“Old Mill Hollow” Jefferson Township, Washington County Indiana.

Like many places, the valley that myself and friend/filmographer D.J. Henderson visited this past Sunday has many names; Twin Creek Valley, Henderson Park, and originally “Old Mill Hollow”. Located East of Cave River Valley/Old Clifty Old Mill Hollow too has a long and interesting history of distilling and milling with an industry stretching from at least as early as 1818 and for certain until well into the 1860’s.

There were at least three grain mills and as many as 9 distilleries operating simotaneously in this unique limestone plateau valley. Though I, and I doubt anyone else can determine precisely where these operations were located (distilleries) the Mills do leave a few remnants. We have much more to study in the valley and I will update new posts as they come.

Interestingly this valley was the launching point for many flat boats carrying pork, flour, and of course brandy and whiskey. The name McPheeters will pop up here again as it has earlier in Howard Township in association with the distillery sold to John Horner. Here McPheeters alongside of partner Mallote are bringing purchased barrels of whiskey and brandy for flatboat shipment south (the launch being about a mile or so down the creek from the McNeely Mill).

The other cultural thing of note in this region is that most of the settlers are actually of Welsh, Irish, and Scottish descent unlike the rest of the county which was made up mostly of German descent. there are lots of Covenanters ( Scottish Presbyterian movement)here. There are however Hessians such as a distiller by the name of Bush (related of course to the Bush family of distillers in Jackson twsp.) and also two of Napolean Bonaparte’s chief officers, Marshal Neigh (Napolean’s Field Marshall who faked his execution in France and lived in the area a short while near the cave located at Wonder Valley Christian Camp and wrote the first book published in Indiana, ironically about the life of Napolean) as well as John Caspar; a special deputy of Napolean trusted with hand selecting the finest horses for Napolean’s officiers.

A little history from The Centennial History of Washington County Indiana:

EARLY MIILS AND INDUSTRY The first mill in the town ship was built by James Meredith in 1816 on Twin creek, the power to operate if was furnished by water damned up in a cave The water was carried down to the mill by hewn troughs to an overshot wheel which operated a corn buhr about two and one half feet in diameter. Twin creek was declared navigable up to within a couple of miles of this mill and farmers living adjacent to the stream were required to regularly remove all drifts and logs that would interfere with boats floating out just as they had to work the roads A few years later Meredith built a saw mill about three fourths of a mile farther down the creek This mill was rebuilt in 1845 and operated up to 187.0 Fultz also built a gristmill some distance above the saw mill which was afterwards known as the old McNeely mill It was run by an overshot water wheel and some of its remains are still to be seen In 1824 Jehu Cox put up a corn and oil mill about a mile above where the McNeely mill stood It was afterwards known as the Keyes mill and was operated for a good many years or till about 1860 when the creek dried up so there was no water to operate it excepting for a few weeks in the spring of the year There was also a carding machine operated here by the Key es for several years

DISTILLERIES A NECESSARY ADJUNCT It was once the boast of this section of country that it contained more distilleries than could be found in any other part of the county As fast as they got enough land in cultivation to raise a surplus of corn or fruit they either distilled it themselves or sold it to others to distill into whisky or brandy Almost every hollow that had a good spring in it had its little copper still where the pure liquor was made From 1820 to 1835 more than half the land in Jefferson township was paid for by the sale of whisky Some of it was sent south by flat boats down Twin creek and much of it went to Salem Malotte and McPheeters purchasing all that was for sale had it hauled to Louisville in wagons and from thence sent south in boats There was no government tax on it then and it was sold at from twenty to fifty cents per gallon according to age On election and muster days political aspirants would be on hand and roll out a barrel of the pure stuff knock out the head and with gourds serve the attendant throng till all were satisfied Those who are now known to have operated distilleries in early times were William Williams Christian Prow Thomas Sandy William Sells William Reid Robert Ellison John Collins Isaac Denney William Elliott Alex Wilson Solomon Bush William and Mathew Marks Booth Robinson Henry Baker John Holler George Holsapple and Tippins Brothers The first store was opened by Christopher Prow Jr in 1836 who ran

