The State Historic Preservation Office on Friday is scheduled to consider the nomination of a water-powered mill built on Piney Creek in 1838 by Alfred Beckley, the City of Beckley’s founder and namesake, for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
Remnants of the locally cut sandstone walls that supported and contained the mill are still visible along Piney Creek a short distance downstream from Beckley’s municipal water treatment plant. Although an active CSX track operates on a railbed across Piney Creek from the mill site, a wagon road and footpath that once connected the structure to the populated portions of Beckley, located on a plateau nearly 500 feet above the mill, has been blocked for decades by a large landfill. While the lack of easy access to the mill helped allow the structure to slip from public memory, it also helped preserve the site from vandals.
Few current Beckley residents knew of the former mill’s existence until the Beckley Historic Landmarks Commission and the Raleigh County Historical Society began making plans to incorporate it into a new city park, and verified through a legal search conducted by West Virginia University’s College of Law’s Land Use Legal Clinic that the mill site indeed lies on city-owned property.
Plans now call for developing a spur trail leading to the site as part of a network of hiking and biking paths taking shape along Piney Creek between Beckley’s soccer fields complex off Eisenhower Drive and the McCreery boat launch area in the New River Gorge National River.
A $15,900 grant from the state Archives and History Commission made possible an archaeological survey of the site in 2015, which provided data on the layout and uses of the mill.
Funding from the Carter Foundation and the Beckley Area Foundation covered costs associated with documenting the site for inclusion on the National Register.
While few written descriptions of the mill during its heyday have been found, one was penned by Rutherford Hayes, the nation’s 19th president, who visited the site in January of 1862 while a colonel in the Union army.
“Found it a most romantic spot,” Hayes wrote in his diary. The mill, then operated by John Beckley, son of the town’s founder, came equipped with “a cabin by a roaring torrent in a glen separated from all the world,” where the younger Beckley lived with his “pretty wife and daughter,” the future president wrote. “I shall long remember that quiet little home.”
If SHPO members approve the mill’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, it will be forwarded to the National Park Service’s Keeper of the National Register office, which is expected to act on it later this year.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.