The Snake Den Mill

By David Armstrong

In ante-bellum Western Virginia, in the pioneer days before the advent of the steam sawmill and the big timber operators, millwork was done on the water powered mill, a simple yet efficient device with which the pioneer Americans cut their timber and ground their grist, and saw to the needs of the growing and expanding nation. These water powered factories may have lacked the speed and output capabilities of more modern facilities, but they served the populace well, and were important centers of the community.

Several such facilities operated in the early days in Randolph County. One of the lesser known was located on the Tygart Valley River in the middle of what was to become Elkins, West Virginia. The mill at the Snake Den Ford was built by Andrew Shanklin in 1805, and served the local community for a quarter of a century.

Shanklin built his mill on the river near the new Elkins sewer treatment plant, upstream from the old sewer plant and the Jaycees club house. In 1796 Andrew Skidmore, original grantee of the area which is now South Elkins, sold to Thomas Phillips a tract of land that includes the present day location of the new Elkins sewer plant. In January of 1805, Phillips sold to Andrew Shanklin a 1/2 acre lot of river frontage for his use in butting a mill dam across the river. Shanklin did not remain in the milling business for long, however, for in December of 1806 he sold this property to Eli Butcher. In those days, although there were several bridges in existence, much of the crossing of streams was done at fords. and the ford at the mill above mentioned had by that time become known as the "Snake Den Ford".

Across the river from the property in question, on the same side of the stream as the Hinkle addition to the city of Elkins, was the farm of Jesse Hamilton, he being one of he five grantees of the 1000 acre Walker tract. These grantees, Cleaver, Friend, Donoho, Skidmore and Hamilton were taken to court and sued by Mark Graham in 1806, and in February of that year the court found in Graham's favor and he was awarded the portion of the tract that had been granted to Jesse Hamilton, upon which is now the Hinkle addition. A year later Graham sold 50 acres of this tract to Butcher, it being the part at the lower end, the present day Junior High School area, and it adjoined the Snake Den Ford and mill. Henceforth the mill was part of a much larger tract of land.

Ely Butcher's mill is referred to in the minute books of Randolph County. In June of 1810 Thomas Holder made a motion for a road to be surveyed from his house through Bringham's and Marteny's lands (present day Highland Park) to Ely Butcher's mill. In June of 1815 Butcher sold the 50 acre mill property to Henry Hodskins. One would have to question whether or not he actually operated the mill or for how long, as several references are made in the minute books of Randolph County during the period to the mill as that of Thomas Phillips. Phillips finally bought the 50 acre tract from Hodskins in 1828.

At the same time as the purchase of the mill property by Phillips, Zirus Wees purchased a 116 acre tract downstream from Nathan Everett. This tract was Joseph Donoho's portion of the 1000 acre preemption grant. It included the present day Oak Grove addition and the river frontage adjacent thereto. Two years later, in 1830, Phillips sold the 50 acre mill property which adjoined Wees's 116 to Wees. Something had apparently happened to the mill, however, or possibly happened to it during Wees's early ownership. In December of 1834 Zirus Wees appeared in court and asked for permission to build a mill dam on his property across the river from Andrew Crawford. Crawford had come into possession of the tract on the south side of the river which Phillips had bought of Skidmore in 1796, and from which the 1/2 acre mill property originally came. Wees's request for permission was denied. The supposition that something had happened to the mill is strengthened by the fact that at the same time James S. Skidmore, who lived near the present day IOOF home, also asked for permission to build a mill on his property, indicating a need for action concerning a mill in the area.

What became of the mill at the Snake Den Ford is not known. Zirus Wees lived out his life on the farm at the mill property and his descendants occupied the farm until the 1960's.

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