A.C. Knibb’s Waterwheel

21 Oct

Years ago, serendipity allowed us to come across a series of three articles on Goochland water mills by Abner Clopton Knibb. These articles had been published by the Goochland Gazette in 1956 and were re-printed in the Society’s Magazine in 2002. In March of 2020, the Society was made aware of an old mill, still standing on private property. After touring and photographing the mill, we did some research and found out it is the same mill written about nearly 50 years ago. The following is a re-print of the third article in the series accompanied by photographs taken in March of Abner’s still standing waterwheel mill.

The A.C. Knibb’s Waterwheel – Goochland Gazette, May 25, 1956

By A.C. Knibb

     Just why I loved the old water mill as I did, I don’t know, unless it was one of the few pieces of machinery that we had in the county, and I was very fond of machinery. As a chap, I made corn stalk water wheels with pine bark water troughs, and had wheels turning on the branches just for entertainment.

     My brother-in-law saw an overshoot wheel at a junk place, and knowing my fondness for water wheels, bought it for me. It was about 3 feet tall, and 6 inch on the face. To get the water on that wheel was my first job. I got in the creek, got wet and muddy from head to foot, got rock in place, that it would seem about impossible. Isn’t it remarkable what we can do, when we WANT to? Well, the water went on that wheel, and with some cog-gearing out of a mowing machine, I rigged up a churn sweep, carried my mother’s churn down there, and before she got to the springhouse next morning, I had the butter. I never did like a churn, and just to see the water splash over that wheel and turn it while the dasher knocked the butter out, was “glory for me,” and it did a better job, for I used to get tired churning, and stop to look in the churn to see if the butter had come, but that water wheel did not seem to care if the butter had come or not but kept knocking away. When mother found out what I had done, she came racing over the hill, talking as she came and declaring I had ruined her cream. When the sweep was stopped and she looked, she had the nicest, best gathered and firmest butter you ever saw. It was not only “glory for me,” but VICTORY.

     My father’s grinding stone was turned by hand, and my next job was to rig it up to run with the water power. Then when I wanted to grind an axe or a mower blade, or a cradle scythe, I did not have to get one or two girls to turn the grinding stone, while I held the axe or blade, but the water kept turning the wheel, and it turned the stone. Of course I whistled and sung over the advancements we were making. This wheel was not sufficient to grind corn or oats into chop as fast as one horse could eat it, and the little plant went down, when I left home.

     Did I abandon the idea of a real mill? No sir. All the time I was trying to learn how to preach (and nothing but death could stop me) the water mill was constantly coming up in my mind. Later, I entered the evangelistic field, and have rambled through about 40 counties of this State or parts of them and some in North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and was allowed to preach once in Maryland. Whenever I crossed a stream, whether I was going to a funeral, a wedding or to begin a meeting, I looked up and down, to see how the water fall was, and when in 1916, I got back home to serve a group of the country churches, my salary was small, and I persuaded myself that the mill and the farm would be just the combination needed to help preach the gospel.

     I bought that over-shoot water wheel 16 feet high, 3 feet on the face, all steel. It came knocked down and had to be installed. That being accomplished, the wheel stood there with nothing else that looked like a mill and of course looked like the project of some half-crazy or whole-crazy somebody, and the folk began to talk.

     About the first thing I heard was “I think we have made a mistake in calling that man to this field. Anyone who thinks that he can ever get the water out of that creek on that wheel, is not fit for a pastor.” By and by the ditch to bring the water to the pond and on to the wheel began to show up, and then comes another saying, “Abner ought to have sense enough to know that the water will never run up hill.”

     The ditch went on and was nearing completion, and I was needing another ditcher, and asked a neighbor if he knew where I could hire one. “No,” he replied and then asked, “Abner, do you want to grind?” “Yes,” I replied. “Well go on to Richmond, and buy you a gasoline engine, and grind. You ought to have sense enough to know that water will never go where you are trying to make it go, and if it did, it would never run a mill.” The ditch was finished, the water went on that wheel, the mill ran and ground all the grain that came. Not always while the customer waited, for the storage pond was too small, and we had to wait for water. If the pond had been large enough to hold all the water that ran down, we could have ground from 20 to 30 bushels of bread meal per day.

     During the worst drought we ever had, we were able to grind while the mills on the Southanna and Northanna rivers could not turn a wheel.

     One morning while the mill was running, Col. Hamlin came by, and with a smile asked, “Do you think you will ever get your money back?” I replied, “I don’t know about that, but one thing I do know, I have water going my way.” That little stream that had been running, splashing, singing and playing, was now made to play a new game. It shot into those buckets, and then rode gracefully down to the bottom, and while it rode down to the bottom, it turned the grist or chop mill, the corn sheller, the grinding stone, the saw mill, lath saw or wood saw.

     The meal or graham that was made out of corn or wheat that grew on the old farm, and was carefully selected and ground in that mill, turned with that water and gauged as to fineness with these fingers of mine, all seemed to add to its flavor, and it seemed to give extra strength.

     What a time I had with the customers. I have always preached, “Carry your religion into your business,” and here I had such a fine opportunity to preach by precept and example. Christians who are anxious to do it can usually find the chance to introduce the religious topic, if they watch for it.

     When no one was around, I found the mill a fine place to prepare a sermon, or read a book or paper.

     I was on the program for a Convention sermon, and it found shape in the quiet meditation. So the mill was prayer and study room, as well as a factory for food.

     Why did I not keep that mill running? Oh, I would love to, to this minute and if I ever find the way to put the water back on that wheel, I am going to do it, but the income did not keep pace with ever-increasing wages, and I was financially unable to keep it going.

We are not including the location of the mill due to the fact that it is on private property and is not accessible to the public.

To learn more about Goochland water mills, read Goochland County Historical Society Magazine, Vol. 34, “The Old Water Mills of Goochland” by Abner C. Knibb.  These are available for purchase at the Goochland County History Center and online.

One Response to “A.C. Knibb’s Waterwheel”

  1. Louise Thompson October 22, 2020 at 8:48 am #

    was there a water mill at the old Sasafrass mill at Oilville also? any remnants still there besides the foundation?

    *Louise Thompson Joyner Fine Properties* O) 804-967-2743 F) 804-967-2770 Cell & Text) 804-399-2518 2727 Enterprise Parkway, Richmond, VA 23294 *Licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia* Email: Louise@LouiseThompson.net http://www.LouiseThompson.net

    *”**The Agent That’s With You – Start to Finish!” *

    On Wed, Oct 21, 2020 at 3:12 PM Goochland History wrote:

    > goochlandhistory posted: ” Years ago, serendipity allowed us to come > across a series of three articles on Goochland water mills by Abner Clopton > Knibb. These articles had been published by the Goochland Gazette in 1956 > and were re-printed in the Society’s Magazine in 2002. In ” >

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