Having been born and reared in MILLTOWN, naturally it has always been a special place to me. When I was in high school I began to take a special interest in genealogy and history and asked my paternal grandmother, Annie Cheatham Tutt, and my uncle, Jim Mercer, to tell me what they knew about our little town. At that time they were the two oldest living residents of Milltown. Much of what I will write was told to me by them and from information obtained from various other sources.
The little rural village of Milltown, Adair County, Kentucky, is located approximately seven miles northwest of Columbia a short distance off highway 61, on Russell's Creek. Since it is located in a valley, it can easily be seen as you travel north towards Greensburg and Louisville.
When the waters of Russell's Creek, the largest in Adair County, are leaving her banks due to excessive rainfall, and threatening to flood homes built in the village, I wonder why my paternal ancestors chose to settle here. Then I realize that the very thing that is causing us concern is the primary reason they chose this spot as their home.
At that time, Russell's Creek was a clear sparkling stream winding through Adair County, bordered by beautiful trees of every species along it's banks. It provided abundant water for animals, crops and family needs as well as fresh fish for food. Tales have been told of the large fish caught in this stream, mainly catfish and carp which sometimes got trapped in back water after flood waters receded.
The little village derived it's name from the beautiful water mill which was built on the banks of Russell's Creek near the center of the community. There are no records of any name for the settlement except Milltown.
The Townsend family, who were slave owners, built the mill in the 1800s. I wish I knew for sure what year it was built, but I am presuming that it was sometime in the mid 1800s. The Townsend family sold an interest to a Mr. Dohoney and William Davis. Later N. S. Mercer became the owner, then his son, J. T. Mercer, who owned it until it ceased to operate, around 1920.
The mill consisted of a three story building: the ground level with walls of huge square hewn stones, probably hewn out by the Townsend slaves, with two more stories on top of the stone foundation. Several activities occurred at the mill. The top floor had a cotton gin, where people brought their cotton to have the seeds removed, and a carding machine which carded wool into cloth to be made into clothes. Rev. Pat Davis and Fayette Davis ran the carding machine. Wheat and corn were ground both day and night to provide flour and meal for the farm families.
Another interesting feature of the mill was the saw mill. First was the "up and down" saw run by a flutter wheel, then the circular wheel which was run by a large turbine wheel weighing about 8,000 pounds. This wheel was set several feet into rock with a channel by which the water could flow out.
A boom was built across the mill pond to hold the logs which were thrown off the bluff into the creek. A hole was driven in one end of each log beside a hickory withe wedged in place. In this manner, three or four logs could be tied together until ready for use. Canoes were dug out of large poplar logs and used if any logs hung along the creek bank on their way down the stream to the mill. Men in these canoes would come along and loosen the jammed logs. When ready for use, a drag-hook was fastened to the end of the log and it was dragged out of the mill pond by a yoke of oxen. On different occasions, large fish have become entangled in the wheel causing it to cease operations.
The mill was the first business to be built and soon became the center of activity of both business and social life for the entire community. Families would come to the mill, bringing their wheat and corn to be ground into flour and meal and bringing their lunch with them and visiting with their neighbors, while they waited for the miller to do his work.
During World War II, the big steel wheel was sold for scrap metal to help in the war effort and the mill began to rot away and is no longer in existence. Some rocks remain where the foundation was located.
Some of the families to settle in the village near the mill were the Townsends, Tutts, Mercers, Dohoneys, Butlers and Beards. Others who settled in the surrounding community were the Atkins, Brownings, Cobbs, Cheathams, Garrisons, Shirleys, Hindmans, Salmons, Skaggs, Leftwiches, Caldwells, Prices, Manns, Hatchers and many more.
The village proper later consisted of the famous mill and as many as two or three general stores. These were the J. T. Mercer General Store, the J. R. Tutt store and at one time the Albert Mercer and Will Hindman store. J. R. Tutt, Sr., who was postmaster, operated a store in a part of his dwelling house until he built a new building in the early 1920s. He died in 1925 and his son, J. R. Tutt, Jr., became postmaster and continued to operate the store. The J. T. Mercer store continued operation until the early 1950s. The Tutt store continued to operate in the same location with several owners among them the Wootens and Ashbrooks.
There are also records of a drug store which operated in a part of the J. T. Mercer store and a barber shop in the J. R. Tutt store. Hugh Thomas, a young local barber, put a barber chair in a small room and cut hair there on Saturdays for twenty-five cents. He later moved into Columbia and barbered there for many years in different shops until his retirement.
The church which overlooked the village from it's lofty peak until it was torn down in January of 1989, was organized in 1831. The land upon which the church was built was donated by the wealthy Townsend family. John Will Townsend's grandfather donated it with the stipulation that it was to be a Union Church. The people of the community built the church and it became a union of Baptist and Methodist. These records date to 1893. It was in 1895 that the Christian Church was organized. The Baptist and Presbyterians also worshipped there, taking turns using the building. The upper story of the church was used as a Masonic Lodge Hall. Records show meetings there in 1875. Some former pastors were: Baptist—Dockery, Barnett, Skruggs and S. B. Rowe; Christian—H. J. Conover and Kirby Smith; Methodist--V. V. Capps, J. W. Caughron, Russell Ireland, Calvin Black, Norman Antle, Frank Hulse, J. T. Booher and C. S. Rainey; Presbyterian--Brother Sandidge.
