Posted in Central Ohio, Ohio Industrial History, Park review

Rock Mill

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).

Viewing the rear of the mill you can see the ongoing restoration work.

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.

This shows the area behind the mill with the covered bridge and waterfalls in the background.
A better look at the covered bridge.

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.

The channel to the right will cause water to rotate the water wheel. This channel is called a mill race, or sluiceway. To the left the river flows on to the falls.
This is a closer look at the hand-chiseled mill race; the ladder is being used in current restoration work.

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.

This is my photo of a photograph that was posted in the park’s kiosk. It shows two men working on the replacement water wheel.
Here’s the new water wheel installed.

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 front of the mill with the covered bridge in the background.

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.

Additional information

  • Address: 1429 Rock Mill Place NW, Lancaster, Ohio 43112
  • Directions: 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.
  • GPS Coordinates: 39.749184, -82.713352
  • Google Maps: View on map or get directions

More on Ohio Industrial History

© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

17 thoughts on “Rock Mill

    1. Thanks and welcome to the site. Fairfield County is doing a wonderful job of restoring Rock Mill. I was wondering if you knew the plans for the interior of the building. Will it be open to the public? A museum, perhaps?

      1. The plan is to restore it as a working mill. To that end, the park district has acquired quite a bit of old grist milling equipment and has a group of volunteers who will be helping to restore some of the equipment. The mill *is* open to the public, but only when one of the volunteers shows up and opens it. It is currently set up as a museum inside, with quite a few displays built by volunteers. The only problem is that there are no set times to have the place “staffed”. That being said, it’s pretty likely that someone will be there most weekend afternoons. If the doors are open, there’s a good chance a knowledgeable person will be there. The grounds directly around the mill and Rock Mill covered bridge are always open to the public during daylight hours. Keep in mind that I’m a volunteer, and don’t directly speak for the park district. If you want the “official” word on the park district, feel free to contact the office at 740-681-7249. By the way, group tours of the mill can be arranged at that same number.

    2. I’m Deb Platt, the other author here at TrekOhio. I also wanted to welcome you to our blog and to thank you for all of the additional information that you provided. I was delighted to hear that it’s already possible to see the interior of Rock Mill, and we plan on coming back some weekend when it’s warmer to see it. What a great group of volunteers you must have! I also look forward to the day that the mill is fully operational. That will be really something.

      1. Thanks, Deb,

        Next time you’re in the area, be sure to pick up a pocket guide to ALL of the Fairfield County Historical Parks. At last count, there were 19 different properties. It’s been just one year since levy funds have been available to the park district, and there are quite a few projects in the works. As our director Dave Fey says, for years we’ve had properties, now we’re going to turn them into PARKS! We’d love to have you guys write about all our parks.

  1. Hi,

    I’m a county parks volunteer. One of the legends around here is that HockHocking means “gourd”. However, by the time Europeans got here (in the late 1700s), the local Native Americans had been trading with Europeans for almost 300 years. We’re pretty sure that Hockhocking means “bottleneck”,as the native folks would have been familiar with bottles and had a word for bottle and bottleneck.

    1. So, what’s your etymology for “bottleneck”? Are you saying that the Natives lied to Heckewelder about the word? Also, I just thought I’d point out that the Delaware words for “neck” is “xkwekànkàn”, with a variant something like “kwixkò”.

      We also have narrow: “tànkiti” and narrow stream: “tànkhane”. None of them seem to fit “bottleneck”.

      What makes you so sure it is “bottleneck”, particularly when all of the older sources say otherwise? Quite frankly, I’ve never seen a source of any kind that says “bottleneck”.

      1. I stand (somewhat) corrected! Perhaps it was ME that furthered the wrong “legend”. I read your blog – seems like “bottleneck” or “gourd” are two ways of saying the same thing. I’d like to discuss it further, and would be glad to change my narrative when I give a tour down in the gorge, if need be. We (some of the park volunteers) came up with “bottleneck” when it was pointed out that the natives were familiar with bottles.

        Incidentally, I think I met you a couple of years ago at Rock Mill when the “Walk with the Ancients” stopped there.

        1. Yes, we undoubtedly met; I was on the Walk with the Ancients. I think what is slightly off is saying “bottleneck” instead of “bottle”. The old sources say it stood for “the bottle river”, because of the shape at Rock Mill. As to which came first, the bottle or the gourd, my guess is that before contact with Europeans, hock-hock (however you want to spell it) only meant gourd. Then, when they saw European bottles, they extended the meaning to those, too (kind of like how “car”, short for “carriage”, no longer refers to horse-drawn vehicles). And as you say, by the 1700s the Lenape were well-familiar with bottles, so it is quite reasonable that the Hocking was named after the “bottle” meaning of hock-hock, not the “gourd” meaning. Or not. 🙂

          1. What you’ve described is pretty much the discussion a group of us had regarding whether the word meant “gourd-neck” or “bottle-neck”. I think that WE added the “neck” part. We came to our conclusion for the same reason you did – by the time the Lenne Lenape’ (sp?) got here, our guess was that the word for gourd and bottle was pretty much the same. I’ll pass your insights along to the other folks who give talks and tours at Rock Mill. Thanks!

          2. I would be most happy if you removed the word “neck”. The descriptions make clear that the neck of the bottle is the stream before the waterfall and the body of the bottle is the pool beneath.

            Thanks for listening to me!

            (And now you have to read about my idea as to How the Licking Got Its Name. 🙂 . If I were to rewrite that, I’d stress that the “salt lick” idea and the “sandy” idea worked together to reinforce the name.)

    1. Good question! A gristmill grinds up grain into flour, so wheat becomes flour, corn becomes corn meal, etc. I’ll ask Bob to add something to his post tomorrow that clarifies this technical term.

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