DANGER OF FAMINE In 1814 corn and provisions of all kinds were very scarce in the settlement and there was nothing to be bought in the county To avoiding suffering if not starvation Christian Prow Jr and William Williams took a five horse team and started for Beargrass Kentucky to buy corn On arriving there they found a man who had corn he had been selling at fifty cents per bushel but he unfortunately for them was on a big spree and they could do nothing with him They then heard there was corn twenty two miles back in Kentucky to which place they drove and got all they could haul Over the roads as they then were a ton was a monster load for five horses As they came back they stopped at Vorkman’s mill in Clarke county to have their corn ground and were detained there two days waiting for their meal It took them about twelve days to make the round trip and the settlers began to be quite uneasy about them supposing a stray band of Indians had ambushed them besides they were all out of meal not a quart being in the entire settlement Finally the wagon rolled in at Prow’s where all were waiting The meal was soon distributed and all were happy

and a little from The History of Lawrence, Orange, and Washington Counties Indiana:

MANUFACTURING The first mill built on Twin Creek was put up by James Meredith between 1815 and 1820 Its power was furnished by water dammed up in the cave The mill is still in use Twin Creek was declared navigable by the Legislature very early Meredith built a saw mill about three fourths of a mile further down the stream a few years later It was rebuilt by John Fultz in 1845 and was used until about fifteen years ago In 1845 Fultz built the grist mill now owned by Robert McNeely a little above the saw mill Between 1820 and 1825 an oil and corn mill was built just above this mill by Jehu Cox It was not used after his death A saw mill was built by John Collins about 1842 on Buffalo Creek David Hamilton built a saw mill on Rush Creek in 1836 A

This was the banner township for distilleries It was stated at one time a person could stand at a certain point on Walnut Ridge and see the smoke from nine distilleries William Elliott had one Fayette Burcham’s Isaac Denny operated one on land owned by Bowen s Alex Wilson had one on land owned by David Gordon Reid had one on the Reid place Solomon Bush had one where Branaman lives John Collins operated one where Joseph Hogue lives William and Matthew Marks owned one on land now owned by Larks Booth Robinson William Williams Henry Baker John Holler Christian Prow George Holsapple George and Andrew Tippins probably others also conducted distilleries


-Welcome to Henderson Park by Mayor Mahuron

The city of Salem purchased this 400 acre tract of land about 1930 to get water. Salem’s water Department was formed in 1885 and furnished water to residents from springs just west of the city’s edge for 25 years or to 1910, when this system had to be supplemented by laying pipe to Indiana springs (now Rotary Springs”. A gasoline powered engine pumped water into the Salem system until 1930 when again, more water was needed; thus Henderson Park was purchased, pipe was laid to Henderson Park, collecting ponds and the old reservoir was built and again water from these everflowing springs was pumped by gasoline mors into Salem’s water system. By 1940 Salem was again feeling a water shortage and plans were made to build Lake Salinda (35 acres) which was completed in 1949. Water was again rationed in the early 1960’s. The City, cooperating as co-sponsor of the Twin-Rush Watershed along with the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Twin-Rush Watershed Conservancy District was able to get cost-share from the Soil Conservation Service in constructing Lake John Hay (240 acres) which was competed in 1967.

History- Henderson Park

At the source of the once navigable stream, three caves continually pour out large quantities of pure water. Surely the Indians camped here often, and there is some evidence that the “Indiana raceway” over the Mill Cave entrance, where grass would not grow, was either a ceremonial or burying ground. Recent disfigurements cover any traces of Indian writings in or near the caves.

When the White Men found this area, he built a few more mills. “The first mill in the township was built by James Meridith in 1816 on Twin Creek. The power to operate it was furnished by water damned up in a cave….a few years later Meridith built a sawmill…further down the creek…Fultz…built a grist mill….above the sawmill, which was afterwards known as the old McNeely Mill. In 1824 Jehu Cox put up a corn and cottonseed oil mill and was operated until about 1860, when the creek dried up so there was no water to operate it, excepting..in the spring. With the Mill came stills, and it is said that “a person could stand at a certain point on Walnut Ridge and see the smoke from nine distilleries. The mills were still standing in the early 1900’s, but are gone today.

