Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Cotton Hill Mill of West Virginia

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Last week, I told you about our visit to the Whipple Company Store in Fayette County, West Virginia. We had intended to stop there for a few minutes, but we were there for an hour or so, and probably could have stayed all day listening to the wealth of information Joy and Charles Lynn had to share about the coal miners and the Company Store.

When we finally got back on the road, we traveled through the town of Fayetteville. And even though we were behind schedule, we couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo of this old fashioned Fayette Feed Company building, which is now the New River Bikes store. Then we continued along the scenic mountain roads of Fayette County in search of an old grist mill Ruth had planned for us to visit.

The mill is known as Cotton Hill Mill and it sits on the banks of Laurel Creek, a beautifully flowing mountain creek. The best views of the mill are from the busy highway, so we pulled into an abandoned gas station that was built over the creek (basically on stilts) just past the mill.

I pulled out my camera equipment and hiked back up the highway until I was above the dam. It was a nice view from there because there was a blooming redbud tree to frame my image. Then I walked back towards the car and set up my tripod to capture the view from below the dam. As I was finishing, a pickup truck pulled up and the man said, “So you like the old mill, do you?”

“Are you the owner?” I asked, hoping to learn more about this mill. His name was Gordon and he told me that he was the great grandson of the man who built the mill and that the mill had been handed down in the family. The millstone contained within the mill is dated 1845 and it was cut from stone taken from the Seine River in France. Gordon also said that he had been waiting for years to have the opportunity to buy the house next to the mill, which had also been built by his great grandfather. And he recently had the good fortune of acquiring the home.

Gordon then asked me if I wanted to hear the story of how the mill came to be built. Of course, I did! He said that his great grandmother had grown up on top of the hill behind the mill. When the railroad was being built, her father decided to open up a boarding house for the railroad workers. But they needed an easy way to get to the boarding house from the valley below. So he put a rope ladder down the side of the steep embankment so that the railroad workers could climb up to the boarding house at the end of the day.

Gordon’s great grandfather was one of those railroad workers and he met Gordon’s great grandmother when he stayed at their boarding house. As fate would have it, they fell in love and he asked for her hand in marriage. Her father, however, wanted to make sure that this young man would be able to provide a good life for his daughter.

So he told the young man that he couldn’t marry his daughter until he could prove his worth. Upon hearing this, Gordon’s great grandfather purchased the land below the hill next to Laurel Creek and proceeded to build a grist mill to support himself and his bride to be. This land also had a log cabin on it and Gordon’s great grandfather built a house around it, which now belongs to Gordon.

I thanked Gordon for the information and for giving me permission to walk around the mill for a closer look and then we were on our way. As we headed toward Kentucky, we passed the beautiful Cathedral Falls. There is a small bridge over the stream where you can stand for a great view of the waterfall. So I took the following shot standing on that bridge.

But then I couldn’t resist trying to get close enough to capture the scene below. It meant hiking along the edge of a fairly steep embankment and then walking gingerly across many rocks in the stream, but I managed to do so without any mishaps. Meanwhile, Ruth was back at the car with her fingers crossed, as I’m sure happens often.

Cathedral Falls, Fayette County, West Virginia
Cathedral Falls, Fayette County, West Virginia

I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories from West Virginia. As I mentioned last week, we spent less than 24 hours there, but we gave it everything we had and we still have at least one more story for you from our travels there.

Happy Shunpiking!

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  1. I am an avid WVa hiker. Where is Cotton Hill Mill. I know where Cotton Hill is .-- across the Kanawha from Gauley Bridge ranging up to Beckwith-- but where might I find this mill?

    Gina Griffith

  2. Gina, the mill is toward Fayetteville on Route 16 south of Chimney Corner after you cross Cotton Hill bridge and just before you get to Beckwith.

  3. i got married at the cathedral falls on june 12 2009

  4. FYI I have the 10 hp Hercules Hit and Miss motor that ran the mill when the water was low. I am installing the motor on a traveling Grist Mill for show that includes Mill house sheller and other implements. If anyone is interested in picts I would be glad to send them. I would as well like more picts of the inside of the mill if possible and any more history of the mill would be much appreciated. The motor is now located in Hephzibah, GA
    Kind Regards
    send to

  5. Yesterday on my way back to Kentucky on interstate 64 my Garmin led me to bypass the toll route on I-64 from Beckley to Charleston. What seemed simple turned into an adventure of sorts. My 2015 Volvo station wagon, just out of the shop, following the Garmin directions, turned off US 19 onto a small paved road leading up Cottonhill Mountain. Knowing nothing about the area, I continued and the road got narrower and narrower and changed to gravel. Dauntless in believing in my Garmin, I slowly moved up a mountain road of numerous switchbacks, hoping to see a paved road. Not to happen. About 30 minutes of narrow and harrowing turns, where one side lay a drainage ditch and the other side a free fall cliff, with deer all about me, I continued. I did pass a golf cart with men and 2 dogs and rifles. When I got to the top, I thought it might be soon over, but no. There was a similar long descent. Constantly checking for deer and cars, I descended. Only deer. Then there was a new road to take per the Garmin, Kawawha Falls bridge. Hoping for a great view and no rocks to impede my drive, I finally made it to the bridge. At the entrance to the narrow span was a mound of rocks 10 feet high. Bridge closed! There is a spectacular view of the falls. I continued for about 20 miles and along the way houses appeared, paved road also, but still a single lane for most of the way. Don't attempt this in the dark, or in rain or snow, carry something either a rabbit's foot or a shovel or an ax, to move debris from the road, or a spell to do so "magically". There is no cell phone connections, no people, and if you are forced to stop or turn back or worse yet, you may not make it. But I did somehow. West Virginia has a wilderness. Let's hope this treasure will stay this way.

    1. Wow, that's quite an adventure! I have my own stories of mountain roads and of my Garmin being rather untrustworthy at times. Stay safe out there, everyone!

    2. You crossed over Cotton Hill Mountain. Imagine, before the Cotton Hill bridge was built in 1927, that was the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike that connected Fayetteville with Charleston. My grandmother told me stories of taking the Greyhound bus (the older and much smaller versions) to Charleston for fancy clothes shopping.

    3. Oh, I love it when people have stories from their grandparents. Thanks for sharing yours.