A look at the history of Scottsville’s mills 

Contributed by Evelyn Edson, President
Scottsville Museum

Mills were once a common sight in Virginia, and you can still see the ruins of many along the rivers feeding into the James River.  One of the oldest, Jefferson Mills, was established in 1820 on the Hardware River about 3 1/2 miles northeast of Scottsville.  Originally called Albemarle Mills, it changed its name when it was sold to Peter Fields Jefferson in 1857.  In 1919, it was purchased by William Thomas Moulton and handed on to his son, John Adkins Moulton.  It kept on grinding until 1945 when the last miller, William Williams, retired.  The fine, four-story brick building still stands as does the dam.  The mill race, however, has been filled in.

Recently Jefferson Mills applied for a permit to modernize, “repowering” its hydroelectric system.  Let It Go, LLC, that oversees the operation, is building a fish passage for American eels and sea lampreys.  The company is also replacing the turbines with ones that are safer for fish who get sucked into them.  “I think they’re making it better than the existing dam,” said Bill Fritz, development process manager for Albemarle County.

The masonry dam is nine feet tall from the river bottom and 140 feet wide–the width of the river.  “This dam is totally amazing,” said Joseph Head, a civil engineer with Natel Energy.  “These guys that built this dam did it by hand 200 years ago with just rock and mortar, and it’s still there.  If we’re messing with the dam, we have a standard to meet here.”

Most mills have been dismantled, but a few are still working, grinding wheat and corn.  Check out Woodson’s Mill on Piney River for some quality stone-ground products. 

A different kind of mill

The mill which opened on East Main Street at Ferry Street in 1908, was not a water-powered mill.  Though near the James River, the James was too big to dam, and the new mill had the latest equipment, a coal-fired boiler that provided the steam to run the mill.  The business was started by a consortium of Scottsville merchants, including Luther and Captain John Pitts.

This new mill was a complicated machine, and someone knowledgeable was needed to run it.  The Pitts’ found their man in Arthur Thacker, who was running a mill of this type in Stuart’s Draft.  By offering him more money, they were able to lure the Thacker family to Scottsville.  It was on this occasion that young Raymon Thacker came to the town in which he was to spend his life.

“It is still interesting to me how my father could pick the right stones to grind corn and wheat correctly,” said Raymon Thacker.  “It was intricate work, and he had to dress the stones frequently with a small hammer.”  Next door to the mill was a cooperage, where barrels for the flour were made.  People brought wheat and corn, the produce of local farms, to the mill to be turned into feed for livestock and flour for the household.  Richard Nicholas recalls that the mill was “a big operation.”  He remembers “riding there with my father with wheat to be ground around 1940.  The loading, traveling from the farm in Buckingham County, and unloading at the mill would take most of the day.”

The Scottsville Flour Mill was a vital part of Scottsville until it was destroyed by fire in the middle of the night on February 28, 1977, just one year after fires had leveled a good part of downtown.  Despite promises by the Albemarle County Service to upgrade the hydrant system, nothing had been done, and trucks going to the river for water got stuck in the mud.

Where the mill once stood, the James River Reeling and Rafting now hums with activity, launching rafters and kayakers on pleasant days to float down the river.

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