Perry County’s Old Burnt Mill

Burnt Mill - Perry county 11-19-2015A couple of weeks ago, a member of the Old, Abandoned and Interesting Places – Missouri Facebook group posted a photo of Old Burnt Mill in Perry county. It didn’t sound familiar to me, and none of my East Perry county friends knew where it was, so Google was the next place to turn.

My virtual buddy, James Baughn, of course, had already written about it on his Pavement Ends Missourian blog in 2010.In addition to the mill, he wrote about the oldest road in Missouri. I encourage you to follow the link to his blog. It’s always interesting reading.

Click on the photos to make them larger.

How to get there

Using his directions from Cape Girardeau:

  • Take I-55 north to the Brewer interchange (Exit 135).
  • Turn right on Route M
  • Make a left on US 61.
  • Bear left on Route NN.
  • After 3½ miles, turn left on Perry County Road 840. Drive down the hill and look for the mill on the right while crossing the bridge.

Here’s a link to a Google map I prepared showing the route to Old Burnt Mill from Cape. It’s interactive, so you can zoom in and out.

You won’t see it in the summer

Burnt Mill - Perry county 11-19-2015Even with his good directions and some (inaccurate) help from my Lady in the Sky GPS, we stumbled upon it by accident. Just before we crossed over the bridge on 840, I was looking out the driver-side window at a big pond (small lake) and said to Curator Jessica, “I think I see some old bridge piers over there.” (They turned out to be three big culvert pipes unrelated to our quest.)

Meanwhile, she’s looking out her window and said, “I think I’ve found the mill.” She, being a wife, even if not mine, was, of course, correct.

You can see from this photo taken from the bridge that it would be really hard, if not impossible, to spot if the leaves were on the trees and bushes.

History of the mill

Burnt Mill - Perry county 11-19-2015A 1963 Missourian story tells the interesting and convoluted story of the mill. The land it is on was acquired by Amose Rowark and Fransisco Valle prior to the Louisiana Purchase. A grist mill was built sometime around 1818 and changed hands a few times.

A young man named Thomas J. Brady, who had been involved in the California Gold Rush, blew into town with a sack full of gold and bought half interest in the mill for $4,000. He married a local gal, and became so well-regarded that the mill became known as Brady’s Mill, even though he was only a half-owner.

In the 1850s, the mill and mill race were destroyed by a flood. The owners were determined to build a structure that could defy the elements. The four-story stone building was erected at the water’s edge to that the strong current caused by the dam would flow through the ground floor to turn the giant stones used to grind the wheat into flour.

Fired up with whiskey

Burnt Mill - Perry county 11-19-2015When the race and mill were completed, the story goes, a barrel of whiskey was rolled out to celebrate. “The men became fired with the whiskey and declared that the Almighty Himself could not destroy the race or the mill again.

That very night, a terrific storm swept the mill race into the creek.”

The fire

Burnt Mill - Perry county 11-19-2015Employee Nicholas Rimboch locked up the mill and went home on the evening of October 12, 1866. One his way to work the next morning, he was stopped and told the mill had burned. When he got there, the ruins were still smouldering.

The cause of the fire was never determined, but there were some interesting rumors floating around. One of them was that Brady sent his son back East to secure insurance on the mill. His son, allegedly, spent the money on liquor, and returned home without the insurance, something he didn’t share with his father. His father, hoping for an insurance windfall, set fire to the mill.

Is it haunted?

Burnt Mill - Perry county 11-19-2015After the fire, one woman said she saw Brady being chased through the woods by his gun-toting half-partner. Brady “departed the community” the day after the mill burned. Years later, a body was found when a nearby pond was drained. It is unknown if the body was Brady.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons there are tales the mill is haunted.

These photos were all taken from across the creek. I didn’t want to fight my way through a fairly solid row of brambles and bushes to get to the steep, muddy slope that led to the mill. And, despite the fact that the stone structure looks much like it did in 1963 photos, I didn’t want to be standing next to it when it decided to give up the ghost (and make me one).




Haunted? Moonville Tunnel

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015I did two posts back in April where I promised I was going to write about the allegedly haunted Moonville  railroad tunnel. (The first showed a spectacular orange sunset, and the other was where I tried, very unsuccessfully, to get Curator Jessica to play Padiddle by Urban Dictionary rules.)

