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Hite’s Mill memories: Grist for the countryside

SoVaNow.com / July 09, 2014
In the woods near Aaron’s Creek, just off White House Road, there is the stone foundation of Hite’s Mill. It is one of the many grist and sawmills that once dotted the creek that forms the border between Mecklenburg and Halifax counties. Today, the once-thriving mill is reduced to a mislabeled dot on a Mecklenburg County map — a long-forgotten remnant of an important business for the farmers who populated the area. A Mecklenburg County map misnamed the site “Height’s Mill.”

For brothers Cornelius and Andrew Seamons, whose father ran the mill for many years, Hite’s Mill was the center of their lives. Today, though little remains of the mill, it is a site filled with fond memories of growing up in the countryside.

The gristmill burned down, to the best of the brothers’ memories, in the early 1960s. The sawmill, which was also on the property, was torn down by the Virginia Department of Transportation when an old wooden bridge crossing Aaron’s Creek near the mill site was replaced with a new steel bridge.

To keep the memory of Hite’s Mill alive, Andrew Seamons built a cardboard replica of the gristmill building. He also writes stories about life as a miller’s son, some of which have been published in the newspapers around Powhatan where he now lives.

Andrew and his older brother Cornelius do not know when the original gristmill was built, though Cornelius believes it was post-Civil War. Their father Andrew Easley Seamons, who was born in 1891, became the miller at Hite’s Mill in the 1920s. Archibald Cornelius “Niche” Hite owned it, and this particular mill was unique for several reasons.

First, it was three mills in one. In the main building, they would grind corn in one section and wheat in another. Cornelius remembers the grinding wheels were at least 5 feet in diameter and were hand-turned and maintained.

Up the hill, closer to the dam, there was also a sawmill. Nearby the sawmill was a manually operated water diverter that directed the flow of water from Aaron’s Creek to either the gristmill or the sawmill.

These mills were also unique in that neither relied solely on water power to operate. Despite their proximity to Aaron’s Creek and the dam, a turbine attached to an old McCormick tractor powered the mills. When the water pressure was too low, Andrew said that their father would crank up the tractor. A belt running from the tractor turned the turbine, which turned the grinding stones or the saw blades at the respective mills.

Their father operated both mills on two different occasions, according to Andrew. He briefly tried his hand at farming in the early 1930s, but, in the words of Andrews, “he barely made enough to pay for the fertilizer.”

In 1936, the elder Seamons returned to Hites Mill.

In addition to running the grist and sawmills, Andrew said his father did all of the maintenance and repair work on the buildings and equipment. He also dressed the stone — re-cutting it to keep the cutting surfaces sharp. For his labors, Andrew said he believes his father received only a miller’s toll from the people who brought wood or grain to the mill. He does not recall his father being paid by the mill owner.

Strolling around the site, the brothers point to the spot in the creek where they were baptized and the outcropping of rocks that marked the site of their favorite swimming hole. A nearby sandbar marked the location where their mother used to bring the “wash pot” to launder the family’s clothes.

Andrew shared one of his favorite memories while standing near the site of what he calls the “warming house.” It was a small building set into the side of the hill, away from the mill. “It was the only place where fire was allowed, and it was where my daddy came to warm his hands and feet during the colder months.” Andrew recalled.

It is also where he learned never to chew tobacco.

One day, when Andrew was about 7 or 8 years of age, he and his father were “sharing some silent warming moments together” in the shed. Andrew said he became enamored of the tobacco plug his father pulled from a back pocket and placed in his mouth. As he watched his father savor his chew, Andrew said he began to wonder what it must taste like.

Andrew said his father offered him a piece to try. “I slowly put the small piece of tobacco in my mouth. It tasted sweet and I begin slowly to chew. Hmm, sweet and different, I thought. After about a minute or two, I begin to feel lightheaded and dizzy. After several more minutes, I knew that this was not my ‘cup of tea. Daddy was looking at me and I think he was smiling. He knew I was feeling the effects of the tobacco. I spit the tobacco into the fireplace as I tried slowly to sit down. I remember him saying, ‘Shaver [a nickname his father used to call Andrew], would you like another chaw’ or something to that effect. My answer was a woozy ‘no sir’.”

The elder Seamons stopped milling in 1949. Sons Andrew and Cornelius grew up and went off to war and then college. Cornelius returned to the area, spending many years working at another famous local mill, Burlington Mills. Andrew, whose career was in information systems, spent most of his adult years working in the Washington, D.C. area for both GEICO Insurance Company and the Federal Reserve. Yet, neither forgot the mill.

The two often stop by the mill site for a visit when Andrew returns home.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Aaron’s Creek was the water source for at least five, possibly six mills – Hite’s Mill, Apple’s Mill, Willard’s Mill, Amos Mill, Poole’s Mill and possibly another mill near Midway. The brothers believe that Hite’s Mill was the last one to operate, and it was the most intact, until an early 1960s fire destroyed it.

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Pictures of whatever is left and the remade model. Important.

Comments

Great story. Archer Cornelius "Nish" Hite was my great grandfather. I've been familiar with this site for a long time but this is the best description of the actual mill works that I've heard. Thank you for publishing this. Paul Coleman

Comments

Another fascinating and well-written article by Susan Kyte. I think she's the best journalist in Southside Virginia.


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