Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vanished Rochester: Barkham Mill

Barkham Mill (Courtesy Rochester Hills Public Library)
If you could travel back in time to the Rochester of 1900, you would find two grist mills in the downtown area, one standing at each end of Main Street, like bookends. Rochester had been established because of abundant water power along Paint Creek, Stoney Creek and the Clinton River, and the mills that stood along these waterways were the first economic engines of the area. At the north end of the village was the Neely Mill on Paint Creek, and at the south end, near the foot of today's South Hill bridge, was the Barkham Mill.

Steven W. Barkham was the name of the final owner of this mill, which stood on the west side of Main, north of the Clinton River, for ninety years.  It was built in 1837 by Johnson Niles, a founding pioneer of the settlement of Troy Corners, and had many owners and operators in its nine decades of operation.  According to a memoir of Theodor Dahlmann that was published in the Rochester Clarion in 1927, Niles and his business partners sold the mill in 1850 to Charles Nathaniel Griffin, a native of New York, who operated it for nearly ten years before selling out and moving to Detroit.  During the Civil War years, the mill was owned by Baxter Gillett and operated by his brother, Hartson Gillett. Several other owners and partners followed until 1885, when James Ewell Curtis became owner of the business. Curtis, a son of area pioneers, was also the father of Dr. Lewis Ward Curtis, a Rochester dentist who later built business blocks at 307 and 315-317 S. Main Street.  The Curtis heirs sold the grist mill to Steven W. and Beal Barkham in 1903, and so the old wooden structure was known as the Barkham Mill when it was completely destroyed by fire on December 2, 1927, consigning it to the pages of Vanished Rochester.

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