Each owner makes its mark on 1874 Stinnett Mill
By: Charlene Carson
January 1874 promised to be a happy and prosperous new year for Texans. The state was no longer under the harsh Reconstruction policies that were put in place following the Civil War. With the end of Reconstruction, the state of Texas was allowed to return to self-government which put the control of Texas, once again, in the hands of her own citizens. This fostered an attitude of hope and a climate of prosperity.
Prosperity had indeed found its way to the Salado River in Bell County. In 1874 there were five mills in operation along the banks of this swift, free-flowing river. They were Chalk/Ferguson, Davis, Summers, Dulaney, and the Thomas H. Jones mills. This indicates that the economic climate in the area was strong and business was good. As a result, Salado was about to have its sixth mill known as Stinnett Mill.
Stinnett Mill, located about three and one-half miles northeast of Salado on Stinnett Mill Road, was built in 1874 by William Henry Stinnett. In his book, History of Bell County, George W. Tyler indicated that John Henry Orgain also had an interest in the mill.
William Henry Stinnett was the tenth of 14 children born to Joel Martin Stinnett and Frances Wells Stinnett. The family was living in Missouri when William Henry was born. Soon after William’s birth, the family left Missouri headed to Texas arriving in the newly established Republic of Texas in 1836. In exchange for free transportation several young men joined the family and helped drive the six wagons containing the Stinnett’s possessions. The women traveled in carriages drawn by fine Kentucky horses.
After traveling about five weeks they arrived in Fannin County, Texas and settled near Orangeville. It was here that Joel Stinnett and his sons set up a gristmill, the first in North Texas. In 1858 Stinnett sold his interest in the Fannin County mill to his oldest son and moved to Pilot Point in Denton County where he and his other sons set up another gristmill. A year later,1859, the Stinnett family moved to Bosque County where Joel Stinnett established the first flour mill at Clifton on the Bosque River.
After helping his father set up three mills in Texas, William Henry Stinnett was eager to establish his own milling business. He left Bosque County arriving in Bell County around 1870 with his wife Mary Clay Corum and their five children who had been born between 1860 and 1868. Their names were Willie Francis Stinnett, Albert Sidney Stinnett, Fannie Stinnett Taylor, James A. Stinnett, and Florence J. Stinnett. As an adult, Albert Sidney Stinnett went to West Texas and helped build the town of Stinnett near Amarillo.
Between 1870 and 1884, the Stinnetts had six more children. Their names were William Welborn Stinnett, Allen Edward Stinnett, Mary C. Stinnett Hill, Emma Stinnett Carson, Robert Myer Stinnett, and Willie Henry Stinnett. As was typical of a millwright, the Stinnett family lived on the hill above the mill.
Stinnett chose a spot along the Salado River about half-way between the Thomas H. Jones Mill and the Chalk/Ferguson Mill on which to build his mill. In order to prevent possible flooding of the building, the mill was built on the edge of higher ground back about 900 yards from the dam that impounded water to supply the mill race.
The mill building was a stone building two and half stories tall with a basement in which the turbine waterwheel was placed. The building measured 30 by 40 feet with 22-inch-thick walls. The door and window frames were made of heavy native burr oak timber. A millrace brought water from the Salado River and ran it through the turbines that turned a huge crankshaft. Two stories up, cogs and gears turned a massive mill stone.
The mill began as a gristmill, grinding both corn and wheat. In later years, a wooden granary was added to dry and store ground meal. This enabled a farmer to pull up with a load of corn and exchange it for an agreed upon amount of finished meal and not have to wait around to have it ground. This was the beginning of commercial milling. In commercial milling, the farmer did not necessarily receive meal from his own grain but an equivalent amount in flour or meal.
Normally, farmers did not mind waiting at the mill. They would sit under the shade trees, chewing tobacco, telling jokes, exchanging news about marriages, new babies, and deaths. There was always a lot of talk about the weather, the crop outlook, and politics – all thrown together and seasoned with a little friendly gossip. If there was a long wait a farmer could walk off into the nearby woods with his shotgun and return with some fresh meat. All in all, it was time well spent at the mill.
Stinnett Mill changed owners many times throughout the years assuming the names of the new owners. At one time, it was called the Highland Burr Mill and the Highland Roller Mill. A man named B. F. Fisher was the first owner of the Highland Roller Mill. J. I. Carson was the first miller under Fisher’s ownership. Carson married Emma Stinnett, daughter of William Stinnett.
