The History of the Chuckatuck Grist Mill


RICHARD BARTLETT, 200 acs. Up. Nof. Co.,
Sept. 27, 1645, Page 46. Lyeing at the head of Chucatucke. Adj. Humprhrey Scowren & Peter Rey, Formerly granted to said Bartlett & Henry Bradley by order of Court at James Citty dated Oct. 5, 1643, with this proviser: that it be not to the prejudice of any former grant and that they build a mill upon the same. Bradley surrendered his moiety to sd. Bartlett to whom it is due for his per. adv. & trans.

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On September 27, 1645, the King of England issued Richard Bartlett a land grant for 200 acres of land in Upper Norfolk County (later named Nansemond County and now named the City of Suffolk) on the head of Chuckatuck Creek. The grant was given for the construction of a gristmill. It is probable that this site may have had a working gristmill by the late 1600s.

It is generally believed that one pair of the millstones is original to the late 17th century mill, making them Tidewater Virginia’s oldest industrial equipment. Although the early mill burned, it was subsequently rebuilt or restored (exact date unknown). The millstones would not have been harmed by fire, and because of their size, value and longevity, they were almost certainly placed in the restored mill.

Bricks at the mill have been dated to the 1820s, but historians believe that time period to have been one of renovation. The bricked-in front windows and door of the 15-foot high basement indicate an earlier construction date, when the road in front (Route 10) was at a much lower level than at present. Presumably, the bricked-up basement was originally the first floor level of the structure. It is speculated that earth was built up in front of the mill in order to create more of a “fall” for the water to turn the wheel or to create the millpond. Since records for what was originally Upper Norfolk County were burned during the Revolutionary War and again during the Civil War, it is difficult to obtain accurate or exact historical data. The Chuckatuck Grist Mill is listed as one of the 17th century mill site landmarks in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The unusual Williamsburg style grooves and beading, found on all of the supporting posts and beams, are indicative of construction before 1800. Very few working mills used the same style. Another feature of note is the stairway leading from the second level to the third level. A series of pegged treads on the right and left of the stairway originally held the stairway together without nails. Years of footsteps have worn the tread thin. Original wavy glass and hand-blown glass remain in many of the windows, both on the first and second floors.

The gristmill was an important part of early settlers’ life. It provided a place where the local residents could have their corn turned into meal or purchase meal for their families. Some believe that the basement was used to hold meetings for the then not-so-popular Quakers. George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers), is reported to have visited Chuckatuck in 1672. Afterwards, a sizable group of this sect settled here.

The necessity for some way to grind corn (other than the Indian method of mortar and pestle) was recognized in the Virginia colony as early as 1620. At that time a proposition was introduced in court to bring from England skillful wrights to construct water mills. The following year the Colony Treasurer was commanded to build such a mill. The number of mills increased steadily as the number of colonists increased, and the cultivation of corn and other crops was successful.

Millstones were among early shipments to the colony. The stones themselves, which formed the crushing or grinding component of the mill, weighed over a ton each and were used in pairs. It is believed that such stones were sometimes brought in as cargo from Europe, often coming as ballast in the early ships that came through the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads harbors, and then up the James River. At first, only English stones were deemed to possess the requisite hardness and structure, but surviving records show that at least one set of millstones was of French origin, brought to the colonies around 1700.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the old wooden water wheel was replaced by a double-wide metal wheel. This overshot wheel is still in place today, and, although most of the buckets are rusted away, it is still in fairly good condition. Chuckatuck’s first electric “power plant” was located in the mill’s basement. Another mill wheel was added at an angle to the main wheel; a diversion system was built to split the water flow from the main wheel, normally used during daylight hours, over to the generator wheel for nighttime use. Wires were strung to nearby homes. The mill wheel furnished electric power for the small Village of Chuckatuck until sometime in the 1930s or 1940s.

B.W. Goodwin, grandfather of twice Virginia Governor Mills Edwin Godwin, Jr., was the last owner of the mill to use it as a working gristmill. For the last 30-odd years, the building has been used for various non-milling business operations. Prior to the mill’s purchase by Paul and Sharon Krumpe, the second floor was converted into a modern apartment, and nothing remains of the five grain separation bins and other equipment located on that floor. However, the windows are original, and the wood framing has been exposed in certain places. The owner at the time of remodeling reported seeing a nineteenth-century ghost (dated by his costume). Although the Krumpes have not seen any ghosts wandering about, they are keenly aware of the mill’s historic value and are dedicated to its preservation.