Farmers blow up dam

The explosion dominated the news cycle of the day.

LOUDONVILLE -- The Loudonville Mill, for much of its history, was a contentious enterprise along the Blackfork.

In the early days when Alex Skinner built the mill, and Caleb Chapel acted as the millwright, the flour was ground using the flow of the river to power the grind stones. To increase the power of the river, a dam was built across the Black Fork to funnel the water into a narrow "chase" directed at the mill.

Farmers from Perrysville, however, had for many years built flat-bottomed boats and shipped their goods -- such as livestock, produce, and whiskey -- down the Black Fork, to the Mohican, the Muskingum, Ohio, and eventually the Mississippi. From there they could sell the goods at the port of New Orleans for a considerable profit.

A dam, mere miles down the river, would put an end to such enterprises.

The Perrysville farmers petitioned the state of Ohio to order the removal of the dam, and in the meantime began ramming their boats over it, causing considerable damage to the structure.

According to state law, all navigable waterways were guaranteed a right of way to residents and enterprises. But in a compromise, the General Assembly passed a law in 1819 allowing the mill to maintain a dam so long as a lock, used to raise and lower boats past the dam, was maintained and provided free of charge to any and all watercraft whenever they desired.

The resulting lock was 18 feet wide and 80 feet long, but was expensive to maintain and required constant watch from the millers in case watercraft needed to use it.

In 1836, Nathaniel Haskell (who acquired the mill in 1821) used the Canal Commission's findings that the Black and Rocky Forks were not feasible for the construction of a canal as reason to assume those rivers were not considered "navigable," and therefore the lock was not required.

The farmers disagreed, and the mill once again became a source of discontent within the local communities. The addition of the railroad in the 1850s allowed farmers to ship goods via the rails and essentially ended the barge business.

In 1876, the mill converted to steam power rather than relying on the Black Fork for water and by 1909 water was no longer used at all, and neither was the dam.

Despite this, the mill decided to keep the dam in order to maintain control of the waterway in case they once again needed to rely on it for production. The result meant that the mill chase was blocked off, resulting in the Black Fork holding more water up river than it had when the chase allowed a constant flow around the dam.

This caused the river to begin changing course and expanding, overtaking private farmland and angering farmers upstream. But the mill refused to cooperate.

The animosity soon came to a boil and one quiet night a booming explosion woke the town when a large section of the dam was blasted way with dynamite.

Although the deed was believed to be done by a farmer or even a group, no suspects were found and the crime went unpunished. The dam was never repaired, and the 1913 flood destroyed what little remained of it.

More information on the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum can be found at this link.

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