Two photos of the Preston Mill taken over 75 years apart! Thank you to Fran Childers for submitting these photos.
THE OLD MILL AT PRESTON
Written by Opal Stewart Butts
Cousin to Benjamin H. Brakebill
Taken from “Tales of Old Hickory County”
The sun shines warm on the ancient bricks
And caresses its dusty sill;
But within the shadows are long and thick
In the empty old red mill.
Yet I think sometimes in the moon’s soft bloom
When its dusky shadows are low and long;
The old mill wakes and its eerie gloom
Echoes again to the miller’s song.
The old brick mill at Preston was built by the late James A. Brakebill, Sr., in 1889. It stands just south of Preston on a stream that was, of course, called Mill Creek. The bricks were made by Bill Campbell in a kiln that he built there for the purpose. John Niece of Humansville, Henry Niece of Cross Timbers, Aaron Darby of Pittsburg, and Bill Bonner of Urbana, who built the Buffalo Mill, were the carpenters who built it.
It was made in a day when speed was not considered as important as it is now. Its timbers were mortised together and well and strong, for it stands today sturdy and true though it has not been used for many years for milling.
The machinery was bought from the firm of Nordyck and Morman of Indianapolis, Indiana, and a millwright named Cadwell came with it to teach the Brakebills the intricate task of making white flour. He taught the lessons well, for these millers became well known for the excellence of their high patent flour. The late Henry Brakebill and James A. Brakebill, Jr, (sons of James A. Brakebill, Sr.) were the ones to whom Cadwell taught the art and James A. Brakebill made flour there for many years, in fact, he made flour for every owner of the mill but one.
In its heyday, this mill furnished flour for a large territory, people coming from as far as Macks Creek in Camden County, to the Preston Mill. Townspeople and farmers got the makings for the staff of life at the brick mill.
On the third floor over the office they built a little bedroom for some of the boys to sleep in to protect the mill from marauders, for those were the days of Huffman, the outlaw. He probably had another name, but I never heard it. Legend merely speaks of him as Huffman, the outlaw. The eastern part of Hickory County was his stamping ground seventy-five years ago and consequently plans were laid to protect property as he was reported to have a fondness for housebreaking.
One night two of the Brakebill boys, James and Grant, were asleep in the mill when they were awakened late in the night by sounds of horses’ feet and wheels on the frosty ground. They peered out of the window and saw a hack with three men in it crossing Mill Creek. It came to a stop under the trees and two of the men alighted and walked about. By the light o a pale moon the men walked about among the leafless trees. One boy had a shotgun and the other had a rifle and they kept them pointed at the men. Presently the men, likely becoming suspicious of a trap, got back into the hack and drove off toward Preston. It developed later that it was Huffman, who had raided the smokehouse of Martin Shumate, a farmer southeast of Preston, and had stolen his entire meat supply.
I never saw either of them, but I used to like to imagine I could see the tall, heavy figure of my great-grandfather, James A. Brakebill, Sr., as he sat in the little office, the light from the east window framing his face with its long, white beard and piercing black eyes. I could see the equally tall, but slender figure of my grandfather, Henry Brakebill, as he plied with expert hands his flour tester. Family is so strong that the old mill still seems alive with their presence. Death struck them both down in the same year and the mill passed into other hands. Several families of Preston have been identified with the mill during its history.
Mabary and Rains owned it for a whole and it was during their ownership that the boiler blew up, injuring Homer Mabary so seriously that he never fully recovered. Various members of the Bandel family have owned it, Freede Bandel operating it for several years. W. C. King owned and operated it for a while. Noah Hooper owns the building now, but all the machinery has long since been removed; yet in the little office is an old board nailed to a shelf-like structure that has the words, Nordyck and Mormon, Indianapolis, Indiana, painted on it.
Time and tide wait for no man and old institutions outlive their usefulness and pass from this busy world but I can’t help wishing that the busy hum of the old ill could be heard once more along Mill Creek where it has stood since my great-grandfather first opened it for business on St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1890.
Story submitted by Fran Childers, March 2007.
Page last updated April 3, 2007.
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