Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Northwest Florida Mill Survey | University of West Florida
Skip to main content

Northwest Florida Mill Survey

Crary's Mill at Bluff Springs, Florida near the town of Century. Bluff Springs is the oldest community in North Escambia County. Crary's Mill ran an electrical generator and a grist mill in the 1920s and 1930s.

Crary's Mill, Bluff Springs, Florida

Survey Overview

The idea for a reconnaissance level archaeological survey of mill sites in the western Florida panhandle grew out of an exchange between archaeologists and visitors to the Arcadia Industrial Complex during the 1990-1991 excavations conducted by the University of West Florida. Among the many who visited Arcadia during the project were several people, including old mill enthusiasts, local historians, farmers and outdoorsmen, who told the staff of the Archaeology Institute about many other nineteenth and early twentieth century water or steam powered mill site locations that lie in northwest Florida. These are the grist mills and lumber mills that enabled the pioneers to settle this area of Florida. The archaeologists developed contacts with several informants who were willing to work with UWF to locate these unrecorded and significant archaeological sites.

Louis C. Hunter's 1979 book, A History of Industrial Power in the United States, 1780-1930, suggests that the rural water-powered mill represented one of the first steps in settling the American frontier. These early industries followed closely on the heels of the pioneer and persisted long after the community was established. More often than not, the gristmill and sawmill preceded even the church and school and usually arrived before the wagon road. These mills provided meal for the settlers' bread and the lumber for their houses. They became the community centers where settlers gathered to visit and exchange news. The community mill determined the placement of early roads; other commercial ventures such as the blacksmithy, livery and general store soon sprang up nearby. The water-powered mill was a founding element of a community.

Lee McKenzie surveying the horizontal squared timber in the remains of the dam at Coon Camp Branch. Lee is standing on the south shore of the creek (as shown in the area between "C" and "E" on the opposite CAD map.

As Hunter notes, the water-powered mill also introduced the age of machines. The sawmill and grist mill gave the colonial and early American settler some familiarity with mechanization and the processes of industry, and paved the way for the Industrial Age. With the invention of more complex forms of water power, such as the turbine engine, and the development of steam power in the mid-nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution began in earnest; manufactured products became widely available and the American farmer began to lose his self sufficiency.

CAD drawing of Coon Camp Creek dam.

Simple country water mills and the early turbine and steam powered mills dotted the landscape. They were an integral part of the development of northwest Florida. The many swift creeks that drain the panhandle provided countless mill seats, or favorable settings for water-powered mills. As the vast longleaf pine forests were settled, numerous small water-powered sawmills and gristmills were built along these streams. Small communities developed around them. Some of these mills, such as Arcadia, became large industrial complexes, while others, like Carpenters's Mill in Escambia County, Jernigan's Mill in Santa Rosa County and Milligan Mill in Okaloosa County, remained small operations. A number of these small water-powered mills persisted into the twentieth century as grist mills, ice plants or electrical generators. As the lumber industry grew in importance, however, the small water-powered mill was gradually replaced by large steam powered lumber mills. The steam powered engine enabled the lumbermen to move the mills to the bays and rivers near the shipping lanes. These steam powered mills along the rivers and bays gave rise to milltowns such as Century, Bagdad and Milton.

Barnett Mill Creek in Pace, FL, site of an Early American saw mill circa 1820 (note the cribbing in the water).

Scores of mill sites, both small and large, water-powered and steam powered, cover the panhandle. These unique and extremely valuable historical sites define settlements that either no longer exist or live on only in the memories of a few former inhabitants. Because the mill was a focal point and defining element of the community, much information about the history and development of the region, including historic settlement and land use patterns, can be obtained by investigating these archaeological sites. The majority of the mills, however, have not been recorded. Furthermore, development threatens these sites. Fortunately, many of the sites retain archaeological integrity and their locations are known to a few citizens.

Abandoned millstones from the McClellan Mill in Santa Rosa County.

During a three-year span, the University of West Florida obtained two Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation Grants-in-Aid to to locate and study the mills of northwest Florida. These projects were designed to identify as many sites as possible rather than conduct in-depth studies of a few. Archaeologists, including UWF Research Associate John Phillips, and mill enthusiasts (with a supporting cast of dozens of local citizens with additional site information) located and recorded approximately 80 mills or related sites in northwest Florida. The search for these important industrial sites continues.

Mill Bibliography

Adams, William Hampton
     1980 Waverly Plantation: Ethnoarchaeology of a Tenant Farming Community. Report submitted to Interagency Archaeological Services Atlanta. Resource Analysts, Inc., Bloomington, Indiana.

Adams, William H., Steven D. Smith, David F. Barton, Timothy R. Riordan and Steven Poyser
     1981 Bay Springs Mill: Historical Archaeology of a Rural Mississippi Cotton Milling Community. Resource Analysts, Inc., Bloomington.

Benchley, Elizabeth D., F. Copes, M. Kolb, N. Lasca, P. Porubcan, M. Schabel and L. Whitman
     1993 Investigations of the Influence of Late 19th-Early 20th Century Logging on Fluvial Geomorphology and Fisheries Habitat on the Indian River, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Archaeological Research Laboratory, Report of Investigations 113.

