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Blue Ridge Mountains Getaway


50 Years Ago in Saluda, NC by Herbert E. Pace

  Old Time Water Grist Mills 50 Years Ago

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Not many of the old time water ground grist mills are here now. There used to be two close to where I live - John T. Staton and Levi Ward. The Staton Mill was in Polk County, the Ward Mill was in Henderson County, both about the same distance from home.

Sometimes we would go to one and then the other. I remember when going to school seeing Uncle Perry Davis building a new water wheel at the Ward Mill.

He had all the timber cut and packed up. I asked him would it run when he got it together. He said he would lay his hammer on the edge of the wheel when he had finished and it would start turning. Uncle Perry Davis made all the water wheels in this section.

Most all the water mills had cogs of wood that turned the mill. Some would be round, made of dogwood, and flat ones made of oak or hickory. There were no belts.

The reason water ground meal is better, the mills run steady and slow, and the rocks are large and have more grinding space. Some of the rocks were four feet across. These rocks lay down flat. One called the Bed rock did not turn. There were grooves cut in both rocks deep in the center and nearer the edge the shallower the grooves. The corn would drop in the deep grooves and with the mill running would force it to the outer edge and the meal came out fine or course according to how close you had your rocks together.

These mills all had a dam across the stream and a race that ran to the big wheel. The race had a gate. When they wanted to grind they would raise the gate and let the water run in what they called buckets on the wheel. When the wheel got two or three buckets full it would start turning.

You had to be careful not to let the rocks rub together without corn between them. This would make the mill dull and it would have to be sharpened - and that was a big job. Just anybody could not do that.

  Making Molasses 50 Years Ago

Fifty years ago most every family had a cane patch to make molasses to do a year. Just before frost we would pull the fodder off the cane stalks and cut the seed off and cut the cane down with what we called a cane cutter, made of an old case knife wired on a handle. You could stand straight and cut the cane at the ground. All cane had to be cut before frost. We would haul it to a molasses mill and pile it up and put a little fodder over it. The frost would not hurt it then.

Some people had a mill of their own. Some would haul it several miles to get the molasses made. Sometimes a man would bring his mill to your house and make the molasses if you had a lot of cane. The cane had to he run through a mill or press to get the juice out. The mill was very simple. Had two big cast rollers - sometimes three; with a big crooked piece of timber called the sweep. A horse or mule or an ox hitched to the end of the sweep would go around. One man could feed. The mill was not hard to pull if you could feed the stalks just right. The ox could not stand to be rushed like a mule or horse. A lot of times some one had to drive the ox around.

When we got a big barrel of juice pressed out, we would dip it out and fill a boiler on a furnace and start boiling. This was what we called a box boiler. Then it took about two people with a strainer to skim the skimmings off. When it started to boil the first skimmings were very green looking. We would throw them in what we called the skimming hole. When the skimmings got to looking bright and red we would save them to make molasses candy. When we thought the molasses were thick enough four men would set the boiler off and we would dip molasses up and pour them in a barrel or jugs. Then everybody would get a cane stalk and sop the boiler.

  No Public School for Saluda

Saluda had no public school 50 years ago, but the most valuable of Saluda's possessions was the young ladies seminary established by the American Missionary Association in 1889. This was a boarding school. Its students came from other sections of the country and they boarded at the school building or in homes around. Later they built a large building and called it the Rider Hall for girls. That is the boarding house now called The Manor. At this time boys and girls went to this school. Anybody could go to this school for a small tuition, and board in the school if they wanted to. A lot of the boys boarded at Ransom Pace's later called the Pace House.

An interesting thing about the Pace House is that it has been located in three counties. I have been told that it was built in Rutherford County, then it was in Henderson County; and now in Polk County. All due to county boundary changes.

Fred Robertson loaned me a little book of Saluda published in 1889. Fred seems to know about Saluda. His father was sheriff of Polk County for 16 years straight. J. L. "Daddy" Hart was postmaster at this time. He was also the information bureau.

The Mountain House was about the first hotel here. It was run by Col. Andrew Tanner at this time. S. H. Huggins was mayor. About 200 citizens lived here the year round. In the summer season there were between two and three thousand people coming and going. Saluda was said to be one of the best paying stations on the railroad at that time.

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