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Down By the Old Mill Stream

October 2nd, 2013 (07:10 pm)

P1180445 Exterior, with trees 40%P1180364 interior, with beams1 40% crop
Have you noticed the ruin of a big old stone mill along Rt. 66 as you head west, at the border between Prince William and Fauquier County? For years, I've noticed it as I've driven past. And every time, I wished I could explore it. A few days ago, we drove over to see the place close up.

Chapman's Mill, built in 1742 by father-and-son business partners Jonathan and Nathaniel Chapman, was used for grinding corn and wheat. Its location between Alexandria (then one of the busiest ports in the nation) and the farmlands of the Shenandoah Valley made it an ideal location for grinding grains and then carting them to Alexandria for transport overseas. By 1758, the mill was so prosperous that the Chapmans expanded it to seven stories high.

During the Civil War, the Confederates used it for curing and storing more than two million pounds of meat, until they were forced to burn the meat to keep it from falling into the hands of the Union Army. Milling operations were restored in 1876 by the Beverly family. The mill is now called the Chapman/Beverly Mill.

It sits at Thoroughfare Gap, a strategically located pass between Bull Run Mountain and Pond Mountain. The Broad Run flows through the gap as it descends 87 feet. Much earlier, the gap was used by traveling indians and migrating buffalo as a route through the mountains. In 1862 it was the site of the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap, when Union General James B. Ricketts was ordered to occupy the gap to prevent Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet from marching through to join Confederate troops gathering for the Second Battle of Manassas. If Ricketts had prevailed, the Second Battle of Manassas might have been avoided. In 1898 during the Spanish American War, 10,000 American troops were stationed at the gap to avoid a typhoid epidemic at Camp Alger near Falls Church.

Now, the peacefulness of the site is marred only by traffic noise from nearby I-66. The roof is long gone, but the walls of the mill are still standing, and have been shored up so that it's safe for visitors to walk inside. Jon Morgan, initially resentful at being forced to take the excursion at all, quickly forgot his grumpiness. He loved climbing around the old rusty gears, looking up from inside and seeing the sky.

We photographed the mill and surrounding area. From some angles, the old building looks almost like the ruins of a castle! The old mill store is still standing, and is in quite good condition for a colonial-era building. It's also the site of many wasps nests, though the little critters stayed in the rafters and left us alone. We climbed up and over a layered outcropping of quartzite, sandstone, shale, and Jon Morgan played at the edge of the river. Then we hiked on some of the nearby trails.

Archaeological and restoration work are proceeding at the site. When the work is completed, the mill will be open to visitors for a fee. I'm glad we got the chance to explore it in its more rustic state, and for free. But I'll be interested in going back eventually and seeing the improvements.

As usual, I have way more photos than I have space for, but here are a few highlights.

P1180482 exterior closeup 40%
P1180465 JM in the creek 40%P1180592 exterior, with JM 40%
P1180658 Bob & JM Walking 40%