Stories Behind The Buckeye State
Tuesday November 21st 2017

Rock Mill – Bloom Township, Ohio


There is simply no end to the amazing locations in Ohio listed on the National Historic Register. One of the most striking that I’ve had the chance to visit is Rock Mill in Fairfield County. About a 40 minute drive from Columbus and 15 minutes from the heart of Lancaster, Rock Mill sits along small limestone cliffs above the Hocking River. It’s continued restoration is a testament to the pride the community takes in their heritage.

The First Rock Mill

Twenty three years had passed since the American Revolution and the countries inhabitance were slowly trickling westward into the the wild frontier of the Ohio Territory. Fairfield County was a prime place for settlers from the east. It featured rich, fertile soil and was in close proximity to both the national road and the newly developing Ohio canal systems. As the surrounding community grew so did their need for services. At the time farmers had to travel to Pennsylvania or Kentucky to find the nearest mill. Enter two local business men by the names of Joespeh Loveland and Hezekiah Smith. They bought a small piece of land on the Hockhocking River (now the Hocking River) and set to work building a small log timber grist mill down in the gorge. It was completed in 1799 and prospered on the ever increasing business from local farmers until a flood in 1820 destroyed it.

Rock Mill Rebuilt

Photo from visitfairfieldcounty.org

The second Rock Mill was rebuilt sometime between 1820 to 1824 (various sources cite various dates) by Christian Morehart. What is for certain is that by 1824 the new larger mill rose four stories above the limestone banks of the Hocking River. Workers with nothing more than hand tools had to remove over 100 square feet of limestone rock to create a recess for the new water wheel.

This mill also prospered thanks to the local farming community. It was updated several times over the years both to advancements in technology as well as destructive flooding. In the late 1890’s flood waters washed away the water wheel. With no means to power the mill an updated water turbine was installed allowing for much greater efficiency.  The water turbine was replaced after on two years with a steam engine. The photo to the right was taken around 1902 and shows a smoke stack for the steam engine. The mill changed hands many times over the years and eventually closed for good in 1907.

Rock Mill Rotting & Restoration

Rock Mill in 1991. Photo by Brenda Krekeler

After it’s closure Rock Mill sat dormant for an entire century. Time and the elements wreaked havoc on the once majestic structure. An effort was made in 1963 to sell the mill for use as a public park but the $25,000 asking price was deemed too high and the property continued to change hands and deteriorate.

Though it did not become a state park the property was eventually deeded to Fairfield County by then owner Robert Stebelton in 2003. Stebelton had purchased the property 10 years prior and worked to stabilize the mill but knew it needed more then he could accomplish by himself.

The county parks department has been steadily working towards a complete restoration of Rock Mill. Since 2003 they have refinished the outside of the building and are working towards a goal of of opening the mill back up to the public. The restoration has been paid for by a combination of donations, grants, and a levy passed in 2011. Plans call for a newly built water wheel to be installed in September of 2012.

See It For Yourself
Rock Mill is about 40 minutes from Columbus, Ohio. There isn’t a proper parking lot but space can be found to park near the dead end of the road. Be sure to check out the Rock Mill Covered Bridge while you are there which is also located on the property and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Sources:
“Ohio Historical Dictionary” – North American Book Dist LLC
“Rock Mill, A Gristmill Too Important To Abandon” – Author Unknown
Foorgenalogy.com – Rock Mill History
“Claim Price Put on Historic Mill is Beyond Reason” – Newark Advocate
Visitfairfieldcounty.org – Rock Mill & Covered Bridge

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