In 1917 a group from Chicago bought this 360 acres from the Sullivans, who owned several of the mills. A Dr. Henderson from Salem was appointed to take charge of the place, and it has been known as Henderson Park ever since. Even though the owners called it the “Hoosier Orchard and Poultry Farm”. Mr. McNeely sawed lumber for a three-story barn. Several other buildings (Vista) were built, but not remain today. The road into the property was graveled in 1918. Until it was improved in 1972, cars often buried themselves up to the axles in this roadbed, even in dry weather.

The cave water was pumped to a reservoir on top of the hill by a hyrdraulic ram, until the City of Salem bought the property and built a larger reservoir and pump house where the McNeely Mill had been. The water was pumped into Salem for a while but after a new lake (Salinda) was built near Salem, the machinery was removed and the area was left to nature. The Reservoir ponds soon filled up and the buildings were defaced by vandals, but the valleys have returned to a natural state and Henderson Park is now a popular retreat.

I do have some information and articles and pictures about the Hoosier Orchard and Poultry farm which I might post later. Ironically they planted a huge number of Fleenor Peaches there!!!

For now though I’ll give you some pics and video to ponder.

Ignore the pocket folds but this is the map we took into the field on the trip from the article included by Mayor Maharon.

To the left of the stream what I original had presumed to have been an old Lime Kiln but what I believe to actually be the Ramhouse

To the left side of this stream there is a short stacked wall as well as a road bed that rounds the side of the hill ridge, this is where the first mill, known as twin creek mill was located. The cave is known as Mill Cave.

Mill Cave. This was originally damned up to provide water to an overshot mill for Twin Creek Mill operated and owned by James Meredith

Looking upstream back towards Mill Cave. You can see there is quite a water drop here.


Various ruins of the second mill in the valley started by Jehu Cox and later run by the Keyes family. The rectangular depression next to the creek was either water wheel related or gearing room related. This mill was used for corn but also for the production of cottonseed oil (believe it or not Cotton was a Southern Hoosier crop!)

Middle Cave. Hard to imagine this wasn’t used for “industry”. No foundations were found here but I’d say that water has cooled a serpentine coil or two.

The path to Waterfall Cave (ironically a dry chamber) as well as the cave. Rock with graffiti including “Raymond Cauble”. Ironically the Caubles owned mill works as well.


It is hard to tell anything much from this picture and I need to go back and further explore this area more completely, this is a drainage from either a small spring or cave with several “falls” in it, some of which look man made, it runs right beside a wagon trail, of which there are many in the valley, but this one is perhaps the single best preserved trail I have ever seen in the county and judging by it’s ruts and reinforcement along the stream with limestone blocks saw a lot of traffic, this was a high commerce area and I imagine it is entirely possible this might have fed a farm distillery.

The road leading into the valley from the West side and to the site of the original McNeely Mill. The stone house you see is the Salem pump plant mentioned above and its holding tank.


Beyond the pump plant and across the stream the old wagon road continues and the creek widens. I will be returning to this portion of the park to do more research as this is the area of McNeely Mill and not far from the flat boat launching points. To the left side of the old road runs a 4-7 foot tall stacked stone fence. These were usually built in conjunction with hog farming. This fence easily continues for a 1/4 or a mile or more and encompases a large area, this is the industrial agriculture of the 1800’s, running a mill and distillery and feeding the slops to hundreds of pigs to put on flatboat and send down stream. Any farm that would have sustained as many hogs as this fence could have held would have had to have been run in conjunction with a mill and a distillery. There is more here to find and I will follow up very shortly.

Also, as a quick follow up to my previous Old Cliffty work. Recent research has revealed the presence of five commercial distilleries in the valley. The ruins we posted are actually those of the old Wessner distillery while the Brewer was closer to Cavetown at what is now known as the Kelly Green Cave. The block wall ruins at Moscow caver were actually those of the Schroyer distillery. We are working on getting to the Kelly Green cave but haven’t made it that far yet, the last foray was made late in the evening and was hindered by finding the Clifty Creek Falls as seen below:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: