LANCASTER - For the first time since approximately 1897, the Hocking River will power a waterwheel in Fairfield County Sept. 7 and 8 as part of the Rock Mill Celebration. The event runs from noon until 5 p.m. both days and is free and open to the public. Free public parking and a continuous shuttle will be available at the Liberty Center, 951 Liberty Drive, Lancaster.
LANCASTER — For the first time since approximately 1897, the Hocking River will power a waterwheel in Fairfield County Sept. 7 and 8 as part of the Rock Mill Celebration. The event runs from noon until 5 p.m. both days and is free and open to the public. Free public parking and a continuous shuttle will be available at the Liberty Center, 951 Liberty Drive, Lancaster.
Last year, approximately 3,000 visitors streamed into Rock Mill Park to witness the completion of the mill’s 26-foot, all-wooden waterwheel. This year, the park district is making plans for an even bigger turnout with the addition of more musicians, artisans, vendors and historical demonstrations. Musical acts will include the Second Wind Bluegrass Band, who will be performing throughout the weekend.
Other performers include Square Thirteen, Fairfield County Strings, Laura Elder, Flutasia, Sheri Dean, and the Cedar Hill Bluegrass Boys. Visitors will be able to take in historical demonstrations on blacksmiths, milling, lathing, spinning and cooking, while shopping at more than 20 art and craft vendors. Concessions include Gypsy Joe’s, Bob’s Brats and Burgers, Butch’s Italian Café, Papaya BBQ, Sunny Farms and Manny and Sons Pastries.
Rock Mill and its waterwheel continue to be the event’s main attractions. Park volunteers will be stationed throughout the mill and in the gorge near the waterwheel to explain how Rock Mill would have operated in the 1800s. According to park director Dave Fey, “This year’s celebration is particularly special because visitors will get a sense of what Rock Mill will be like once it’s returned to working order. Not only are we showcasing what we have done at this site, but also we are anticipating what’s in store for the future.”
Rock Mill was built in 1824 and replaced Fairfield County’s first gristmill, which was built by Joseph Loveland and Hezekiah Smith in 1799 inside the gorge of the Hocking River falls.
According to local legend, Rock Mill was given its six floors because it was initially conceived to be both a grist and woolen mill. Yet the machinery required to process the wool was never added to the building. Nonetheless, a 26-foot-in-diameter wooden, overshot waterwheel was constructed to supply power throughout the extensive structure, and a 30-foot-long, 14-feet-deep sluice was hand-chiseled out of the sandstone gorge to supply water through the flume to the wheel. The Hocking River was dammed at the falls to raise the water an additional 15 feet.
The original waterwheel powered Rock Mill from 1824 until approximately 1897, when the mill was renovated to run on the combined strength of a water turbine and steam engine. When Rock Mill closed in 1906, it ran solely on steam. Like the original, the new waterwheel is comprised entirely of white oak and weighs approximately 10 tons.
Rock Mill was gifted to the Fairfield County Historical Parks Commission in 2003 by Robert Stebelton, who purchased the site in 1992 from Urcel Alspach. The late Ms. Alspach was the only surviving daughter of Sherman Alspach, the last person to own the mill while it was operable.
After an extensive archeological excavation, which included the discovery of Rock Mill’s original mill stones, the historical parks began initial repairs to the building. When the park levy passed in November 2011, construction to complete the exterior and to remodel most of the interior started. In September 2012, a replica of the 26-foot wooden waterwheel was rebuilt in the Hocking River gorge. The Historical Parks Commission is currently in the planning stages of adding the internal and external gearing that will return the mill to working condition.