Throwback Thursday: Water-Powered Mills in DeKalb County

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

In the 1800s and early 1900s, land next to moving water such as a river or stream was especially valuable property, as it could be harnessed to power mills for grinding flour or sawing wood. Today, let’s look at a couple of the more major mills which existed in DeKalb County.


In 1842, John Bates and Jared H. Ball received permission to construct a dam across the “Little St. Joseph River” for a mill. This mill came to be known as the Orange (or Orangeville) Mill, and became the spot around which the village of Orange was platted. The mill itself burned down in 1913.


The Spencerville Mill was the earliest major mill in the county, and was built by lawyer, judge, and investor, Reuben J. Dawson. The mill, which was constructed from 1839 to 1845, stood four stories high and had two sections buried belowground. Dawson’s family operated this mill until the 1850s, when it was sold and converted into a roller mill, which created a fine, white flour, advertised as “Pearl Drop, the Pride of the St. Joe Valley.”


The Perkey Mill was located in Franklin Township, right along Fish Creek, an outlet from Hamilton Lake. According to historian John Martin Smith, the pond at Perkey Mill was “a particularly good place to fish,” because of the many fish which were swept downstream from the much larger Hamilton Lake.

Want to see more local history? Click here to search our online photo database.


About Jenny

I am the Associate Director of Eckhart Public Library. My office is in the Administrative Annex, but I can often be found roaming the Eckhart Public Library Campus, performing acts of librarianship in every department! I love to read and learn about history. I'm also a huge fan of movies, TV and pop culture in general, and I love to read books of all types. Currently, I'm working my way around the romance section, with some historical fiction and graphic novels thrown in for variety! But you never know what I'm going to pick up next.
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