History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. 

     There are two main types of water wheels, the vertical and the horizontal. The vertical wheels include the two most familiar types, the overshot and the undershot. The amount of work, which an overshot water wheel can do, is controlled by the weight and distance of the water that falls on the wheel.

     The overshot waterwheel has many buckets around its edge. The weight of the water falling into these buckets causes the wheel to turn, reaching perhaps 80 per cent efficiency.

     The overshot method is constructed on the principle of applying the water vertically, and thus utilizing all its power. The common overshot wheel, carries the water upon its upper surface nearly a quarter of its circumference before the water obtains its maximum power. This occurs when the water has descended to a position with the chute of the wheel.

     The undershot water wheel is built so the water strikes against the buckets of the wheel at the bottom. This type of wheel has such a low efficiency that it was rarely used.

     A brief description of a mill is as follows: Water is directed into the wheel through a chute. The wheel is mounted on an axle, which is connected by belts or gearing with the machinery it is to operate. The wheel has many curved blades. The force with which the water strikes the blades causes the wheel to rotate, which makes the shaft turn. This rotates the shaft of the machinery being driven which is extended to the production source. An excellent example of a mill still in operation is the mill at the Norris Lake dam.

     There was a type of mill called a "floating mill." The mill was not placed in a building but it was an apparatus with its machinery placed on two boats with the water wheel between the two assemblies. One reference states that as early as 1790, a floating mill was constructed. He states in essence that in 1791 so scarce and dear was flour that the little that could be afforded in families was laid back to be used only in sickness, or for entertainment of friends. The mill was built in a small flat boat tied to the bank, its wheel turning slowly with the natural current running between the flat boat and a small pirogue anchored in the stream, and on which one end of its shaft rested. Having only one small pair of stones, it was at best barely sufficient to supply meal for the inhabitants of neighboring families; and sometimes from low water and other unfavorable circumstances, it was of little use, so that they were obliged to supply the deficiency from hand mills, a most laborious mode of grinding.

     Many of the gristmills were small, rather crude structures, built of logs and with only a single run of stones. The dry seasons were particularly hard on the smaller streams that accommodated the mills. The cutting away of the forests lessened the water supply and many of the mills were abandoned. A grist and sawmill, sometimes along with a fulling mill, were sometimes operated at the same site.

     Obtaining flour and meal was decidedly a hardship for the early pioneers. The mills were "a far piece" from the scattered homesites. Most of the pioneers came to the valley of the Miami's from homes already established in the east and this new style of livelihood was a very perilous episode.

     Maize was the stable crop in which they depended. It was not uncommon for the early white inhabiter to go off to the mill in the morning with a large sack of corn and return late in the day (much of this time was spent in waiting to have the corn ground) with a much smaller bag of meal. The grinding capacity was very small. The main or principal crop was Indian corn. Meal was acquired from the early mills much more as a rule than flour. The difficulty of getting corn ground at a mill proved to be such a hard- ship that huge quantities of maize were eaten minus the grinding process. Parched corn was a common food to these trendsetters and when on long journeys they tended to stuff their knapsacks full.

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