The exact date for the change of ownership of the mill is unknown, however, it is known that Fisher sold the mill to Col. J. L. Bailey of Temple in 1922, and the mill became known as Bailey’s Mill. Bailey made improvements to the already state of art mill by installing a bleaching process that made the flour as white as snow. Even though the mill has had several owners during its lifetime, it is once again known as Stinnett Mill.
When the mill ceased operating in the 1930s and the doors of the mill building were closed, the mill was left standing fully equipped and ready to run. But it never did. Perhaps the mill closed because of the fatal accident that occurred in the 1930s. One of the workers, a man by the name of Townsend, got his shirt sleeve caught in a cog tooth and was pulled into a piece of the machinery. His mangled body was found by his brother when the brother returned from lunch. History does not record the exact date of the accident or the exact date of the mill’s closing, only that both events occurred in the early 1930s. Only history knows the correlation of these two events.
Stinnett Mill ground grain for over sixty years before closing its doors in the 1930s. The machinery for operating the mill that had been left intact when the mill closed was eventually removed and the building allowed to fall into ruins. The basement of the mill became a den for rattlesnakes and other creepy, crawly flea-bitten varmints.
Then after sitting abandoned in a ghostly eerie silence for 15 to 20 years, in 1945 the mill was given a new life and a new purpose. Ruth Berry Brown, the daughter of one of Salado’s pioneer families, purchased the old mill to be used as her week-end home. She also wanted to preserve it as a monument to the history of the region. With this in mind, she did considerable work restoring the building, including putting on a new roof. The original roof was made of shingles fashioned by hand with a froe.
When author A. T. Jackson came to Salado in the early 1970s to gather information for his book Mills of Yesteryear, he explored the grounds and the mill building and after a thorough inspection, he described Stinnett Mill as follows:
“An examination of the interior of the old mill building disclosed several features of interest. In the south end of the ground-level floor was a large fireplace, built of native limestone. In the south center of the first floor is a trap door through which a pipe originally came and enabled a workman to cut off the power. But to cut off the supply of water someone had to go to the dam, about nine hundred yards southwest of the building, to cut it off at the sluice by lowering the gate. When the mill was closed at night the machinery was disconnected in the building, but the water was permitted to run in the sluice.”
“Looking down the shaft beneath the cut-off, one sees a roughly circular excavation, about four feet across, dug through rocks and stony soil, leading to a depth of some thirty feet. In the bottom of this shaft, during the operation of the mill, was a turbine to furnish power for the mill. The water from the sluice entered the basement through an opening with a well-built archway. The water poured into the shaft, turned the turbine and then was pumped or flowed out of the sluice at the opposite side and started on its circuitous route for return to the stream.”
In his handwritten notes regarding his observations, Jackson wrote:
“Inside steps, leading from the first to second floor, had a message of sanitation and health precautions lettered on them. Near the top step and leading down, step by step, were lettered these words in black paint:
THAT MEANS YOU!
That the message might not be ignored, it was repeated on the south wall in much larger letters. DON’T SPIT ON THE FLOOR! That was to guard against getting germs in the grist.”
After purchasing the mill and making some changes to convert it into a home, Ruth Berry Brown, sold the mill to Forrest and Linda Gist circa 1968. After four years of working nights and weekends, the Gist family was able to move into the historic mill. The restoration work, however, continued for another ten years. During the restoration stage, Gist was careful to keep the authenticity and character of the original structure by using materials from old homes and buildings that were being torn down in the Salado, Taylor, and Waco areas.
After their purchase of the mill from Gist in 1992, David and Pat Mikulencak was another couple to call Stinnett Mill home. The couple reared three children on the banks of the Salado while residing in the converted mill. Gist had done the first phase of the restoration that preserved the rustic appearance of the mill. During the 20 years the Mikulencaks lived in the mill, they completed the second phase of restoration by adding energy efficient features and a contemporary interior design.
David and Whitney Hill purchased the mill in 2010 and like the previous owners, they have worked to preserve the historic nature of the mill. And thus, Ruth Berry Brown’s objective of preserving the mill as a monument to the history of the region has been met and Stinnett Mill lives on.