North River Mills  By Stephanie Lynn Bailes Brown (adapted for web in 2006)

Over the years North River Mills has changed. What was once a booming town is now silent and still. The hundred residents have been reduced to one horse. All that remains are the memories of a town based around a post office, three gristmills, a store, a strong house (Fort Thomas Parker), an inn, a lime kiln and a blacksmith shop.

George Washington surveyed the North River Mills area and made mention of it in his diary during peacetime. He returned to spend at least two nights there as a soldier.

The town was first called Parkers Gap. This came from Fort Thomas Parker, located just west of town, which played an important role in the French Indian War. Named after its owner and builder, a land surveyor, Thomas Parker, it was built in the fall of 1754. Located between two larger forts, Loudoun and Pearsall, on the Great Wagon Road, or main trail, it was used as a stopping place for the troops, convoys, and couriers. There are no records of troops being stationed there. Even Thomas Parker spent little time there. It does, however, play a vital role in our history.

Fort Thomas Parker or the North River Stockade was not a fort as is usually understood, but a fortified home or blockhouse with rifle slits and few windows. It is believed a stockade encircled the house.

During the French Indian war, Washington ordered hunting parties to search for Indians. Capt. Richard Pearis, a former Indian trader, headed one of these parties. His party was made up of Cherokee Indians and militiamen. They marched to the North River till they came upon Fort Thomas Parker.

Arriving at the fort they found it to be surrounded by hostile Indians. Capt. Pearis fired on the Indians and reclaimed the fort. The battle lasted about 30 minutes. The enemy commander, a Frenchman Sieur Douville was killed and three warriors were wounded. Capt. Pearis lost one man while two others were hurt. Sieur Douville’s scalp was presented to Colonel Washington at Winchester. Washington sent the scalp to Governor Dinwiddie with the written hope the governor would pay the bounty. The bounty was divided among Pearis’s men.

Another scalping may have occurred near the fort or this may be a different version of the previous story. Capt. Joshua Lewis and eighteen men of the Virginia Regiment came upon a small band of Indians led by a French officer. A skirmish followed in which the French officer was killed and two others were wounded. The scalp was also sent to the Governor, and probably the bounty was paid.

The Gibbons family was living near Fort Thomas Parker. When Sarah Gibbons was 13 years old Indians kidnapped her. She was taken to an Indian village and was raised by the Indians. Sarah had a “half-breed child. The child was named Abraham Gibbons.

    In 1765 or 1767 Sarah left the Indian village to find her natural parents. Her home place had been sold to Dr. James Craik, (Washington’s personal physician who attended him from the French Indian War until Washington’s death.) Her father, James Gibbons, had died in 1760. Her mother had married Durret Covey. Mr. Covey was a member of Lewis’s militia who had come to the rescue when the Indians had kidnapped Sarah. Sarah’s brother, Jacob, was now living along Opequon Creek, near Winchester.

Sarah gave up her son to Daniel Sowers as an indentured servant. In 1774, Sarah filed charges against Sowers for child abuse. The child was returned to her. Sarah married Cornelius Lister and lived three miles south of Winchester next to her brother’s home.

Thomas Parker later sold the land to Robert Pritchard. It was then sold to J. Rees Pritchard. Kenny Baker now owns the land believed to include the fort site.

The town later became known as North River Mills. The town’s name was derived from North River and the three mills that were a major part of the community. North River Mills is located between Capon Bridge and Slanesville on Cold Stream Road at the base of Ice Mountain.

The town’s main economy was based on the three gristmills. Each Mill was uniquely different in style from the others.  Ironically, only one mill, the Snapp Mill, was powered by North River.  Part of the river’s current was diverted to the undershot wheel. For a while during the Civil war James Slane, an ancestor of Kenny Baker, owned the mill. With thirty- percent efficiency rate, and resembling a river boat paddle wheel it was the least efficient of the mills.

 Charles Harmison told a story about the bridge that went over the road to the mill. A man would stand on the bridge and throw rocks at people as they would pass under it.  Just after the Civil War, Mr. Snapp became the owner of the Snapp Mill. When Maude Pugh (author of Capon Valley...) was a child he would let her and some other children play in the pile of bran on the second floor of the mill. Bran is the outer coating that is left when the grain is ground. In 1930 the Snapp Mill was blown up to make room for a newly built road. The ruins can be found on the Slanesville end of town just as you turn onto Harmison’s Lane.   The foundation and a pool from where the wheel turned are still visible.

A mill race from Hiett’s Run (also know as Parker’s Gap Run) supplied sufficient drop for an overshot wheel at the Miller Mill in the center of town on the Slanesville side of the Old Inn.  Instead of paddles, it used buckets. The wheels ranged from ten to thirty feet. The number of buckets varied according to the size of the wheel. A ten foot wheel needed around twenty-four buckets and a forty foot wheel needed over a hundred buckets. With a seventy-five percent efficiency rate this was the most efficient type of wheel.

The mill had three stories. In an early 1800’s flood the Miller family took refuge on the third floor. The Miller Mill fell down in a large snowstorm in 1936. The Millers built a shed on the remaining foundation that still remains today. No mortar was used in the foundation.  One grinding bur remains at the mill site.  Sloan Miller’s family owns the other stone.

 A diesel turbine powered the Shanholtz Mill so no water was needed.  The poured concrete foundation can still be seen across from the old store near the center of town.  Henry Shanholtz operated this mill.

 The three mills were never running at the same time. There was a short period that the Shanholtz Mill and the Miller Mill were operating together.

Even though North River Mills has almost died away, the stories told by its residents keep it alive in our hearts and minds.  The tales tell of a diverse community that could almost be mistaken for one large family.  Services are held at the century old Methodist church every second and fourth Sundays.   Many people in the area have worked hard to preserve what is left of North River Mills.  The town’s heritage is celebrated every year in at North River Mills Day.