Contract for Cook's Mill (1857)

(Monroe County Courthouse, Deed Book T, page 319)

Transcriber's note: The contract has been reformatted as a list with spelling updated. Items in parenthesis are added for clarification.

This article of agreement made and entered into this 18th day of Dec. 1857 by and between James Humphreys of the one part and J.A. & R.B. Cook of the other part, all of the County of Monroe and State of Virginia. Witness the following contracts and agreement. The said James Humphreys is to build a Mill House (=mill building), and Mill (= mill machinery) for the following prices per square for carpenter work and per foot for millwright work, for the said J.A. & R.B. Cook (sons of Jacob, and grandsons of Valentine Cook) on a branch of Indian Creek near Centerville (early name for Greenville).

Carpenter work (prices per square foot)
1. Framing outside frame of house $ 1.50
2. Weatherboarding, rough 1.00
3. Flooring, rough but tongue and groove 2.50
4. Inside framing, sleepers etc. 0.75
5. Roofing 2.50
6. Baton doors 3.00
7. Windows, 15 lights with 10 by 12 inch glass 4.00
8. Windows, 12 lights with 10 by 12 inch glass 3.50
Millwright Work (prices per foot)
9. Each large shaft $ 25.00
10. Each head block & spur sill 4.00
11. Water wheels 4.00
12. Master cog wheel 4.00
13. Wallowers 4.00
14. Husk (=Hurst) frame for each pair of stones 12.00
15. Counter wheels 7.00
16. Trundle heads 7.00
17. Each sleeve leaver etc. 4.00
18. Counter shaft 0.75
19. Forebay put on with spikes 1.00
20. Penstock gate shoot & leavers each 20.00
21. Hoops, hoppers, meal chests, hopper frames etc. 18.00
22. Each pair of stones, including facing furrowing & curbing 30.00
23. Elevators, depending on height 30.00 to 40.00
24. Screen chest & reel 30.00
25. Bolting shafts 0.50
26. Bolting chest 30.00
27. Reel for same 10.00
28. Solid pulleys 2.00 or 3.00
29. Bevel wheels 5.00
30. Face bolting wheels 4.00
31. Conveyers 0.50
32. Double sinks 15.00

All materials for the above bill to be furnished on the ground with sufficient board and lodging for said Humphreys and hands while they are doing the said work, and pay said Humphreys as the work progresses sufficient amounts of money to enable him to pay off the hands he may employ to work at the job. Witness the hands and seals of the contracting and agreeing parties the day and year above written.

Witness, J.C. Ballard

James Humphreys (seal)

Jacob A. Cook (seal)

Riley B. Cook (seal)

This agreement between James Humphreys of the one part — and Jacob A. Cook & Riley B. Cook of the other part — was presented to me in my said office proven by the oath of John S. Ballard, as subscribing witness thereto, and the same is admitted to be recorded.


Geo. W. Hutchinson CMC

1859 Jany 1st Deliv. ? to Inv: C. Ballard for the parties (written along left margin)

Comments on the Contract for Cook's Mill

by Fred Ziegler

This contract was prepared in late 1857, was recorded in the Courthouse in October 1858 and the cryptic note at the end implies that the mill was completed by the beginning of 1859. Apparently then, the mill was built in 1858, and while the contract is consistent with the existing structure, the only details that are really specific are the window dimensions in items 7 and 8. Some doubt has been cast on the original date because of the contemporaneous record that Union Troops "burned a mill in Centerville" (=Greenville) in June of 1862 (Morton, 1916, A History of Monroe County). There were other mills in the vicinity and indeed there is another record that a powder mill was burned during the same raid (McKinney, 2004, The Civil War in Greenbrier County), so this may have been the unlucky mill in question. Dr. Ron Ripley of the Monroe County Historical Society feels that the Gothic Revival style of architecture of Cook's Mill, which features decorative verge boards on the eaves and board and baton siding on the gable, points toward an antebellum date. Recently an undated letter has emerged that was written by the granddaughter of Riley B. Cook, and this confounds the "burning issue". She wrote to a young relative, "They said Grandfather owned a grist mill on the river, that was burned by the North--rebuilt and burned by the South in Civil War so they moved west without anything". There is reason to doubt this story because Riley Cook was doing pretty well after the war, to judge by the property that he bought, and he did not leave the area until well after the war in 1877. Moreover, he was involved in an extended court battle concerning these transactions, and this may have been why he moved, and perhaps he put out such a story to cover this embarrassing fact. Probably the mystery of the mill burning will not be settled until a tree-ring analysis is performed to establish the date that the mill timbers were cut.

The details of the mill contract are interesting, whether or not they pertain to the existing structure. They seem to be open-ended because the dimensions of the building and the number of windows, doors, mill stones, etc. are not specified, although these details must have been understood by the parties. Moreover, the cost of the machines was quoted by the foot, so the number of feet of lumber required to build, say, a three-dimensional object like a water wheel lends another uncertainty. So, there is no total figure provided for the cost of the structure and the equipment, nor could a figure be easily derived. This makes it difficult to be sure that the contract applies to our building, particularly since most of the original equipment was replaced over the years. For instance, the contract calls for a wheel driven mill, but the turbines must have been in place for at least 125 years. In fact, all the original machinery was constructed by the millwright, primarily of wood, while records show that it was eventually replaced with 'store bought' roller mills and other technological advancements. In fact, the contract may be best understood with reference to Oliver Evans' 1795 "The Young Mill-Wright & Miller's Guide" which remained in print until the Civil War. This book was a handbook used by most millwrights and contains many detailed drawings which help to understand the terminology in the mill contract.

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