Mill

The Weller mill was a saw and grist mill, which was built by Solomon Jessup in 1850, on section 35, Union Township. It was owned and operated in turn by Elisha Weller, Samuel Coltrane, Van Wiggins, A. F. Burger, James Cummins and John Wiggins, until finally purchased by White & Munger, John B. Lamb operated it until 1881, when the dam was washed away.

Campbell Mill

Campbell mill, just above Holliwell bridge, was built in 1851 by Dan Campbell and John Daughtery. Abner Bell and Aaron McKinzie helped on its construction. This was a sash sawmill and was purchased of the original owners in 1855 by Alexander Atkinson, who sold it to Messrs. Moore & Young in 1857. The purchasers were respectively uncle and father of ex-Recorder John T. Young.


Buffalo Mill

The “Buffalo” mill was closely connected with the early history of Madison County. It was built by Hart & Hinkley as a corn cracker. Latter, Simmons, Casebier  & Thornburgh built a sawmill on the west side of the stream in 1851; this was washed away. In 1851 William Compton bought the mill and to it added a grist mill with two run of burrs. He also ran a sawmill, in which he installed a carding machine. It finally became known as the Compton or Buffalo mill, receiving the latter name, so it is said, by reason of Mr. Compton always appearing at his work enveloped in a buffalo overcoat.

Compton continued to run the Buffalo mill until 1874 and to him it was a very profitable enterprise. People came for miles around to get their flour. Sheds were built to accommodate the customers and their teams, for it was necessary in those days for each settler to wait his turn to have his corn ground. The mill was sold to Vermillion & Kleatsch and in the storm of 1880 was almost 

totally wrecked. C. D. Bevington bought Vermillion’s interest and it was rebuilt. Mr. Kleatsch then sold his interest to W. H. Lewis. Many improvements were made to keep up with the times, but the investment proved a financial failure. The mill was sold to Moorehead & J. S. W. Cole and was operated by Thomas Pace. In 1886 the floods washed the dam away and the mill never again was rebuilt. A part of the structure is still standing.





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This page was created on July 23, 2004.
This page was last updated Thursday, 19-Jan-2017 21:37:23 EST .