Thursday, November 16, 2017

Milton Roller Mill History

Milton Roller Mill

For decades, Caswell County millers converted grain to flour and meal by grinding it between rotating stones. This technology was replaced by the roller mill, which crushed the grain between rollers. The old Milton roller mill stood on Country Line Creek. Beside it was the high trestle bridge over the stream. The open-ended building to the left was used to store coal. Photograph courtesy Jean B. Scott.

When the mill in the photograph was built is not known. However, as of 2017 the remains of the foundation were still visible. The stone foundation walls were there, with at least three door openings and some smaller openings. One portion of the wall is seven-feet thick. The last mill to operate on this site was powered with a turbine, not a water wheel. The turbine is still there buried under the creek bank. Stone dam pillars were visible on each side of the creek. These pillars supported a wood and rock dam. The Atlantic and Danville Railway had a spur line to the mill.

Based upon the following newspaper accounts, it is possible that the original mill burned in 1906, was replaced, and that the replacement structure burned in 1944. When the original mill was built is not known, but the second article below suggest the foundation dates from the 1790s.


"The Milton Roller Mills near Milton and owned by W. B. Lewis of this city were totally destroyed by fire at 9:30 o'clock the lurid glare being visible from this city. The loss is estimated at $25,000. The mills were the largest in this section and had a capacity of 100 barrels a day and were very largely patronized. The equipment was of the latest approved type. Some insurance was carried."

And, although the item was published in 1926, it appeared in a section of the newspaper called: "The Bee 20 Years Ago Said:" Thus, this would have been 1906.

Source: The Bee (Danville, Virginia), 17 March 1926, Wednesday, Page 3.


Famous Old Milton Mill Is Swept By Fire - 1944

Milton, N.C., Oct. 21. -- "One of the oldest grist mills in this section of the country was destroyed by fire on Thursday evening -- the Milton Mill on Country Line Creek where the stream enters Dan River.

"The building itself was not so old but the foundations were at least 150 years of age and the mill had performed yeoman service during the early days of the settlement of North Carolina.

"Twenty-five hundred bushels of grain was lost in the fire, the cause of which was never clearly determined.

"C. B. Talbott was the miller."

Source: The Bee (Danville, Virginia), 21 October 1944, Saturday, Page 9.

For a time the mill apparently had a steam engine to provide power when the creek water flow was inadequate. The coal stored on the property may have been used in the steam engine boiler. Later the steam engine was replaced with an internal-combustion engine, mounted on a concrete pad. The pad remained visible in 2017, along with the mounts for the steam engine.

Who was the W. B. Lewis described in the above newspaper article as owning the Milton Roller Mills in 1906? Presumably, this would have been a person of some financial means, and the person associated with Milton having the Lewis surname and the appropriate initials would be: William Baskerville Lewis (1866-1946). At the time of the 1900 United States federal census he was living in Milton, North Carolina. However, his occupation was give as "tobacconist." This, of course, does not preclude ownership of a grist mill.

In 1892, William Baskerville Lewis married Maggie Smallwood Watkins (1870-1850), daughter of Dr. John Lewis Watkins, M.D. While her father purportedly was a medical doctor, in the 1900 census he described himself as a "capitalist" (but was living in Georgia with his sister-in-law). However, it appears that at some point he was "in charge" of the Milton Roller Mills.

See: The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 561-562 (Article #768, "Descendants of Samuel and Elizabeth Watkins" by Mrs. Mary Singer).

Did John Lewis Watkins "own" the Milton Roller Mills and leave the business to his daughter when he died in 1903, or had he been working for his apparently wealthy son-in-law? If John Lewis Watkins was sufficiently wealthy to own a mill in Milton, why was he living in Georgia with his sister-in-law in 1900? Had he sold the mill to his son-in-law and retired to Georgia? But, he is buried in Cedars Cemetery in Milton, North Carolina.

