John T. Dulaney Mill: A Mill and a Community
1867 – 1912
By Charlene Carson
In 1867 the southern states, including Texas, were still undergoing a period of reconstruction following the Civil War. It was in this same year that Salado incorporated for the purpose of issuing bonds to build a wire cable suspension foot-bridge across Salado Creek. Also, during this year, Rev. James E. Ferguson acquired the Chalk Mill, built in 1848, and the mill became known as the Ferguson Mill.
It was also around this time that John Thornton Dulaney built a new mill on the Salado River. It had been ten years since a new mill had been built on the Salado. When Dulaney built his mill, only three other mills, the Davis Mill, located near Main Street; Summers Mill, located near present day Belton and Holland roads; and Chalk/Ferguson Mill, located about mid-point between Davis and Summers mills were operating on the Salado.
John Thornton Dulaney, a millwright, writer, and adventurer, moved to Bell County in 1865and bought acreage along Salado Creek on which to build a mill. John Thornton Dulaney was born on February 23, 1825 in Culpepper County, Virginia. He learned the value of hard work at an early age. His first job was 12 months of intense labor working in a flour mill at 11 cents per day. If he quit before 12 months he would only receive half pay.
After serving his 12 months, Dulaney, at the age of 17, realized that if he was going to make a living, he needed to find other work. He, therefore, started westward meeting up with a party of Mormons on their way to Nauvoo, Illinois. Finding no work in Nauvoo, he moved on to Burlington looking for employment. He found plenty of work, but no money. All trade was carried on in produce barter. Dulaney, with his earnings fast dwindling, retraced his steps back to Missouri where he was fortunate in getting employment at the high price wage of $8.00 per month working at millwrighting.
Like other young men of his time seeking adventure and fortune, in 1849 Dulaney left Independence, Missouri, driving an ox-wagon team pulling an overland wagon train bound for the gold fields of California. About five months later he arrived in Sacramento, a small town of three frame houses. His company consisted of 64 men. The miners had to form into companies for protection against hostile Indians, with whom they had several fights with two or three Indians killed each time there was a battle.
Dulaney was in California about two years before returning to Virginia. Upon his arrival in Virginia, he immediately left for Texas and while passing through Washington County, he met a young lady by the name of Mary Jane Gates. The couple married on June 21, 1855, and settled in Washington County, the county of Mary Jane’s birth. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 Dulaney volunteered in Hood’s Washington County Volunteers, Company I. After the war, he moved his family to Bell County and settled on the Salado River at Dulaney’s Crossing, which later became the Armstrong Community.
Dulaney told his own story in an article printed in the November 11, 1895, Dallas Morning News when he wrote the following.
“The [Civil] War left me where I began, at the bottom, and in the fall of 1865 I came to Bell county and with what cash I could command bought eight acres of land on Salado Creek with a dam site on it, built a house, erected a sawmill and went to work. I would haul logs with an ox team in the day time and saw them up of nights. For this dam site and eight acres of land I paid $500 cash down in Mexican gold dollars. I added as could make payments, a few acres of land at a time until at present I have bought and paid for about 2,500 acres. We have five children alive, all grown, three girls and two boys; the oldest boy 30 years old.”
“I live thirty steps from the river bank, perpendicular bluff, thirty-five feet high, solid rock. I have a pontoon foot bridge across the mill pond, it being ten feet deep, to our garden on the creek bottom land opposite from my house; steps cut in solid rock to the approach of the bridge. I have two cotton gins and a gristmill run by water power. Timber being scarce I have discontinued sawing. We have waterworks, a continuous stream at our kitchen door; hog and horse lots.”
In this same article, Dulaney also wrote, “I have but two fingers on the hand I write with. Can’t write with a pen at all. I am no letter writer. I had rather build a mill than to write a letter.”
Dulaney built what eventually became one of the largest and most successful of the mills on the Salado. The Dulaney Mill ran as a gristmill, a sawmill, and a cotton gin. Dulaney cleverly built his mill into a small cliff. The necessary mortar was made from limestone burned for that purpose. The mill race was cut out of solid rock. The dam, built of cedar posts, was so well built, that it withstood the ravages of floods for many years.
In addition to the mill, Dulaney built a farm complex consisting of a general store, blacksmith shop, a church, and a school. His gristmill, cotton mill, and store formed a center that was used by those passing to the new frontier of West Texas. Many weary travelers purchased supplies at Dulaney’s store before continuing their journey westward. Dulaney provided housing for his workers by building tenant houses along the banks of the creek. At one-time Dulaney’s land holdings included over 3,000 acres with 25 other families living on the land he had bought.
Dulaney was a mechanical genius and an inventor. Among his personal papers was a patent that Dulaney perfected for a cotton press. He used his skills and his blacksmith shop to make mill parts and other machinery that could not be purchased in Galveston or Houston. He also built tools and other devices to make life easier and more productive. One of those devices was a pulley system by which he drew household water from the creek. The remains of the pulley system hung in the trees long after the mill ceased to operate.
Dulaney was a colorful character and completely independent in his actions. Occasionally the spirit of wanderlust overtook him and he would simply walk off and “hit the trail.” Fortunately, there was always some family member on hand to keep the business going until Dulaney returned with stories of his adventures in Canada, Singapore or the West Indies. There was always a boom of trade when Dulaney returned from one his adventures because of the interesting tales he had to tell.
The Dulaney Mill stayed in business until about 1912. A Texas Historical Marker, which is currently mounted to a stonewall fence in front of the home located near the original mill site, marks the role that the Dulaney Mill played in the development of the Armstrong Community.
In 1916, Dulaney planned a trip from Temple to California retracing the route he took to the gold rush in 1849, sixty-seven years earlier. He returned via boat through the Panama Canal and from there traveled to Virginia to visit his sister. Dulaney died in Virginia August 29, 1916, near Lexington-Fairfield, where he was buried. Mary Jane Gates Dulaney died April 13, 1925 and is buried in Dulaney Cemetery on Elmer King Rd. near Salado, Texas.
The John Thornton and Mary Gates Dulaney children were as follows: 1) Virginia Texas Dulaney Steele married Walter Newton Steele; 2) Emma Ruth Dulaney Brooks married Thomas Sidney Brooks; 3) John A. Dulaney married Mary Elizabeth Stewart; 4) James A. Dulaney married Maud Beatrice Stewart; and 5) Lydia M. Dulaney who was about one-year old when she moved to Bell County with her family.