Whittle: Old mills set apart by differences

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What do Readyville and old Hardeman grist mills share in common?

There's one distinguishing design feature that sets them apart from multiple other former mills in Cannon and Rutherford counties.

Smyrna author/historian (the late) Walter King Hoover traces "the flumes" that make the two mills unique: "Hardeman Mill (built around time Smyrna began as a community in early 1800s) and the Readyville Mill were different from all other mills built adjacent to dams, which diverted the water directly into the mill's power wheel or turbine.

"Hardeman and Readyville dams diverted the water into a canal or flume, which ran several hundred yards to the mill house and flowed back into the river or creek on the opposite side of the mill house as it meandered back."
Readyville Mill stands today as the lone sentinel of history, still standing tall above the east branch of the Stone's River that marks the boundary between Cannon and Rutherford counties.

Hardeman Mill was lost to time when it ceased operation in the early 1900s. Only the dam, constructed with slave labor and mules, according to Hoover, remains in the bend of Stewart Creek within the town limits of Smyrna.

Neither mill would exist without the natural flow of streams.

Stone's River is named for early white explorer Uriah Stone who has multiple living descendants in Cannon County and Middle Tennessee. Stewart Creek links up with Stone's River that flows into what is now Percy Priest Lake.

Hoover noted he was unsuccessful in sourcing the names Stuart and/or Stewart, as namesakes for Stewart Creek.
With arrival of the Europeans of mostly Anglo-Saxon origin came grist mill construction that augmented initial agricultural settlements that dotted the landscape up and down the meandering Stone's River. Other well-documented mills included Brown's Mill at Lascassass, the Halls Hill Mill and the Alsup Mill, all located in Rutherford County.

By the 1830s, there were more than 20 grist mills in operation in what is now Davidson, Rutherford, Cannon and Wilson counties, according to Hoover.
Both Readyville and Hardeman mills' origins came in the early 1800s.

It was around 1802 when Charles Ready relocated his family from Sumner County to land purchased along Stone's River.
Charles Ready is likely the more widely-known historic name in the region.

However, Constantine Hardeman, original owner/operator of Hardeman Mill, also had great regional impact in political, business and social arenas.
"Constant" Hardeman is credited with lobbying Tennessee's General Assembly into creating Rutherford County from parts of Davidson and Williamson counties.

"Constant, a citizen of some prominence in the year 1803 at age 25, did, in his own handwriting, draw up the petition (with 256 signatures) which requested the Legislature to create Rutherford County," historian Hoover accounted in his book entitled "History of the Town of Smyrna, Volume II." "Hardeman being the first to sign the petition ...Thus, Rutherford County began, by Act of the Tennessee General Assembly, on Oct. 25, 1803," Hoover documented.
An important historic fact is that the Readyville Mill and its eventual electric generator provided electricity to the homes near the mill before residents of larger incorporated Murfreesboro had electricity.

That happened after 1900 when Arthur "Rat" McFerrin constructed an electric generator that ran off Readyville Mill's water-powered turbine to power an ice house. Later, electricity generated by the mill was distributed to residences in Readyville.

Current Smyrna resident Preston "Rusty" Ford Jr., at age 89, recalls his farming father, the late Preston Sr., with witnessing Hardeman Mill in operation up until 1910.

"By then, it was known as the Gregory Mill," due to changing property owners," Rusty Ford traced back in time. "Dad (called 'Pa Pa' by descendants) recalled seeing the mill in operation. I witnessed the last remnants of Hardeman Mill being torn down as a small boy who grew on farm land near Stewart Creek."

Hardeman Mill was owned by Thomas Black during the Civil War-era.

Today's Gregory Mill Park in Smyrna is named for the mill. The popular city park overlooks the bend of the creek that was originally named Stuart Creek. Well-known retired Smyrna Realtor Gene Hardeman acknowledges being a descendant of Constantine Hardeman.

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Dan Whittle
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