THE HOWARD COUNTY LIVING
FARM HERITAGE MUSEUM
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The village of Roxbury Mills, located on the Cattail River just off State Route 97, is one of the oldest of the many small hamlets in Western Howard County. Captain Philemon Dorsey built the first mill there in 1753. Roxbury Mill operated continuously from then until 1962 as a succession of updated milling operations were built on the site. It is believed to have been the last operating water powered mill in Howard County.
Roxbury Mill as it looked in the 1960s
Tour the project above. It lasted 12 months and required the use of many Club members and lots of specialized equipment.
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Until July 2002, the Roxbury Mill stood and still contained most of its machinery, but the building was neglected for more than 30 years and in the last stages of decay. The “town” of Roxbury Mills is still identifiable and is very much as it was a century ago, except that the bridge is open to foot traffic only and the roads are blacktop rather than dirt.
The original “miller’s house” is still standing above the mill. Irene and Raymond Smallwood, Sr., the last operators of the mill lived there until 1991 when Mrs. Smallwood passed away. Although no longer visible outside, the original log cabin is said to be “hidden” inside. The house is now owned and occupied by Kathy and Ralph Lillie. In addition, the combination residence and store that served the Mill is located across the river.
Evans sued Thomas for $800 damages. Mr. Thomas’ son-in-law, Isaac Knight, finally settled the case in 1822 for $400. The license given by Evans granted use of “my Patented Machine and Patented Improvements in the art of manufacturing flour or meal, as follow, viz. For elevating grain and meal and conveying the same from one part of the mill to another, and for cooling the meal and attending the bolting – hoppers; for the use of [Isaac Knight’s] Mill consisting of one waterwheel, driving not more than one pain of millstones at the same time, situate on Cattail Branch, called Rocks Bury Mill…”
The town of Roxbury Mills probably reached its peak population in the 1830’s when Matthew’s store, a post office, a blacksmith shop and several additional residences were added. This growth came to an end, however, when Matthews moved his store 5 miles North. This settlement, then known as “Matthews”, was renamed “Glenwood” in 1874.
Roxbury Mills was touched by the Civil war when General Jeb Stuart, CSA, rode through with 2 brigades of confederate Calvary in the pre-dawn hours of June 29, 1863. The Confederates fought the “Battle of Cooksville” against token Federal opposition before going on to destroy the railroad at Hoods Mill. (Stuart was on his way to join General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, but he was distracted by his success in capturing Federal supply wagons and so did not arrive in Gettysburg until the 3rd day of the battle. Some historians think that delay may have made the difference between victory and defeat for Lee).
Roxbury Mills had a role to play during prohibition. According to Raymond Smallwood, Jr., Ed Higgins, a well-known moon shiner lived in the Matthew’s house in the 1920’s and operated his still in what is now the dining room. He was well located because he could buy his “midlins” (coarse ground corn or barley) from the mill nearby and his sugar from the local general stores. Bill Pindell, whose family ran the Glenwood General Store at the time, used to say that they sold Higgins 900 pounds of sugar each year – presumably for use in making moonshine. Higgins limited his purchases at any one store because store owners were required to report sales of 1,000 pounds or more to the Federal Government.
Ray Smallwood, Jr. remembers that as a small boy he witnessed an early morning raid on the Higgins house. The Feds chopped up the still and the mash boxes and poured their contents out the windows.
Roxbury Mill as it looked in July 2002
A reliable and abundant source of water was essential to industry of any kind in the 18th and 19th centuries and the town was located at the best mill site for miles around. It takes 3 thousand gallons a minute to operate a gristmill and about 8 thousand gallons a minute flow by in the Cattail on a normal, non-drought, day. Even at the height of the 1999 drought, the river slowed but never stopped.
In its more that 200 years of operation, the mill went through several modernizations and updates. One of the special interest occurred in the early 19th century when the milling innovations of Oliver Evans were incorporated. (Oliver Evans was the “Bill Gates” of 19th century milling; his techniques and machinery were used in all “modern” mills – Ellicott Mills included.) Mr. Samuel Thomas, the mill owner at the time of the change, did not pay Mr. Evans for the use of his patented system.
In July 2002, Jack and Janet Cremeans, owners of the property at the time where the Roxbury Mills stood, donated the structure and its contents to the Club with the hope that it would someday be part of the planned Farm Museum. At that time, Jack, a member of the Antique Farm Machinery Club worked with club member Hiller Ilves to put a slide program together to present his idea to the general membership. In July of 2002 members of the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club began the operation of salvaging the machinery and other items from the mill. Many work sessions over the next three months saw machinery saved as well as many of the workings of the mill. Old timbers, line shafts, gears and much more were saved. Due to the decay of the building, it was unable to be restored. The items that have been saved are in storage and will be restored and used to build a smaller mill at the Howard County Farm Heritage Museum in the future. Everything has been donated to the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club and they have taken on the job as caretakers of the future of Roxbury Mill. The Club wishes to express its appreciation to Jack and Janet Cremeans for the donation of the Roxbury Mill and its contents and share in their desire to one day present its working parts as part of the Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum..
Although the foundation remains on the property at this time visitors to the museum may enjoy the parts that have been salvaged.
This information was compiled by Jack Cremeans, July 15, 2000,updated by Virginia Frank, October 1, 2002, and then again by Jennifer Frecker with help from information provided by the Howard County Historical Society.
For more information on Roxbury Mill see Celia Holland, “Old Homes and Families of Howard County, Maryland”.
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