Published in the Sunday Journal Gazette, February 8, 1970
GRIST OF CEDAR CREEK
FAMILY SETTLED AROUND A BUSY MILL AND STAYED
By Forest J. M’Comb
When Allen County was opened up for settlement, JAMES VANDOLAH came from Greene County, Ohio. The year was 1832. He found what he wanted in northeast Perry Township and purchased 520 acres direct from the government. The land lay on both sides of Cedar Creek, and 100 acres of it straddled the creek bottom, connecting the high land on both sides. The price was $1.25 per acre.
The officials with whom James dealt were amazed. “Why, Mr. Vandolah, with such a good choice of available land do you take so much wild creek bottom?”
“I’m a millwright,” he answered, “and I want the water rights!”
JAMES VANDOLAH went back to Greene County. Three years later he returned and dug the mill race. The following year, 1836, he brought his family to stay.
Cedar Creek comes down through Auburn, picking up tributaries and increasing in size on its southerly course. Soon after entering Allen County, it is joined by Willow Creek, and turns on a southeastern course through Perry and Cedar Creek Townships to empty into the St. Joseph River near Cedarville.
The land in northeast Perry Township is the highest elevation in Allen Co – it being 923 feet above sea level at one point, making it 160 feet higher than at Fort Wayne. The stream of Cedar Creek goes out of its banks during flood time, spreading water over the entire creek bottom, and undoubtedly, has cut the deep canyon that varies in width from a quarter to one half mile from rim to rim. The wild creek bottom is filled with trees and brush and is beautiful and picturesque.
Sites Well Chosen for Mill, house
James chose well, building a house for the family on the south rim, and the mill down close to the creek. The creek curved south on his land and he had cut the mill race across and inside of the curve, and located the mill against the bluff of hill on the west side of the creek and south of what later became the Auburn Road.
JAMES VANDOLAH was a genius at his trade and the mill was expertly engineered. The mill burr, made from French stone, was adjustable for fine and coarse grinding, and everything in the mill worked beautifully.
The importance of water power can be recognized when it is remembered that the only other power available to a pioneer was horses, oxen, and his own strong back. The power of water is clearly demonstrated, because many years later, a 10 horse-power steam engine was tried on the mill and could barely pull it.
So pioneers took advantage of water whenever possible, and while the mill James owned became popular and one of the better known, it was just one of the 35 mills that finally operated in Allen County. Besides the grist mill, a saw mill was installed and used a drag saw to rip the logs. I heard of a white-oak log that was brought to the mill. It was so large in circumference the mill couldn’t handle it, and it was dragged to one side where it rotted down.
Shortly after the Vandolah family settled on Cedar Creek, the SMITH, WARNER and MYERS families came from Pennsylvania. They took up rugged land north of the creek and this became known as the Dutch Ridge country, and still is.
JAMES VANDOLAH must have employed a miller to operate the mill, for he continued to work at his trade. He built the Skyrock Mill at Leo, the Dawson Mill at Spencerville, a mill near Clarksville, and a number of others. But he became sick and died at the comparatively early age of 44.
With the settling of James’ estate, the mill became the property of the GLOYD family. JEROME GLOYD lived for a time in the Vandolah house that still stands on the south rim of the canyon, and where the Auburn Road starts to wind down into the creek valley past the old mill site. The mill was in the Gloyd family for about 44 years and became known as “Gloyd’s Mill.”
Gloyd Family Took Over Mill Property
ED GLOYD, a brother of Jerome, became the miller and under his reign many things happened. A daughter, MRS. TRACEY McMARRALL of Kendallville, was born at the mill residence in 1889, and she remembers the family attending Sunday services at the Dutch Ridge Salem Reformed Church. In the summer, on arriving home, the family would choose a spot down at the creek and have a picnic dinner for themselves and any guest’s present.
An improvement in “getting the mail” was made when a corner of the mill was partitioned off and it became a U.S. post office. It was served by a Star Route from Auburn Junction. The carrier made the round trip six days a week with horses, and dropped the mail off at designated points. It was then up to local people to “come and get it.” Thus the mill became a social center, as the county had built a steel bridge across the creek making it easily accessible.
It became the habit for neighborhood men to gather evenings at the mill. They’d get the mail, the news, and the gossip, exchange opinions and play checkers! Someone marked off a board, and the games were hot and furious, and one opponent used white grains of corn and the other red. The champion didn’t play all the time but was usually on hand to take on anyone who thought he’d become pretty good!
In these social gatherings, there was a chap, who must remain anonymous, but he loved to stretch the truth for the entertainment of his fellowmen. When he stepped into the mill one dark night, one of the loafers called to him, “Hey _______, tell us a lie, real quick!”
“I can’t do it boys,” he said, “I’ve no time for foolishness. I just got word that so-and-so up on the hill has died! The family sent for me, and that’s where I’m goin’!” He backed out and shut the mill door.
The “news” was like a bomb to the listeners and it took awhile to digest it. Many of them had seen the man that day, in fact, he’d had a grist to the mill. A death in those days must be handled right at home by surviving members of the family, and the help of friends was greatly appreciated. When the shocked group had time to think it over, one of them said, “Boys, some of us better get up there!”
