North River Mills is indeed a uniquely quaint and peaceful village. Fortunately for those who enjoy its solitude today, there is a most picturesque description of what life was like in its golden days in the latter half of the nineteenth century when it was prosperous and filled with interesting people. The following narrative picture is quoted from:
Capon Valley: Its Pioneers and Descendants, 1698-1940; by Maud Pugh;
originally published in two volumes in 1946 and 1948; reprinted by the
Clearfield Company, Baltimore, MD, 1995 [ISBN 0-8063-4551-9]
Brief Autobiography of Maude Pugh, Author of this book
I was born January 6, 1866, on the Ullery farm in sight of historic old Salem Church near Slanesville, West Virginia. My parents moved twice before I can remember. They were starting life anew, having lost all they had by the Civil War. Father left the farm to manage the Abernathy Mill at Springfield on the South Branch of the Potomac, but after one year there, seeing a better opening he moved to North River Mills, then a thriving village with two burrh flour mills. Here my memory began with Virginia Pugh's pet rabbits in Mrs. Snapp's yard. They were eating clover from the lawn. Virginia was Mrs. Joe Snapp's neice, half sister to Amos L. Pugh, noted elsewhere in this history.
The next thing vividly to be remembered was the high waters and raftsmen coming around the turn above the dam. Now they are stuck on the milldam! Father knows the men, Jerry Hiett is steering the big raft. It is growing dark--men running, lanterns twinkling. Shouting is heard from the raftsmen, answers from the people at the riverside. Will the men have to stay amid the swollen black waters all night? Will the raft be dashed to pieces by the drifting trees that are rushing down this torrent and the men be drowned in the surging water below the dam? Time dragged on. All at once, amid these dreadful fears, a glad shout went up from the river. The raft is moving--they are going over now! All is well. The lanterns go twinkling home. Some men are running out over the hill and across Mr. Asa Hiett's field to see them pass the big bend in the river below Croston's ford and glide out past "Deaver's Eddy", under the Ice Mountain. They can follow by the lights on the raft. Now all is quiet and the villagers are at supper talking over the stirring event and hoping the men on the raft will get safely through to Williamsport, the lumber market, before the river is dangerously high for rafting.
Other early memories are children playing in the bran on the second floor of the mill, wading in the mill race under the road bridge below the mill wheel, which went cachoch, cachosh, cachosh, while the water, coming out from under the wheel, made a roar like a small Niagara.
People from all over the county came to these mills. Some from a distance would stay all night and wait for their load of grain to be ground. One of these was Capt. Luther Guinnevan, a man of fine form and genial personality, a comrade of Mountain, who often brought the Pugh family a bag of good apples. He received a hearty welcome from the children and enjoyed the Miller's hospitality.
Mr. Guinnevan was a good story-teller and everybody sat around the open fire, radiant with a pine light, ate apples and listened and laughed, for these were always clean, good-natured stories and the delight of the children, keener than that felt by the children of today who listen at the radio. Mr. Guinnevan did not come every night as the radio does, and no machine can give the human touch they felt.
Then there was Mr. Asa Hiett, back from the State Legislature, known over the county as "Colonol Ase". He kept a grocery down on the corner opposite the Milldam. No Hollywood comedian could "hold a candle" to him. Small wonder the children all flocked around him. So did the big folks out at Wheeling (Wheeling was then the capital), where he always got the better of his opponent. When not possible with an argument, he did it with a laugh. Even when a small child he was a live wire on a farm. His mother, who had a large family, one Sunday stole off to the village church, leaving the smaller children in care of the older ones. She took a seat in the front pew. Amidst the preacher's discourse a redhead popped in at the door and ran barefoot down the aisle, shouting, "Mother! Mother! The Miller hen swallered the hook!"
Mr. Hiett's stories abounded in figures of speech which were convulsively funny, but which, like his countenance, radiated good humor.
"Colonel Ase" knew that children loved sweetmeats as well as funny tales, so when he stopped at the end of our porch on his way home from the store he never failed to have some raisins, some kisses all done up in paper, or a striped stick of candy for each. We paid him back with kisses and both arms around his neck.
Mr. Hiett had no family of his own. His lovely wife, a Miss Arnold, had died soon after their marriage, years before. He was the son of Jeremiah and Lucinda Hiett, one of the "illustrious fifteen". Nor was "Colonel Ase" the only attraction of this village in the early seventies.
There was "Uncle Lige Monendenhall" whose wit and kindly ways endeared him to all, and his sister Eliza, the patient loving invalid; "Uncle Joe Snapp", always humming a tune as he went about his work, and "Aunt Ellen", his sturdy spouse who kept a shining kitchen and baked the best cookies; Mrs. Cordelia Loy Moreland who had the finest flowers and did the most beautiful needle-work - with her dignified husband all spick and span, who owned the general store.