Author and playwright Anton Chekhov famously wrote, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” So, to keep from violating Chekhov’s Rule, here’s an account of our visit.

Located in least populated county in Ohio

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015The Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad was trying to find the most economical route to reach Cincinnati when a landowner named Samuel Coe offered a piece of his land for free if the road would go across his property to haul coal and clay off it. A deal was struck, and coal mines and iron furnaces dotted the area.

Even today, Vinton county is the least populated and most heavily forested county in Ohio. Back then, it was even more desolate. People who lived in Moonville had to walk two long trestles and go through the tunnel to get to the neighboring communities of Hope or Mineral. It was said that by 1920, five or six people had been killed walking the bridges or in the tunnel. The last fatality was in 1986 when a 10-year-old girl was struck by a locomotive on the trestle immediately in front of the tunnel.

Railroad workers said the line was the most desolate eight miles of track between Parkersburg, WV, and St. Louis.

Wanted me to squeal like a little girl

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015Curator Jessica has a kind of mean streak. I was sure she pumped me up with ghost stories, then lured me out to the tunnel just as the sun was going down so she could sneak up behind me and cause me to squeal like a little girl. To keep that from happening, I made sure to know her whereabouts at all times.

Click on the photos to make them larger. Maybe you can see a spirit I missed.

Two trains met head-on

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015With that kind of death toll, there are lots of candidates for the mysterious figure who shows up from time to time.

In 1880, according to one website, “On a cold November night in 1880, Engineer Frank Lawhead was taking the dark passage from Cincinnati to Marietta. He would have no more time than to blink at a light bearing down on him before his life was stripped away from him. The dispatcher failed to notify the train there was a second train coming toward them on the tracks. The train he was driving along the Marietta and Cincinnati route through the tiny town of Moonville would take a headlong trip straight into another train coming along the same tracks. He died, most likely, instantly along with the fire man on board the train.

The February 17, 1895, Chillicothe Gazette reported, “A ghost (after an absence of one year) returned and appeared in front of a freight at the point where Engineer Lawhead lost his life. The ghost is seen in a white robe and carrying a lantern. ‘The eyes glistened like balls of fire and surrounding it was a halo of twinkling stars.'”

Other theories

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015Another website lists a whole raft of possibilities: “The ghost of the Moonville Tunnel is one of those legends that’s based on historical fact but has been distorted by telling and retelling over the years. The major story is that someone–an engineer, a conductor, a brakeman, a signalman?–was crushed under the wheels of the train that used to go through the place. Apart from that basic fact, things get hazy. Was he drunk? Was he stationed in Moonville or was he a brakeman on the train? Was he an eight-foot-tall black guy named Rastus Dexter? Some sources say he was playing cards with other guys. It’s been said that he was a conductor murdered by a vengeful engineer who asked him to inspect underneath the train and then started it up. One source even said that he was trying to get the train to stop because Moonville was in the grip of a plague and was running low on supplies. His death was the end of Moonville.

This seems a little too romantic, especially since the actual newspaper article from the McArthur Democrat on March 31, 1859 tells a much more mundane story: ‘A brakeman on the Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad fell from the cars near Cincinnati Furnace, on last Tuesday March 29, 1859 and was fatally injured, when the wheels passing over and grinding to a shapeless mass the greater part of one of his legs. He was taken on the train to Hamden and Doctors Wolf and Rannells sent for to perform amputation, but the prostration of the vital energies was too great to attempt it. The man is probably dead ere this. The accident resulted from a too free use of liquor.’

A squeal-free zone

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015I will sometimes pick up strange vibes from places I go into, but the spirits were quiet that day in the Moonville Tunnel. Much to Miz Jessica’s disappointment, it was a squeal-free zone.

The tunnel is not the easiest thing to find, even with some detailed directions from a helpful waitress where we stopped for a late lunch. Don’t count on getting a cell signal out to help you, either. You are in a place with spotty service, at best. Here’s a site with a map and GPS coordinates.

I’d rather go down to listen to the ghost whistles from Louis Houck’s railroad that Reader Keith Robinson described.