One of the most fundamental businesses needed in the building of a community back in the 1800s was a sawmill.
In today’s world, it can be difficult to understand their importance because we can run to Home Depot, Menards, Lowe’s and many other merchants and purchase any size and amount of lumber at any time during store hours.
When New Palestine was being shaped as a community, there was an urgency for supplies that were not available, and building materials were at the top of the list.
For this reason, many sawmills and gristmills were founded along the creeks in Sugar Creek Township.
Stephen Bellus constructed both types of these mills in 1828 that remained until 1872. The location was about two miles north of New Palestine. The mills later were owned by Amos Dickerson, Myron Brown, Uriah Emmons, George Kingery and Lewis Burk.
South of Philadelphia, a mill was built and stood until around 1865. It was along Sugar Creek and was run by Black and Brother. James Smith’s sawmill found its home on Little Sugar Creek in about 1850. I was unable to determine how long this mill was in business.
At about this same time, Lewis Burk started a mill on Sugar Creek. It was located a half-mile north east of New Palestine. Other owners of this mill were David Ulrey, John Kingery, Henry Ashcraft, James Boyce and Jim Murnan.
During dry seasons the mill’s dependence on water proved threatening to its production. In the late 1800s, John Pitcher came forward with a threshing engine that would change all of that.
John loved to run his mill late into the evenings, and children would gather, as they had found the area a fascinating place to play.
He also ran a pipe from a discovered spring where people would visit. Pitcher was a very inventive person of the day.
Thomas Tuttle created another gristmill and sawmill in the New Palestine area around 1857. It was located two miles southwest of the town. About one half-mile northeast of New Palestine was the Gemmer & Vogel mill.
A gristmill was erected in New Palestine in 1856. It was owned by Henry Gates and William Ball. It was later purchased by Scott & Davis. Other owners were Joseph Conner, Charles F. Richman, Adam T. Hogle, Benjamin F. Wilson, Elbert Helms, Hayden Pierson and William Eaton, and the company Fralich and Waltz. It caught on fire and was destroyed in 1886 while it was owned by Wilson, and then it was rebuilt.
The town of Gem had a sawmill built in 1871. It also burned in 1879, was rebuilt and ran until the early 1900s. The grain elevator was built around 1902 and still stands to this day on Gem Road, about one half-mile south of the U.S. 40.
Another sawmill was built in the west end of New Palestine in 1878. It was constructed close to the railroad tracks by Fred Gessler. This mill was later bought by Geroge Walters and operated until about 1910. The mill made buck saw handles and chair arms. The contract for these items was with E.C. Adkins Saw Co. It’s been said Mr. Walters had a thriving business.
In 1889 a planting-mill and bent-wood factory was built in New Palestine. It was purchased by James Madison, who grew the business and enlarged the facility.
There were many more mills built in the area, but I tried to mention the ones nearest to New Palestine. If you would like to learn more about sawmills and gristmills, you can find more information in the “History of Hancock County, Indiana” by George J. Richman.
I can remember a saw-mill about two blocks from my home when I was growing up. I would sneak off with the neighboring children and gather there. Playing in piles of sawdust was so much fun, until I got home. The sap from the wood stuck to our clothing, and my mother would be very upset I had chosen to play in the wood dust. Sorry, Mom.
I always look forward to looking back, and I hope you enjoyed the adventure. I can imagine the great many trees that covered the area that had to be cleared when our forefathers decided to settle here. The sawmills helped recycle the dense forests that surrounded the area into structures to protect people from the elements. Mills were such an important part of history to developing communities.