The Boulton Grist Mill Still Stands

By Retha Shiplet, Bolton/Boulton Newsletter, May 2005, Issue 13.

Pittsylvania County, Virginia. — The First Mill on the Banister River. — Built 1770 by Robert Boulton, Sr. (Robert is Retha's 6th great-grandfather).

Issue 5 of the Bolton/Boulton Newsletter talks of our 1994 research trip when we (Retha, her mom Alba [Daves] Belcheff, their cousin Kay [Baker] Lett) met historian and author Herman Melton. He autographed my book copy, Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills, with, “It brings much pleasure to pass on this bit of mill lore to a descendant of the builder of the first grist mill — Robert Bolton.”

On page 44 Herman writes, “Robert Bolton acquired valuable land during the Colonial era at the confluence of the Banister and Stinking Rivers. It was a 354-acre tract that included the ‘home plantation’ plus land along the rapids, which was to become known as the Whitefalls Mill Tract. For reasons unknown he [Boulton] conveyed the entire 354 acre tract, plantation mansion and grist mill to Mechack Turner on November 28, 1771.”

On page 49 is a picture titled “Whitefalls Mill On The Banister ca.1950. The present building, seen here, was erected ca.1890 on the site where Robert Bolton, in 1770, established the first mill seat on the Banister River in the confines of Pittsylvania County.” At our meeting I asked Herman if the mill was still standing and how could we get there. Herman said the mill was still there but weed growth, etc would prevent us from getting to it and deterred us from a possible hazard area. For almost ten years I thought if we ever returned to Chatham, VA I would try to convince Herman to guide us, at least in the general vicinity of the mill.

In 2002 we made it back to Chatham. For a time we were unable to reach Herman — but to our delight he “appeared” at the courthouse while we were researching old court records. He was busy working on his new book and told us to call Billy Johnson — the owner of the mill! Needless to say, we were on that one in a New York second!

Mr. Johnson was just as excited about meeting a Robert Boulton descendent as we were about him. We met Billy and his wife Emma Jean at their Mt. Airy Roller Mill in Gretna, VA. We toured their working mill which was built in 1830. Emma Jean graciously stayed at their mill to conduct business so Billy could take us to the once Boulton mill — now Whitefalls Mill. The Johnson family has owned Whitefalls since 1908, and his brother Stanley is the current owner of the idle mill. About two miles from Mt. Airy Roller Mill, we arrived to set foot on part of the now 19-acre tract, once Boulton's 354-acre tract. The mill itself is isolated and stands on its original site overlooking the rapids of Banister River. It is in remarkably good condition. We entered the mill at “ground” level, touring the entire mill. As we walked, climbed, observed, I tried to take good notes as Billy talked about the mill and its history. Many of my notes failed me, as some of my memory — but I was able to recall much through Herman Melton's recordings in his books Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills and Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills.

Robert was in Pittsylvania County in 1769. On August 25, 1769 he bought 200 or 1200 acres (a copy of the original document looks to be 1200) on both sides of Pigg River from Lewis Jenkins for 250 pounds. Whether it had anything to do with the land sale — it's also recorded in the August 1769 court records that Robert was placed under a peace bond for bad behavior in the courtroom.

August Court 1769 Robert Bolton having behaved contumaciously in presence of this Court Ordered that he be in custody of the sheriff until he shall find sufficient securities for his good behavior one whole year and that he pay the cost of these proceedings.

In June 1770 Robert sold 150 acres to Benjamin Boulton. I do not know yet what relation Benjamin was to Robert.

Made this first day of June 1770 between Robert Boulton of Pittsylvania County on the one part and Benjamin Boulton of the same county of the other part…five pounds current money of Virginia…on the north branches of Pigg River. (Pittsylvania County Virginia Court Records, Page 517)

One month later Robert petitions the court to let him build a grist mill on Banister River. I have not yet found records on how Robert came to be the “owner” of the 364 acres on Banister River.

