Recently the subject of Bears Mill, a historic working grist mill located on Arcanum-Bears Mill Road, was brought up by one of our friends- Mark and Cindi Stoltz. Mark’s ancestors were owners of the mill way back in 1873 and also with another owner until 1884.
Mark shared his family history with me and in this blog I would like to share with our readers about this unique place in history as well as the importance of grist mills in the settling of the area.
For those of you new to the area or the mill please take the time to read about the general history of the mill on their website: https://www.bearsmill.org/millhistory. Bears Mill is a non-profit so please support them and take a tour if you haven’t visited before or recently.
Here is a brief time line of the mill and its owner’s, property of Bears Mill:
1824~ President James Monroe presented Major George Adams the land and water rights at the mill site with a Presidential Deed as reward for his military service
1832~ Major George Adams established the mill site with a sawmill and corn cracker mill.
1848~ The present mill building was constructed by Moses and Manning Hart from Greenville.
1849~ Gabriel Baer, a miller from Pennsylvania purchased the mill from the feuding Hart brothers. Baer’s son and son-in-law managed the mill.
1862~ Jesse Tillman and John Townsend purchased the business for $8000.00.
1864~ A progression of owners followed between 1864~1873: William Townsend (John Townsend’s son?), Milton and James Oliver, William Bierly, John Tillman (Jesse Tillman’s son), Adam Coppess, Levi Reck and Milton Oliver.
1873~ John Stoltz and Family purchased a large share of the mill.
1882~ G.W. Cromer bought a share and turned Bears Mill into a roller mill.
1884~ Marcellus Cromer (G.W. Cromer’s son), purchased John Stoltz’ share of the mill. Marcellus Cromer operated the mill for 65 years, until his death in 1947.
1922~ The wooden dams were replaced with concrete as part of a flood control project. There are two dams. The main dam is 160′. The second dam is 65′ long. They are connected by a natural levee.
1947 ~ Charles Andrews purchased the mill and ground wheat and corn that were organically grown without chemicals.
1975~ Bears Mill is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1979~ Terry and Julie Clark purchased the mill. and owned it for 35 years, as Terry mastered milling and the couple made the mill an attractive tourist and local attraction by adding the gallery, enhancing the store, replacing the siding and preserving the mill to the beautiful condition you see today.
2000 ~ The Friends of Bears Mill is established as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization to preserve the mills historic significance & maintenance needs
Through the Friends of Bears Mill and generous donations from supporters like you, Bears Mill is re-sided with new American Black Walnut, preserving it for generations to come.
2013 ~ The Friends of Bears Mill obtained the Clean Ohio Fund Grant to purchase the Mill and surrounding land.
Mills were important back in the early times of our country and area. Some of my ancestors were into milling in Lancaster County, PA, primarily the Binkley family and possibly the Culbertson family as well. The Binkley’s sold their mill at Millport, PA around 1830’s. Several generations down in the family Johnson Binkley supposedly owned a mill in Manor Twp, Lancaster County PA. Still trying to verify this by documents.
In most areas’, including our own Darke County and vicinity, the mills were social hot spots where the men folk hung out and did “man games” and drinking while they visited and waited for their grain to be ground. Corn was a staple of the diet for their meals and livestock as well as cash crop and sometimes the exchange included spirits. Both were highly tradeable. Often a portion of the grain was kept in payment by the mill for the payment of the grinding.
The mill also served as the post office. Letters were dropped off here by people before the postal office was set up and were also exchanged. Many roads were constructed “by the mill”. This info was cited in the Lewisburg Sesquicentennial Book.
In the “History of Darke County 1880” we read about different mills in the county. A problem with “water” mills was that when the creek or water was low the mill couldn’t run. It mentions that wheat was taken to the mouth of Greenville Creek, to Milton or Whitewater to be ground. Oftentimes it was left to be ground which resulted in a 2 day trip for the settler. The book tells of the steam mill near Palestine but in dry weather with no water everyone went to the Stillwater.
Weimer’s Mill, which once stood on 571 west of Greenville, was torn down in 1964.
In Adams Township, the township Bears Mill is located, we read about Abraham Studebaker having a mill in section 33 where Stolz and Coppess also owned later. Another mill was Adams Mill which spoke of the mill as a grocery, where whiskey and tobacco were sold. Shooting matches, quoit throwing and occasional fist fights were common. From the time line this is possibly the Adams Mill they speak of being the first mill before Bears Mill.
Most in the area went to Covington and the “falls” for better ground grain.
My ancestor was Jacob Michael who lived also in Adams Township just southeast of the mill on Miller Road in section 34. He purchased this farm around 1826 after serving in War of 1812 and moved here from Preble County with his wife Sarah Rynard. Both are buried in Martin Cemetery off Culbertson Road and had numerous children. Jacob died 1882 so it’s possible he seen and used the original “first” mill and the present Bears Mill and perhaps even knew the Stoltz family.
In southern Darke County, the first steam grist mill was built in Ithaca by Caswell Sharp. Watson West or Wert according to old plat map came after. There are now three grist mills in the township during the writing of this book in 1880 per the “History of Darke County”.
In the Arcanum Business book we read about the Arcanum Milling Company was began in 1896. It was also known as the Smith Milling and Grain Co., and later Arco Mills. It was destroyed by fire in 1937. The mill operated near the Big Four Railroad and sat where the Ormes Hardware store sits today. The mill’s address was 214 South Main Street.
Another mill was located at North Main covering 209, 211, 213 and 215 properties. It started out as the Voorhes, Shepherd and Bros. Grist Mill and Distillery in 1857. It had various names such as Arcanum Star Mills aka Ivester Mills owned by George Ivester and later Arcanum Star Mills. It was torn down in 1915.
Back to the Stoltz family: We find John Stoltz, father, was married to Susan Mariah Horner. John was born in PA, died in Covington and is buried at Greenville Union Cemetery in 1895. His two sons were David and John McKee. David is buried at Casstown Cemetery and John at Greenville Union Cemetery. John’s stone from Find-a-grave: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/152427435/john-stoltz
From Mark Stoltz, descendant of David Harrison Stoltz:
“John Stoltz history of Bear Mill (Baer Mill). John Stoltz was a co-owner with Mr. Comer. His share of Mill is not certain but no other member of Stoltz household had shares or ownership to the Mill. John Stoltz was a second generation born in American whose birth was in or near Mount Joy, PA. John’s father Henry Stoltz came to Oh in the early 1800’s. John’s father and mother were Henry Sr. and Elizabeth (Coldren). Henry’s father and mother were Johannes Michael and Anna Barbara (Horschaar) both born in Germany. John Sr. Stoltz’s sons David Harrison and John Mckee never had any shares or ownership with the Mill.
David Stoltz first wife was Mary Meehan ( not Meeker as some records indicate). My lineage is from David Harrison Stoltz. The verbal testimony of an elder grandson of David Harrison Stoltz second wife Molly said that David said he and his brother John McKee distanced themselves from John their father because he did not either allow them in inherit or buy the share he had in Bear Mill.”
Photo Mill Annette Stewart
We hope you have enjoyed reading about milling in the early days and mills that were in the area including Bears Mill.
Anyone with old photos of the mills or families please contact Annette Stewart at AWTHS.
If you have a “milling” ancestor we would love to hear your stories and memories.
Please see AWTHS copyright of this and all blogs on AWTHS website and Facebook.
Written by Annette Stewart, August 2020.