Rock Mill is a gristmill that was built in 1824 in Fairfield County. It is currently in the process of being restored. (Note: a gristmill grinds corn, wheat, or other grains into flour).
We visited Rock Mill this past weekend. Rock Mill Road ends near the mill which is now a small Fairfield County park. The road follows the valley formed by the Hocking River (formerly known as the Hock-Hocking River). At the mill, the river plunges over a falls into a small gorge surrounded by 40-foot cliffs.
Above the waterfall is the Rock Mill Covered Bridge which is now only used for pedestrian traffic. The covered bridge is open on both sides and affords a nice view of the river valley and the mill.
Rock Mill was originally built in 1799 — four years before Ohio became a state. Prior to its construction the two nearest mills were in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Marysville, Kentucky, so this new, local mill was a real boon to the development of agriculture in Ohio. The original mill was built lower in the gorge than the present mill; in 1820 a flood destroyed it. In 1824 Christian Morehart built the present mill using rot-resistant white oak timbers; he placed it higher on the gorge wall to reduce the risk of flood-related damage. Both of these decisions have allowed the mill to remain standing to the present day. To divert water from the river for the mill’s use, builders created a hand-chiseled channel (or “mill race”) extending 30-feet from the river to the water wheel; it’s 18-feet deep.
Morehart decided to power the mill with an unusually large water wheel; it’s 26 feet in diameter. This is the largest water wheel ever used in Ohio; it’s the largest ever used in the Midwest. In fact of all the water wheels built in America from the 1600’s through 1900, less than 1% of them exceeded 25 feet in diameter. Morehart chose such a large-diameter wheel because he originally hoped it would power both a gristmill and a wool-carding machine for the manufacture of blankets. However in the end it was only used to power the gristmill.
Morehart operated Rock Mill till his death in 1859. Near the turn of the century the water wheel was destroyed in a flood. It was replaced by a more efficient water turbine which was used for just two years. A newer technology replaced it: a steam-driven turbine. After a couple more years the mill was retired in 1905. Although the supporting white oak timbers within the structure continued to stand strong, the siding, roof and other parts of the structure slowly deteriorated.
In 2005 the owners of the mill, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Stebelton, donated the mill and its surrounding property to the Fairfield County Historical Park. Local residents were given an opportunity to decide whether they wanted to fund the restoration of the mill and covered bridge, and they voted to restore both. The covered bridge has been fully restored. The mill’s exterior has been restored and the interior (which is not yet open to the public) is said to be in good shape. A new water wheel was built and has been installed. I believe that current restoration efforts are directed at making the wheel operational.
We parked at the end of the road leading to the covered bridge (the bridge itself is blocked to vehicular traffic). A nearby kiosk contains information about the mill and the restoration project. A port-a-john is also located close-by. We walked through the small covered bridge so that we could observe the mill from both sides of the gorge.
The interior of the mill is not open yet, but you can walk past the front of the building, then turn and go down a path that approaches the water wheel. From there you’ll have a nice view of the water wheel, the falls, and the river gorge.
Deb and I both very much look forward to returning after the restoration is completed.
- TrekOhio: Fairfield County Parks & Nature Preserves — This is the county where Rock Mill is located; check this page out for links to the official site and for information on nearby parks and preserves.
- History of Rock Mill
- More about the history of Rock Mill
Take Lithopolis Rd NW to Rockmill Rd NW (you can use that intersection in Carroll, OH with your GPS). Turn onto Rockmill Rd NW. Take you first left – which is a dead-end also called Rockmill Rd NW and park at the covered bridge.
More on Ohio Industrial History