Bowden, J. Earle, J. Appleyard, W. Skinner, E. Carswell, T. Muir and J. Servies
     1982 Iron Horse in the Pinelands. Pensacola Historical Society, Pensacola, Florida.

Dunwell, Steve
     1978 The Run of the Mill. David R. Godine, Boston.

Evans, Oliver
     1850 The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

Frizell, Joseph P.
     1900 Water-Power: An Outline of the Development and Application of the Energy of Flowing Water. New York.

Hindle, Brooke (editor)
     1975 America's Wooden Age: Aspects of Its Early Technology. Sleepy Hollow Restorations. Tarrytown, New York.

Howell, Charles
     1975 Colonial Watermills in the Wooden Age. In America's Wooden Age: Aspects of Its Early Technology, edited by Brooke Hindle. Sleepy Hollow Restorations. Tarrytown, New York.

Hunter, Louis C.
     1979 A History of Industrial Power in the United States, 1780-1930. The University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Jones, William M.
     1981 A British Period Sawmill. El Escribano 18:84-105. The St. Augustine Historical Society, St. Augustine, Florida.

Kimmel, Richard H., M. Corkran and J. Clauser
     1990 The Wooden Dam from Falls of Neuse, Wake County, North Carolina. Paper presented at the 1990 Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Tucson, Arizona.

Lee, Chung-Ho, and D. Joy
     1989 Archaeological Investigations at Bayside Property, Santa Rosa County, Florida. The University of West Florida, Office of Cultural and Archaeological Research, Report of Investigations 24.

Leffel, James and Company
     1881 Leffel's Construction of Mill Dams. James Leffel and Company, Springfield, Ohio.

Little, Keith J., C. Curren, and L. McKenzie
     1988 A Preliminary Archaeological Survey of The Blackwater Drainage, Santa Rosa County, Florida. The University of West Florida, Institute of West Florida Archaeology,Report of Investigations 19.
     1988 A Preliminary Archaeological Survey of The Perdido Drainage, Escambia County, Florida. The University of West Florida, Institute of West Florida Archaeology, Report of Investigations 20.      1989 Arcadia: An Archaeological Evaluation of a Nineteenth-century Industrial Complex, Santa Rosa County, Florida. The University of West Florida, Institute of West Florida Archaeology, Report of Investigations 21.

Martin, Patrick Edward
     1985 The Mill Creek Site and Pattern Recognition in Historical Archaeology. Archaeological Completion Report Series No. 10. Mackinac Island State Park Commission, Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Macaulay, David
     1983 Mill. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Newman, Robert D.
     1984 Archaeological Investigations at Seven Mill Sites. Building Conservation Technology, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee.

Penton, Daniel T.
     1991 Phase III Archaeological Survey of the Blackwater River Drainage. University of West Florida, Archaeology Institute, Report of Investigations 42.

Peterson, Charles E.
     1975 Early Lumbering: A Pictorial Essay. In America's Wooden Age: Aspects of its Early Technology, edited by Brooke Hindle. Sleepy Hollow Restorations. Tarrytown New York.

Phillips, John C.
     1998 "Flood Thy Neighbor: Colonial and American Water-Powered Mills in West Florida." Gulf South Historical Review Vol. 12 no.1.
     1996 The Water-Powered Industries of Northwest Florida: An Archaeological Reconnaissance.  University of West Florida Archaeology Institute, Report of Investigations 58.
     1989 Archaeology on the Blackwater: Phase Two. University of West Florida, Institute of West Florida Archaeology, Report of Investigations 29.
     1993 The Arcadia Mill Site: a 19th Century Industrial Complex in Northwest Florida. University of West Florida, Archaeology Institute, Report of Investigations 44.
     1993 Mill Site Reconnaissance in Northwest Florida. University of West Florida, Archaeology Institute, Report of Investigations 53.

Rosenberg, Nathan
     1975 America's Rise to Woodworking Leadership. In America's Wooden Age: Aspects of Its Early Technology, edited by Brooke Hindle.  Sleepy Hollow Restorations. Tarrytown, New York.

Rutsch, Edward S.
     1980 Field Investigation at the Shaw Reservoir Gristmill Site. In Data Recovery Operations at the Shaw (Mouse Hill Reservoir) Site, Upper Quaboag Watershed, Massachusetts, edited by R.J. Barber. Report submitted to Interagency Archaeological Services, Atlanta.

Schuyler, Robert L. and C. Mills
     1976 The Supply Mill on Content Brook in Massachusetts. Journal of Field Archaeology 3(1): 61-95.

Swanson, Mark T.
     1985 Archival research and archaeological testing of the Rowletts's Mill Site (8LI120), Apalachicola Ranger District, Liberty County, Florida. New World Research, Inc., Report of Investigations 85-10.

Thomas, P. M. and L. Campbell
     1993 Eglin Air Force Base Historic Preservation Plan: Technical Synthesis of Cultural Resources Investigations at Eglin, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton Counties, Florida.  New World Research, Inc., Report of Investigations 192.