Note that Edward D. Winstead (1852-1925), among his other business interests, purportedly at one time owned a roller mill in Milton. Could Milton have had two roller mills?

Branson's North Carolina Business Directory for 1896 has the following entries:

Merchants And Tradesmen.
Names, Post Offices, Lines of Business.
Milton Roller Mill Co. ________

Kinds, Post Offices and Proprietors.
Corn and flour, Milton, W B Lewis.

These probably are the same enterprise, indicating that in 1896 Milton had only one grist mill.

The 1908 Sanborn Map for Milton continued to show the Milton Roller Mills. So, did it really burn in 1906. Or, was it rebuilt by 1908? Also, Sanborn states that the Milton Roller Mills is located in Virginia, one mile northwest of Milton.

So, were there two mills operating on Country Line Creek in or near Milton, North Carolina? It appears that Asa Thomas sold more than one mill.

In 1791, William Thomas conveyed a mill on Country Line Creek to his sons Philip Thomas and Asa Thomas. A few years later, Asa Thomas purchased additional land adjacent to the mill on  both sides of Country Line Creek. It may be that more land was needed for the mill operation and/or that the mill dam was flooding land. In 1799, Asa Thomas sold this mill to John Lewis. What happened to the interest of Philip Thomas in the mill is not known.

Then, what appears to be a second mill operation was sold by Asa Thomas in 1802 to Thomas Jeffreys: "two acres on Country Line Creek near Milton with a grist mill and two saw mills." Some believe this mill was upstream from the original mill and was located near the bridge over Country Line Creek, but this has not been confirmed. However, if accurate, it is likely that the roller mill discussed above was build on the site of this upstream mill.

Caswell County, North Carolina
Deed Book G, Page 171-2
William Thomas Sen. of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, to Philip Thomas of Caswell County, North Carolina and Asa Thomas of Pittsylvania County Virginia, his sons, for love and affection, one mill and millseat on Country Line Creek in Caswell County with 1 acre of land which was included in deed from William to Philip Thomas; 1 acre on north side, 1 acre on a side bought of John Campbell. 15 January 1791. Witnesses: Will Thomas Jr., John Thomas, George Thomas.

Source: Caswell County North Carolina Deed Books 1777-1817, Katharine Kerr Kendall (1989) at 126.

Caswell County, North Carolina
Deed Book J, Page 83
Jacob Thomas of Pittsylvania Co., VA, to Asa Thomas of Caswell County, for 200 lbs, 1 acre (or 1/2 acre on each side of Country Line Creek), adjacent to the mill that was laid off for the mill by William Thomas, Sr. 26 October 1795. Acknowledged in open court.

Source: Caswell County North Carolina Deed Books 1777-1817, Katharine Kerr Kendall (1989) at 160.

Caswell County, North Carolina
Deed Book L, Page 230-1
Asa Thomas of Milton to John Lewis of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, for 180 pounds, 5 shillings, a mill and 2 acres of land on Country Line Creek, 1 acre on east side, 1 acre on west side; also 191 acres in Halifax County, Virginia, adjacent to the State line. 29 October 1799. Witnesses: Daniel S. Farley, James Dix, William Moore, Wm. Wilkerson.

Source: Caswell County North Carolina Deed Books 1777-1817, Katharine Kerr Kendall (1989) at 206.

Caswell County, North Carolina
Deed Book M, Page 279
Asa Thomas of Caswell County to Thomas Jeffreys of same, for $1500, two acres on Country Line Creek near Milton with a grist mill and two saw mills. 27 July 1802. Acknowledged in open court.

Source: Caswell County North Carolina Deed Books 1777-1817, Katharine Kerr Kendall (1989) at 230.


  1. There is material in the Duke University library regarding the mill.

  2. Bk. L, pg.230 describes sale of the lower mill in 1799 from Asa Thomas to John Lewis.
    Bk. M, pg. 279 describes sale of Bridge St. mills in 1802 to Thomas Jeffery's.