With lake levels for Lake Barkley at winter pool, artifacts and features of a by-gone era will sometimes be visible.
Recently, a concerned member of the public reported to Land Between the Lakes Area Supervisor, Tina Tilley, he had seen a millstone along the lake shore near Empire Farm. He was concerned that someone might try to steal this piece of history.
The Heritage department sent a crew to investigate and found it easily with detailed directions provided by the concerned citizen. What they found was a millstone, about 3 feet in diameter and about 6-8 inches thick located along the edge of the bank where it settled after years of erosion from the lake.
Just a few feet away sits the location of the former headquarters building for the Kentucky Woodlands Wildlife Refuge. Metal artifacts including several horseshoes and an ax head were also found in the immediate vicinity.
How the millstone arrived in its final location is unclear. It may have been moved here from a local gristmill near the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge. It may have been part of a mill that was in the vicinity during the era of the Hillman Company’s ownership of the Central and Empire Furnaces.
What remains of at least two structures can be seen as foundation outlines in the vicinity of the millstone’s recent resting place. One of these has slag from the iron furnaces embedded within the concrete that makes up the foundation.
The millstone itself is a conglomerate stone with white and dark quartz or chert pebbles cemented with sand or mud millions of years ago. It was probably quarried at a historic millstone quarry in Marshall County in the 19th century. The quarry was described in the 1880s as being just north of Johnathan Creek and about a mile and a half east of the Fairdealing-Aurora road. In 1992, researchers looked briefly for it, but without luck.
Millstones like this one would have been used in gristmills for grinding corn or wheat to make flour. The first gristmills in Kentucky were built in the 1780s, not long after settlement began. The flour produced from a mill could easily have been sold to merchants using the nearby Cumberland River as a “highway” of sorts. Flatboats, keelboats, and steam boats moved goods up and down the river, so it is very conceivable that a gristmill may have once stood near what would become the headquarters for the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge many decades later.
The interpretation and display of the millstone at one of our facilities is in the works. As always, the Heritage department at the Land Between the Lakes would certainly appreciate any information that can shed additional light on this or any of the wonderful cultural features in the area.
If you know of a former gristmill near Empire Farm or of the quarry in Marshall County, please contact Acting Heritage Program Manager, Christopher Thornock, at 270-924-2072 or email him at [email protected].
Carl T. Feagans
Archaeologist at Land Between the Lakes