By: Felice Hancock
One of the many fascinating aspect of the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers is how man harnessed the water to assist in developing the land. For almost four hundred years the water-wheels have been turning along the watershed in Western Tidewater. Colonial settlement would not have been possible without the building supplies of lumber, as well as the nourishment of grain. Very likely at one time over the past centuries, a greater number of the streams would have not only one operational mill, but at time, up to three working mills along their banks. These mills did more than cut logs and grind meal for local residents. Mills served as social and recreational outlets prior to their decline due to the onset of steam and electric power, as well as railroads and faster transportation which made “community” mills obsolete. And, the occasional storm could also wash away the mills if the streams flooded.
Dating prior to 1750, among the oldest mills were Person’s Mill, near Branchville; Harrison Pope Mill outside west of Courtland; and Rochelle Mill outside of Handson – all in present day Southampton County. The last mill was Johnson Mill of Sedley, which ran until 2006 (although it converted to electricity a century earlier). However, the wheels of Johnson’s Mill still grind, being assembled as a working exhibit at the Southampton County Agriculture & Forestry Museum but powered by a drawing of a water-wheel!
The BNRP has just completed a booklet, Watered-powered Mills along the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers & Watershed to highlight the important contributions of these overlooked structures. Focusing on the basics about mills, Riverkeeper Program challenges others to complete the needed research to identify all the mills in the region. Funded by a contribution in honor of Lonnie Marks and a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the 60-page booklet is being sent to libraries, schools and historical societies in the region.
There is a very limited number of books available and as such there will be none available for the public to purchase at this time. They will be made available to members of the Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Program.
Here is a list of the Libraries in the area that have the book.
and a bookmobile which stops at Sedley, Boykins, and other locations.