Harber’s History: Hardeman nurtured town mill to greatness

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, December 24, 2016

As a researcher, I enjoy every moment of my journey in the study of passing moments in time. My major in college was history, and I have been a historian all of my life to gain an understanding of our heritage and birthright. Moreover, due homage is credited to the heavyweights of Rutherford County history who have maintained meticulous, historical record-keeping with photographs, tax records, cemetery documentation and ancestral archives for decades. A few of these icons include a namesake of Toby Francis, Greg Tucker, Dr. E.C. Tolbert and the late Mabel and Homer Pittard, Ernie Johns and Katherine Walkup. Individual participation, along with the collaboration of the Rutherford County Historical Society, has offered great expertise to our past that is beyond remarkable. Their tireless efforts to carefully research and preserve history has paved a clear and exciting path for generations to come. My son Michael is a terrific writer, and I am hopeful he can scribe olden stories to a new audience in our county with living history one day.

Gregory Mills was earlier known as Hardeman’s Mill and later Black’s Mill.
(Photo: Susan Harber)

When I walk through Gregory Mills Park off Enon Springs Road in southeast Smyrna, I feel I have stepped back in time into the most charming and beautifully wooded meadow in our city. Stewarts Creek meanders through this pristine setting. Inquiring deeper into the history of this treasure, I discover an unfolding story rich in history.

Gregory Mills was earlier known as Hardeman’s Mill and later Black’s Mill. Original proprietor Constantine “Constant” Hardeman was born Jan. 3, 1778, in North Carolina as the fifth child to Thomas and Mary Hardeman. On Aug. 25, 1800, Constant bought 900 acres of land in then-Davidson County along the east side of Stuart’s Creek (currently Stewarts Creek). He later settled into his new home above the creek near our present-day Smyrna Walmart with his wife, Sarah, whom he wed in 1799. The palatial house is described as showcasing a staircase in the entrance leading to a third floor ballroom. Constant and Sarah had 12 children in a growing family. Upon Sarah’s death in 1823, Constant wed Mary Little in 1824, who bore a daughter, Levinia.

In 1803, Constant was a citizen of prominence and held in high regard. In his own handwriting, he drew up a petition (at age 25) that requested the legislature to create Rutherford County. There were 256 signatures on the petition with Constant the first to sign. Rutherford County was created from parts of Davidson and Williamson counties. By 1807, Constant was a commissioner of the Jefferson community. He built the first and only steamboat at Jefferson. He also owned lots in the town of Jefferson and was a formidable presence as a landowner and leader of the community. He was a wealthy man and once sold a carriage for $452 to Charles Lewis Davis, who was local hero Sam Davis’ father. In April 1859, Charles had possession of the Hardeman Mill and seven acres that he sold to Thomas Black.

By 1820, the grist, water-powered Hardeman Mill within our current Enon Springs Park was in full operation. The large stone, 100-foot mill dam was a prosperous enterprise on Stuarts Creek. Constant, along with slave labor, quarried huge stones for excavation for the mill house foundation. He dug the sluice and directed the water to the turbine that spun the grinding stones with the mill site on the left of the creek. The man-made canal was assembled with mules and hand labor. Bricks for the mill house were molded and burnt. A bridge of 40 yards above the dam provided access to the mill and was the public road at the time. The mechanics within the mill house elevated the grain to the upper floors, as it returned back down through the milling machinery, which were grinders and sifters. The flour and meal were caught in large bins and subsequently stored and sold.

Constant died in his home on Aug. 27, 1850, having operated the mill until his passing. In the year he died, the railroad was positioned through his property. Local resident Jim McCord of Smyrna confirms Constant is buried with his wife, Mary, and daughter Levinia, who died at age 18, in a small, well-kept cemetery in the Cobblestone subdivision near the Hardeman’s original home site. Lucie Boone of Smyrna is a direct descendant of Constant through her great-great-great-grandmother.

The mill was purchased and rebuilt by Thomas Black in April 1859, and he had possession during the Civil War. In coming years, the mill was under operation of the Ward family. By 1883, a boiler explosion wrecked the mill. W.H. “Bud” Gregory purchased the mill in a land trade and operated it from 1894 to 1916. Mr. W.C. Evans was the last owner of the mill. When the mill closed, a broom factory was in the old mill for awhile. In the end, an abandoned Hardeman Cemetery, mill house foundation and a large stone mill dam were the only components remaining in a business once prosperous and thriving.

By 1967, the property was purchased by the state of Tennessee. The park is now owned by the Army Corps of Engineers and managed by Smyrna Parks. Constant Hardeman was the patriarch and mastermind, who nurtured the mill to greatness for three decades. His legacy of devotion to industry and the formation of Rutherford County is a well-kept secret. After 190 years, the mill is in ruin, washed and eroded by flood water. When I drive by our water park in the center of town, I now reflect on Constant Hardeman, a trailblazer and forefather, who operated our most prosperous mill for three decades.

Contact Susan Harber at susanharber@hotmail.com.

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