March 8, 2021, Susan Harber, The Daily New Journal
The earliest mills of Rutherford County carry a birthright and are a relic to our culture today. With abundant falls on Stones River, power was produced for grist and sawmills as a thriving industry. The forks had narrow lanes of water ideal to power these vital mills. Settlers utilized cedar logs and tree stumps with dirt and rocks to build dams. The actual mill was initially a log structure but later made of stone and brick. The wheels were driven by water but subsequently replaced by turbines. The grinding was in motion by large flat and round stones measuring four feet that were replaced in time by steel rollers. Ironically, distilleries were often situated near these mills.
Operators built original dams along Stones River only to interfere with boat traffic. In 1801, legislation was passed to extend navigation directly to the west fork of Stones River. John Smith is recorded in the 1816 Rutherford County Court minutes in contention to build a grist mill at Overall Creek. In 1820, further laws were enacted to allow passage of boats and canoes with no impasse from mill operation and specifically references Samuel Bowman’s Mill. Owners were also required to install locks or circumvent canals at mill sites. There was high tension in the initial days between mill producers and watercraft navigation on Stones River.
Pioneer William Lytle owned an early grist and sawmill after settling in a log cabin on the west banks of Stones River in 1799. In 1810, he began construction on his mansion near Lytle Creek. Another early entrepreneur of mills was Charles Ready of Readyville. He arrived to this area in 1800 and purchased land on the east fork of Stones River from Griffith Rutherford. His gristmill survives today. During the Civil War, his mill was burned but rebuilt by William Hayes.
Cave Mill was owned by Thomas Rucker in 1799. The Cummings and Smith Mills were also built in 1799. Nice’s Mill (also called Ward’s Mill) on the west fork and Johns Mill on Walnut Grove Road were established as a prime enterprise. Further, Halls Hill Mill, Gregory Mill (Stewarts Creek in Smyrna) and Jones Mill (Smyrna) were built in the early 1800s. John Tilford framed a mill in 1814 near Salem; and Dickinsons Mill was constructed before 1830. McPeak Mill (1878) was on Bradley Creek. J.A. Ransom owned Ransom Mill that is located where Medical Center Parkway crosses Stones River. The mill was on the west fork near a bridge on Manson Pike and was one of the largest gristmills. In 1820, approximately twenty mills were standing tall along Stones River.
Dr. Thomas Jefferson Elam, a Civil War physician, owned Elam’s Mill (1880) near the Rucker community. The mill was undershot with paddles and operable in the early 1900s. Browns Mill in Lascassas began in 1820 under owner John Brown. This floating mill was assembled over Stones River. A second mill was erected in 1873 and operated by Robert Brown. In 1884, Edwin Brown was the owner; and the mill thrived in the family lineage through 1940. The city of Murfreesboro purchased the mill in 1983; and the reservoir above the dam provided water in an emergency. In 1991, Browns Mill collapsed; and the mill was demolished in the summer of 2014.
The mills of Rutherford County provided an early industry that flourished in prosperity. Their heritage is an acclamation to our historical annals as a prime landmark that we take great pride and continue to study over time. The hard labor to build and manage these mill sites is beyond extraordinary and a testament to the fortitude of our pioneering forefathers.
*See important information posted by Rutherford Archeology: The actual mill was initially a log structure but later made of stone and brick. The wheels were driven by water but subsequently replaced by turbines. The grinding was in motion by large flat and round stones measuring four feet that were replaced in time by steel rollers. Ironically, distilleries were often situated near these mills.”