Week 21: May 24, 2014
Sander’s Mill & Bowden Pond
I became interested in the history of Sander’s Mill and Bowden Pond from the many stories I heard about my grandfather, Edgar McKinley, taking his corn and wheat there by wagon to be ground. My mother often talked about those wagon rides to the mill.
The grist mill was locally known as the Sander’s Mill, but the original name was Beaver Creek Mill, as written on the front of the mill in the early photos; those photos are located at the Georgia Archives. Beaver Creek ran through Bowden Pond into the mill area and was known as the Beaver Creek Tract.
Sander’s Mill has been in the Sanders’ family for over 100 years, owned originally by James M. Sanders’, later run by his son Julian; Julian’s wife, Annie McKinley, was a cousin to my grandfather. Her father, James Kinchens McKinley – was a brother to Edgar Lawson McKinley – who was my grandfather’s father.
It’s been told to me that the original tract of land was owned by L. L. Andrews’ prior to being owned by the Bowden’s. I have found no written documentation other than verbal knowledge of this.
At this time, no one can pinpoint a specific Bowden family other than remembering a family with that name living on Bowden Pond Road. There is a Bowden – Heard family graveyard in a small cemetery on Pear Orchard road, which connects to Bowden Pond Road. It’s located at the point where Sibley School Road and Bowden Pond road intercept. The older cemetery is located up a slight hill, over-grown with many trees, which are even growing right through the middle of some of the stones. This cemetery is listed in E. H. Armour’s Cemetery Book of Greene County on pg. 252 and identified as Cem. G-12.
Buried in the Bowden Cemetery is Elliott Cornealius Bowden (1816-1886) with wife Frances P. Heard Bowden (1816-1891); seven family members are listed as buried there also. I believe this Bowden to possibly have been the owner of the surrounding land and pond area. Elliott was born in Va., but came here as a young man to pursue the timber business; he remained and later married a Greene County native. Not all are identified in the cemetery as Bowden; Eliza Shy buried there is also his daughter.
The Greene County Heritage book, pg. 44, no.138 mentions: The home now known as the O’Neal-Dolvin home-place had its beginnings in the 1850’s when Elliot Cornelius Bowden, owner of a lucrative timber business, constructed the house from selected timbers from his sawmill. This residence was given to his daughter, Eliza Bowden Shy. As fate had it, Eliza as a young mother lost her six year old daughter in a buggy accident and is buried on the property. Eliza could not overcome the sad memories and agreed to sell the house to Pete O’Neil for his daughter in the early 1890’s.
In the History of Greene County, Bowden Pond is mentioned in regards to being a favorite picnic spot. It’s written that it was considered the local picnic grounds and the favorite of the community. They came by wagon and carriage to enjoy picnics at holidays when businesses closed. Easter was mentioned as a favorite holiday to come and picnic there as businesses even remained closed the next day, which was known as Easter Monday.
The Sanders’ Mill sits off Bowden Pond Road, from Highway 15, between Siloam and Greensboro. The original curvy road, laid out by Julian Sanders’, remained a dirt road until the late 80’s when it came under the care of the county. It was then paved and renamed officially Bowden Pond Road.
Bowden Pond was fed by the Beaver Creek tract – it ran through and over the road parallel to the dam. It was originally a solid rock area across the road and made for a great car washing spot on weekends. Leona Webb Morrow remembers her brothers’ parking their cars on those large slabs of stone where the water ran across. That area was for washing, rinsing and playing; a great spot on summer days. Later after a small bridge was built, large pipes were installed under the road to divert the water directly down to the mill.
From the two postcards I recently located on Ebay, it shows Bowden’s Pond was quite a large area with much timber surrounding it. They often took rowboats out for enjoyment and fishing, as the pond was kept well stocked. No one remembers anyone swimming there, but they often fished the pond. Leona (Webb-Morrow) fished with her brothers in their rowboat and was always afraid she’d fall in when they rocked the boat to tease her.
The end of Bowden Pond came around 1941/42 after a long rainstorm. It was too much rain, in too short a time, for the dam to hold – and in the middle of the night – it finally gave way – after raining nonstop for two days. The remaining sides of the dam still stand today.
Even without phones, everyone quickly heard about the dam break and how the fish were jumping on land. The neighbors went door to door, in the middle of the night, telling everyone to come quickly and gather the fish; it was told that there were really large fish flopping on the pond bank. James Oliver Smith, about age five, lived nearby, and remembered coming with his family bringing burlap bags to gather and ‘seine’ fish from the remaining Beaver Dam Creek. The local families ate fresh fish for days.
This was the beginning of the end of Bowden’s Pond. Today many do not even know that a pond was once even there; not one area can be even pin-pointed as to where this large pond once was. It’s even hard to imagine that there was even a lake in this area, which now is left covered with tracts of trees. Today it is known only through the remembrances, shared with me, of those who once lived in this area. The Beaver Creek stream still flows today under the small bridge near the old mill, and if you follow the stream back, you probably could figure out where that large pond once was across the street. Behind the mill, the creek continues alongside the South side of Walkers Church where it eventually empties into Lake Oconee.
Mr. Sanders’ suffered a great loss when the dam burst that night; the pond slowly drained out over time, but the mill was out of ‘water power’ operation immediately. The big water wheel became ‘locked down’ and soon became a favorite with the local boys as they climbed up inside it, until being run off ….but he still allowed them to play in the creek area behind the mill.
The grist mill had been dependent upon that running force of water to turn the giant wheel – it was the power that turned the mill-stones for grinding. The steady stream of water that once flowed over the wheel paddles, quickly trickled to nothing. To continue operation a diesel engine was quickly installed to power the mill.
Like my mother, many kids loved hanging around, although my mom was only allowed when accompanied by her father. Mr. Sanders’ always made her a fishing line so she could sit on the big rock and fish while he took care of business with her father. She remembers the large granite rock right alongside the wheel that she crawled up on – her favorite spot for fishing and dangling her feet in the water as she waited. Whether she caught fish wasn’t important, what was important was that Mr. Sanders’ took the time to give this young girl an activity for the afternoon. That was an event she always remembered when she spoke about going to the mill.
The water running by the mill was extremely cold and I’m told by Smith how the local boys enjoyed riding their bikes to the mill for picnics and dipping in the water. Their private dipping spot was just behind the grist-mill, which was the deepest spot after the water diverted from the large water wheel; the water was no longer the power that operated the grinding stones inside the mill now. The boys brought their Pepsi Cola’s and cheese crackers – keeping their cola’s cool in the water.
The Sanders’ Mill is a great piece of Greene County history and has been closed for many years, but if you drive down Bowden Pond Road and stop on that small bridge and look directly through the woods, you can get a glimpse of a long forgotten era. An even better view can be had in the fall after the leaves have fallen.
I’ve recently learned that the mill has fallen in and soon to be lost forever, but through these photos and written memories I hope I have preserved a small piece of Greene County history for you.
Special appreciation goes to Greene County natives Leona Webb Morrow, Carroll Underwood, James Oliver Smith, Percy Meeks, Lynn Bryan Kitchens (photos),Rene Henderson and my mother, Helen McKinley Bryan for sharing their remembrances with me and offering assistance. Without the original story from my mom – this story would not be.