July Court 1770 On the Petition of Robert Bolton leave is granted him to build a Water Grist Mill on Banister River in this County he alledging that he is owner of the same on both sides the said River where such Mill is proposed to be built…. (Pittsylvania County, Virginia Court Records Book 1 Page 209)

Pittsylvania County Court Records of Applicants to Raise Dams for Grist Mills in Pittsylvania County 1767-1799
Applicant — Robert Bolton
Waterway — Banister River
Date — 7-1770
C.R. Book 1 Page 20

Just 16 months after Robert has leave to build the mill he sells…Why?

28 November 1771 Robert Bolton of the County of Pittsylvania and his wife Mary sell to Meshack Turner of the County of Halifax, for the sum of one hundred pounds current money to be paid to him (Bolton) in hand before the sealing and delivery hereof the receipt…a tract of land in Pittsylvania County on Banister River containing three hundred and sixty four acres…Together with all woods. Timbers. Trees. Waters. Watercourses. Ways. Paths. Previledges. Profits. Commodities. Hereaditments and apprutenances…that the said Meshack Turner and his heirs or assignes shall and may by virture of these presents at all times forever hereafter Peaceably and Quietly, Have Hold Use Occupy Profit and Enjoy the said tract or parcel of land₀and to take the Profits thereof to his or their own ___ use and __ forever without any lawfull ____. Suit. Trouble denial Interseption or disturbance of the said Robert Bolton his heirs or assignes or any other person or persons whatsoever. Signed by Robert Boulton

For whatever his reasons were for selling it all — he left behind a legend — 234 years the mill has withstood the hazards of time, nature, various owners — and even has some mystery.

On the inside Billy showed us where the original building “ended” and where the add-on started. One of the original millstones lies at the mill. Herman's research provides us with the mill's ownership history: Robert Boulton owned the land and built the first grist mill on the Banister River in Pittsylvania County Virginia in 1770. Boulton sold out in 1771 to Turner. Mechack Turner: 1771-1784 (13 years); Richard Anderson, Sr. 1784-1824 (40 years); Rawley White, Jr.: 1824-1854 (30 years). There were title contentions between 1866 and 1877. By 1880 the mill was in the hands of Nathan Miller, who is believed to have built the house on the land. The house is described by Herman as “…an elegant victorian structure in its time, and was adorned with gingerbread. This would have been an act characteristic of the Millers who built the beautiful Victorian mansion at Sharswood.” The final Miller owner sold it in 1908 to Billy's father W. Posye Johnson.

In his book Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills Herman tells of the 1944 flood which was the one of the worst in Pittsylvania County history: “…many county grist mills were inoperable…four grist mills were washed away and never resumed operations.” Whitefalls lost its dam, suffered interior water damage, and some machinery was submerged. Mr. Johnson brought on “forty-seven year old millwright N.W. ‘Myrt’ Mann who overhauled the damaged machinery and installed a John Deere engine to replace the damaged turbines. … Myrt, its talented miller was to operate it for another twelve years (circa 1957) before hanging up his mill pick. The mill closed forever — a victim of progress and advancing technology.”

Herman's books have been reprinted (see below) by the Pittsylvania Historical Society and you can read the details of Whitefalls mill history.

A blessing to have had the opportunity to know more about our ancestor — to experience what he and his family built over 200 years ago. With great appreciation to the Johnson family for preserving, long after its “usefulness,” a part of our Boulton/Bolton history. Although Robert sold the land including the mill — milling was passed on to future Boulton/Bolton generations.


Related Books by Herman Melton

(Available from the sponsor.)

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Other Books by Herman Melton

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Further Books Concerning Pittsylvania County History

(Available from the sponsor.)

History of Pittsylvania County, VA

Clement: History of Pittsylvania County

Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County, VA

Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County

An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Hurt: An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County

Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina (Dover)

Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina

Tales About People in a Small Town

Jones: Tales About People in a Small Town

This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House B&B, Chatham, Virginia.