Source: NMHS Newsletter, May 1994

The Stockdale Mill-Roann, Indiana

by Norma P. (Deck) Krom

One of the few remaining water-powered flour mills is on Eel River, at the Wabash and Miami County line, in the old village of Stockdale, Indiana.

Today as motorists travel along State Road 16 and cross the old cement bridge, their glance may include the mill and dam to the east, but casual observation will not reveal the almost forgotten history of the place.

Shortsightedness of landowners on the north side of Eel River caused the town of Stockdale to die. When a branch of the railroad was projected through that area, most of the farmers donated right-of-way, but several refused. They figured the railroad would have to buy their land. Instead, surveyors routed the railroad to the south side of the river through the village of Roann. So Roann continued to grow and Stockdale dwindled until only the old flour mill was left.

In 1836 John Anderson and his family cut a trail through the wilderness and located their cabin just off Eel River on Squirrel Creek near the Indian village of Chief Niconza. They were the only white family between Logansport and North Manchester. That first cabin was not even of hewn logs, but round logs notched at the ends to lock after a fashion and with the crevices chinked as well as possible. Not that Anderson was shiftless, but he was in a hurry to get a corncracker and a sawmill in operation on Squirrel Creek. Mills were necessities in those days for a sawmill meant better homes and a grinding mill meant converting grain into edible meal and flour.

Anderson was soon followed by other settlers and it was probably in 1839 that Thomas Goudy started a sawmill on Eel River a little below Squirrel Creek and sawed the lumber with which he built a new flour mill and a flour run of buhrs (millstones.) By far the most elaborate and best mill in that section, it soon put Anderson's corncracker out of business, but his sawmill, using an up and down saw, operated for many years. In the old mill is probably the only existing handwriting of John Anderson. He wrote his name on a joist in the basement in 1873. The writing is still legible and he was a better scribe than many schooled persons today.

Platted in 1839 and originally named Vernon, Stockdale once boasted a cooperage mill, two hotels, a drug store, two doctors at one time, a large general store, a Lutheran church, several saloons, and an Odd Fellows Lodge. A post office was established in 1853, but was discontinued in 1883. The post office fixtures were moved north to the village of Niconza, and later farther north to Disko. The post office was discontinued at Disko in 1967, and the owners of the Stockdale Mill were able to purchase the same fixtures that were originally in the old Stockdale post office. They may be seen in the mill, along with many other unusual remains of the past. Stockdale was reputed to be the toughest village in the state at one time. Curiously, no mention is made of a town jail.

Standing at the mill today, one cannot but feel wonder and admiration for the courage, foresight and judgment of those pioneers. What insight told them where to build a dam? Surveyors were few and far between. Yet the Stockdale dam is at one of the best power sites on Eel River. What effort it took to dam a stream as large as Eel River is at that point! Nothing to work with but logs, brush, stones, and earth. No concrete with reinforcing steel nor modern motive machinery. Nothing but ox teams and human brawn. Yet that is what was done by Thomas Goudy over a hundred and fifty years ago.

Oddly enough, Goudy never owned the mill site. That section of land had been granted to Aubenaube, a Fulton County Indian chief, at the Treaty of Tippecanoe in 1832. In 1838, this grant was annulled and turned to Topanowkong (wife of Peter Longlois.) Then came a title dispute, for the Indians had sold the site to a group of five white settlers two years before it was given to Mrs. Longlois. This was settled by a deed from Mrs. Longlois and a quit claim by the sons of Aubenaube, who had died in the meantime. Apparently the owners leased the mill site to Goudy for there is no record of them being active in the mill at any time. The abstract of title does not clearly indicate just how the interest was divided, but at no time did any one person own entire interest.

In 1856 the mill built by Goudy was undermined and washed away by high waters roaring over the dam. It had stood out in the river and grain was carted to it by a board tramway. Baker and Ranck, apparently partners, rebuilt, settling the new structure on the north bank and building a short mill race to operate the waterwheels. So well did they plan and construct this building that it has withstood the elements for over 135 years, characteristic of the sturdy pioneers who settled in this part of the country. Huge timbers support the floors. Sixty foot beams were hand hewn by broad-axe from oak, walnut, and poplar, and one is of hickory elm. It is a marvel how the builders ever managed to raise those timbers to all floors without a hoist. No nails were used; rather the timbers were tightly fitted together by notches. The building has three stories and a basement, and there is little perceptible sag even though the first foundation rotted away and had to be replaced with concrete.

During the Civil War, this mill, under lease to Holt and Son, supplied flour and meal to the Union Armies. After the war, Thomas Goudy had an active connection with the mill.

In 1881 James Madison Deck came to Stockdale from Hamburg, Berks Co., Pennsylvania. It would seem that he first worked for the owners and then entered into contract to purchase interest in the mill as he was able to do so. That year also, the old buhr mill was changed to a roller mill, and Mr. Deck named the flour White Loaf Brand, with a picture on the sacks of a loaf of Vienna-style bread. His wife designed the picture and this was never changed. In 1886, Deck acquired his first interest in the mill and in 1902 became sole owner. He operated the mill until 1916. At that time a new dam was needed and Mr. Deck superintended the construction of a concrete dam sloped in such a manner that the water flows over it with a minimum of wear on the spillway below. He died before it was completed, and his son took over. James Hurst Deck operated the business for thirty-five years and at the time of his death in 1952, his daughter and son-in-law, Norma and Addison Krom, took over the management. At the present time, the fifth generation of the Deck family has an interest in the old mill.

The mill had a capacity of fifty barrels of flour a day; in addition, commercial feed grinding was done by a hammer mill. The superb engineering kept the flour grinding evenly through the machinery on all floors by a belting system from a line shaft powered by three vertical turbines located in the water of the mill race in the basement. They developed about 75 horsepower. The wooden bevel gears were those installed in 1856. (The cogs in one had to be replaced in 1934.) This simple yet complex system ran the machinery which converted the wheat into flour. Starting in the first brake, the wheat was rolled a little finer in each subsequent operation through a series of eight brakes. The flour was constantly sifted through pure silk which was made on hand looms in Switzerland. This sifting is called bolting. All in all, the flour went through 64 silks before being bagged from the finishing sifter.

Water power from Indiana's rivers and streams once operated over 2000 grist mills. There were 13 on Eel River alone, one about every six or seven miles. The Stockdale Mill operated commercially until 1964, when it was no longer profitable to operate; however, the machinery is intact and could be operated with a minimum of preparation.