About a half dozen men walked across the bridge and up to the house. There was a lantern at the woodpile and someone was chopping. It proved to be the dead man! “We – we—heard you was dead!” one of the astounded men said. “Who said so?”
“So-and-so came in the mill. We asked him to tell us a lie real quick, and he said that you were dead, and he couldn’t. “I’ll assure you boys, I’m very much alive,” the corpse said, leaning on his axe, “but he did tell you a lie real quick, didn’t he?”
The mill drew customers from quite a distance. The VANDOLAHs being related to the TUCKER family in Eel River Township, and twice a year the TUCKER, HAND and ANDERSON families loaded a wagon with grain, men, women, and children and drove the ten miles to the mill. While the grist was being ground, they’d stable and feed the horses in Vandolah’s barn, then stay for dinner and a visit. When back home, the flour stored carefully, would make their supply of bread for the next six months.
Money was scarce and hard to come by in those days. The way the mill operated, if folks didn’t have cash to pay for the grinding, the miller took one eighth of the grain. It was called “paying toll.”
A character, who wished to equal the champion liar, started a rumor that the miller had raised the toll out of all proportion. “I took a grist to the mill,” he said, “and the miller not only took all the grain for the grinding, but then chased me clear across the bridge trying to get my sacks!” But knowing ED GLOYD, no one believed this story.
After operating the mill many years, ED GLOYD, in 1896, traded the 100 acre property to JEROME BLEEKMAN for land in Ohio. Jerome’s grandson, ARTHUR BLEEKMAN, was nine years old and moved with his grandfather to the residence. He later acquired the property, and has lived there 73 years. “Art” says the mill was getting old and worn, especially the dam across the creek. JAMES VANDOLAH had the entire operation well planned. The rise and fall of the water had to be con-sidered and James’ engineering took this into account, and he maintained a good head of water on the wheel, even during a drought.
JEROME BLEEKMAN tried to repair the dam and dug the race longer, but not possessing the engineering skill of James, he got into trouble. High water washed around the dam, lowering the supply of water. The headgate controlling the water to the wheel was on the north side of the road, and a flume carried it under the road and into the mill. The mill had to be shut down at intervals to wait for the water to build up, and in four years Jerome closed the mill.
It proved to be a wise decision, for steam and gasoline power were soon to supercede water power throughout the country. The mill had operated for about 60 years and served its purpose.
What of the VANDOLAH family? Some of James’ descendants are still on land he took up from the government to the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth generation. This is a rarity, for few descendants are still on land their forefathers pioneered. They have taken up another occupation and moved elsewhere, or perhaps moved to different land, and in many cases The Grim Reaper has taken a toll!
JAMES VANDOLAH had three sons and four daughters. The daughters married and moved away, but the sons stayed. There were 420 acres left after the 100 acres of mill property were deducted, and the three sons became prominent and well-to-do farmers.
JAMES, the youngest, never married. THOMAS, married but had no children. BENJAMIN, the eldest, married and raised two daughters. ELIZABETH was born in 1889, and FRANCES a year later. They’ve lived their entire life on Vandolah land. “LIZZIE” (MRS. CHARLES STELLHORN) is a widow and has a son, BYRON, with her. They live on the northeast side of Cedar Creek and represent one branch of the third and fourth generations of JAMES VANDOLAH.
FRANCES (FANNIE) and husband, HARRISON BAILEY, live south of Cedar Creek across from the old homestead of her father, BEN, which is just a good stone’s throw from the mill residence. Her daughter, DORIS, (4th generation) and husband, JOE SCHLATTER, live north of Cedar Creek on the Auburn Road and have four sons. One of the sons, RONALD (5th generation) is married and has a house on the property, and at this writing, he has an infant son, BRYAN, representing the sixth generation on the land. The pioneer movements of JAMES VANDOLAH in 1832 have been far reaching, indeed!
ARTHUR BLEEKMAN and the VANDOLAHs, later the BAILEYs and STELLHORNs, have been neighbors 73 years. ART was a much younger man than BEN VANDOLAH, when Ben was living, but they had a thing in common – they both loved hunting. Ben, usually a man of few words, would loosen up and talk hunting. He once told about wounding a deer on his farm and how he followed the animal five miles, almost to Leo, before it weakened enough for him to catch up and get it.
He and Art were in the woods, one day, back of Ben’s house and Ben stopped. Another story was coming.
“I want to tell you, Art, of an experience I had. I shot a buck deer right about here and he dropped. Thinking I had ‘im, I carelessly leaned my gun against a tree and went up to bleed ‘im. I was within a few feet of the deer and he jumped to his feet. When a deer gets mad his hair bristles and turns forward. Every hair on this deer was pointed toward me and his eyes had turned green. I was in a bad position with my gun over against the tree, for I knew he’d attack me. We looked at each other a few seconds, and I was wondering how to keep from being cut to pieces by his hooves, when another shot rang out and the deer dropped a second time. I looked around and my brother, Tom, had come up and saw my predicament.” A confirmed tobacco chewer, Ben spat toward a tree. “Twas the best darned shot Tom ever made!”