The McHargue Mills
Probably nothing is more iconic of the McHargues than the McHargue Mill at Levi Jackson State Park in London, Kentucky. The perception by many is that this is the actual mill that was built by William McHargue and that this is the only mill. But, in fact, the mill at the park is a representation of the original mill, not an original at all. In fact, to say original mill is to imply there was only one mill.
The McHargue family built several mills over a period of years. A mill was a necessity in any community in the early days. The grains that the farmers grew had to be ground in order to be able to have meal for the staff of life – bread. Also, there were other necessary kinds of mills such as sorghum and lumber mills. Sorghum was used in place of sugar where sugar was expensive and hard to come by. Rapidly growing communities needed lumber mills for the new homes, barns and outbuildings required by the settlers.
William McHargue I built mills on the banks of Lynn Camp Creek. His was one of the first water driven mills in Kentucky. William brought cone shaped millstones to Kentucky that he had bought in Carter County, Tennessee in 1804 and installed in 1805. He did not bring stones from North Carolina, as it wasn’t possible to bring them across the mountains due to the weight. According to a letter written in 1867, William’s son John bought a set of flat stones in Tennessee in 1812 that he installed in a mill on his place on Robinson Creek. William I’s son, William II, built another mill on Robinson Creek sometime between 1817 and 1820. He also brought in flat stones from Tennessee. Sometime later, one of the mills was upgraded from water to mules and, later, a steam mill was brought by oxen from Louisville for upgrading the mills again. These mills were often the center of community life as people socialized while waiting for their grains to be ground.
Members of the family operated the mills in Kentucky until sometime around 1880. William’s grandson, James, moved from Missouri to Oregon and was instrumental in helping create a milling business there in the town of Brownsville. James’ brother William also had a water mill and a woolen mill in Oregon. So it is understandable to associate McHargues with mills though it was only one of their enterprises.
The very picturesque mill in Levi Jackson State Park that one sees today doesn’t look anything like the photo of an original McHargue mill on Robinson Creek that is pictured in the early thirties with a later owner. But the interior works and millstones are authentic and today the working mill occasionally grinds corn for meal, which can be purchased at the park.
So go to the park and enjoy the mill. The fact that it is not the original shouldn’t be a concern because the beautiful mill that stands today is a concrete reminder of William, his family and the life he and all the early pioneers created on the Kentucky frontier.
Glynis McHargue Patterson