The Methodists have built a lovely new church near the old location The other denominations have been inactive for many years. The only school was a two room elementary where grades one through eight were taught. The building was located not far from the church. All the children of the community attended school. The large room was used in summer and then when winter began to approach, we would move into the smaller, cozier little room which was heated by a wood stove. The teachers usually boarded in the community with families that lived close to the school. My first grade teacher was Allene Nell who boarded with the Atkins family. I remember my mother telling me about boarding a teacher from Taylor County before I was born, named Ethel McWhorter.
The first blacksmith that Milltown had was my paternal great-grandfather, Thomas Hicks Tutt. His shop was in the center of the village, across the road from the general store.
After the old water mill ceased to make corn meal, Mr. George Beard had a little blacksmith shop where he put shoes on the local mules and horses and ground corn meal with a little gasoline engine. He lived in a house across the road from his shop with his wife, Kate Leftwich Beard. When I was a little girl. I loved to walk down the road to his shop because he would let me feel the warm cornmeal as it came out of the wooden spout and then I'd dash across the road to have a visit with Kate. She loved dolls and had quite a collection of them hanging by strings around their necks in the parlor room. She also collected the fancy crepe-paper-decorated boxes from the local pie suppers.
On the opposite side of the road from my grandfather Tutt's general store was the house where my grandparents, James R. Tutt, Sr. and his wife Annie Cheatham Tutt, lived. The large house consisted of two stories with a porch across the front. Seven rooms were on the first floor and four on the second floor. There were living quarters for the family and extra bedrooms which were rented out to overnight guests. These guests were the salesmen or "drummers" who sold supplies to the general stores in the area. Some of the companies they represented were Bel Knap Hardware and Carter Dry Goods of Louisville and Buchanan-Lyon of Campbellsville. The drummers drove a horse and buggy and made regular selling trips to the merchants. Because of the long distances they traveled, they would spend the night in my grandfather's home which some called a hotel. Early the next morning my grandmother and her helper, Lucy Martin, would prepare a hearty country breakfast and they would be on their way to the next place of business.
The oldest standing house in the community at the present is the home known as the Mercer House. It sits on a hill and overlooks the village. Built by Rhodes Dohoney, a very wealthy landowner in the community, it later became the home of the Nathaniel Sikes Mercer family. Nathaniel's wife was Lucy Dohoney. The home is now owned by Nathaniel's granddaughter, Katherine Mercer.
In the last few years, wanting to know a little more about Milltown, I have interviewed two men who lived here: Gobel Butler and Paul Thomas. Mr. Gobel Butler was born in Milltown in 1900 in a house beside the lane leading to the J. W. Townsend farm, more recently the home of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Fish. Gobel lived in Mi11town until 1922. These are some of the things he remembered: The three stores; the new Tutt store when my grandfather, J. R. Tutt, Sr., built it; Jake Slinker and Tom Wilson, two of the main men at the mill; the Albert Mercer house being built in 1915, the house where the Glenn Ashbrooks now live; the Mill Hindman house, built in 1914; the garage near the Tutt store where Ken Leftwich worked on Milltown's first cars; the two-room school and some of the teachers---J. A. Caldwell, Celeste Shirley, Miladean Shirley, Clarice Stotts Cheatham. Susie Johnston and a Miss Bradshaw; the McAllisters who were woodworkers and had a shop where they made chairs and tables for the neighborhood. My son Mike and his wife Lana now possess four of the McAllister chairs.
The boys entertained themselves in a variety of ways: swimming in the mill pond, skating on it in the winter, walking across the top of the iron bridge; cob fights and Saturday afternoon baseball games, the first car Gobel remembered was a Standley Steamer which belonged to a drummer for the Buchanan-Lyon Grocery Company. He also barbered for a while in the Rube Townsend cabin near the iron bridge. I am so glad that I had this opportunity to talk to Gobel before he passed away in 1988.
Paul Thomas was born in Mi11town in 1905. As he was just five years younger than Gobel, he remembered mostly the same things. He remembered coming to the general stores and seeing the candy in the barrels. The first car that he remembered seeing belonged to Willie Mat Feese who had married a Hatcher girl and came back for a visit. The Mighty Haag Brothers Circus came to Milltown every spring and set up their big tent in the field in front of the Albert Mercer home. The highlight of the circus was the Punch and Judy show and taffy in paper bags.
In the years I have lived here, I have seen many changes. All of the older residents are gone; several houses have either burned or been torn down; the school and church are both non-existent; the stores are closed; but the post office remains.
But these things that I have written about are alive in my memory and the reason for writing about them is that there shall be some record of Milltown. I hope you have enjoyed reading about them.