There was Mrs. Sallie Miller with her lovely children, Cora, Annie and Holland, the baby. She kept the fattest cows and the big white rooster; Mr. Billy Miller who owned the Upper Mill with the Great Mill Wheel and the fat ducks on the deep mill race below the school house where the cat-tails grew, and the children skated when the ice was safe; and Miss Harriett Kump who made the pretty dresses for the women and children, and her gray-haired father; the village blacksmith with the big bellows and the shining anvil, who shaped the fine shoes and shod the beautiful horses for the feathered Knights who rode tournament at the Ice Mountain, and crowned the pretty maids and the queens of love and beauty. (One of these was Miss Annie Loy, now Mrs. Lovett, of Capon Bridge.)
And Mr. Ben Loy in the suburbs of the village, the pillar of the church, whose rugged, kindly personality contrasted sharply with his rustling, smiling wife, and their beautiful daughter, Sallie, who married James Carmichael and went west; and Mr. Wesley Smith with his squirrels for the sick; the sturdy John Short who made the children's shoes and cut the lacings, too; and Major George Deaver who owned the Ice Mountain and whose wife was "Colonel Ase's" sister.
There was the young Dr. K. Taylor from Slanesville, so starchy and trim on his iron grey steed who brought the babies in his saddle pockets, if the fathers went after him; if not the stork did it, then vanished like Santa Claus.
Two boys from Capon Bridge, alternating, carried the mail on a prancing horse, via the Springfield Grade to Slanesville. The village dogs, dozing on the front steps woke up with a start when they passed, but never a casualty. They held their poses like cavalrymen. Later one of these became a prominent lawyer, the other a sheriff and a banker; the latter is still living. (1936.)
Across from the village lived Mrs. Mary Williams whose heart went out to anyone far or near, less fortunate than she. The unbridged river at her feet was her opportunity. One day, high up from a third story window she was seen frantically waving at the Miller on the other side of the turbulent stream, "Mr. Pugh, don't let that boy come back across until the water goes down", meaning a young lad from "Pine Hills" who has just swam a pony over in order to get some fishhooks down at the store. She had not seen him enter the stream but by chance saw both boy and pony emerge half drowned.
North River Mills, a rare village of rare people on a branch of the Potomac, of which Ice Mountain, with its Raven Rocks, its caves with ice in July, its spruce, rhododendron and ferns, the home of the red fox and the wild deer, was its background. At the base of the mountain, on the outskirts of the village, stood the village schoolhouse. Often the baying of hounds among the pines and birches of the overhanging cliffs contrasted sharply with the routine of schoolwork - disturbed classes - the hearts of the children being with the dear, wild things so ruthlessly pursued by the soulless hunter in the name of sport. They were thinking of the beautiful fawn hidden away in the mountain fastness that must starve if the hounds get the mother; they were thinking, too, of the graceful, bounding, fleet, sensitive mother, breathless and at bay among the vicious pack. Innocence abhors suffering in anything. The teacher was Chas. N. Hiett, and for one term Bazil Shanholtz, both men being intelligent and well informed.
The mill dam was behind the Hiett house (west end of village with green metal roof) where the river turns west. At that point the sluice began that carried water to the Snapp mill. This mill was blown up in the 1930s to make room for the present dirt road (Gibbons Run Road) that leads from Cold Stream Road (old Springfield Grade Road) to the concrete bridge to the Baker farm. A few foundation rocks may still be seen in the field near the junction of the two roads.
The narrative makes mention of two burr flour
mills in the village. These were the Snapp mill mentioned above and the
Miller mill just to the southwest of the long Miller house. The Snapp mill is gone, but part of the foundation of the Miller mill survives. The wooden shed on the foundation is a later addition and only covers part of the area covered by the much larger mill. In the 1930s a new gasoline powered mill was built across the road from the last working store; its concrete foundation is still visible.
The mill race under the bridge is no longer
visible. Today there is no clear indication where the water from the
Miller mill wheel went; there is a small drainage pipe under the road
west of the mill foundation and some wet spots in the front lawn of the Croston house, but it takes some imagination to see a race or pond here. The mill race from Hiett Run at the east end of the Village is more noticable. It ran along the base of the mountain into the mill pond behind the school. Although it no longer has water in it, the depression is clearly visible.
The school house still stands, but it was
converted into a garage for repairing cars and other equipment. It is just behind and to the east of the church. It has been remodeled, but much of its original look remains.
The two stores mentioned are no longer standing. The present store (unoccupied) was a later addition.