St. Clair County Remnants Of The Past


St. Clair County
Remnants Of The Past

A Look at History

St. Clair County Courier
10 November 2000

Nine miles west of Collins on Highway 54 is the Sac River Bridge. It was the first bridge built about a block north of the last. The abutments and the old road are still there. The old road running east of the bridge was very steep and rocky. A good team would be needed to maneuver this road. The original El Dorado – Collins road is still used east of the present road. On the west side of the old bridge, a side road ran next to the river. About a half mile down this road would have brought you to the water mill and a small settlement.
Old man Ward settled on a piece of land on the west side of the Sac River. Dr. Cox and Avery B. Howard built a mill on Ward’s land in 1841. This was the first water mill in the county and was known as Howard’s Mill or the Ritchey Mill. It was with one exception, the only mill of the kind in the county for several years. It had two run of burrs and did a good business. Going to a mill in early pioneer days was one of the first necessities to get food for their families. With no roads, no bridges and no ferry boats, getting to a mill was no sorry task when so many rivers and streams were to be crossed. Several of the early census records list Howard’s Mill as the local post office. The first Post Office was from Roscoe, Rives County with John Burch as postmaster on June 18, 1840, but was changed to Howard’s Mill on Sept. 8, 1854 with William H. Cock as the postmaster. A series of postmasters were in charge from 1880 and moved from Howard’s Mill to Roscoe a number of times. The postmasters from 1856 to 1867 were: Bertrand O. Weidemeyer, Gabrial P. Nash, William W. Ritchey, John H. Dice, Anderson Morton, Noah Graham, Abraham S. Hart and Sterling Cooper. There were several others until it was discontinued in 1886. The mill was called Cobb on May 25, 1889 with James H. Fletcher, Mary S. Fletcher, Mrs. Meda Polston and Reuben E. McLain as postmasters and continued until May 13, 1918, when the post office was discontinued. The name “Cobb” was given the mill post office since there was always a huge pile of cobbs near the mill. The people thought that would be an appropriate name to give their settlements.
The mill was owned just before and at the beginning of the Civil War by William R. Ritchey and his partner, U.L. Sutherland, both natives of Kentucky who arrived in St. Clair County before 1840. They also had a large store in connection with the only mill. William R. Ritchey eventually moved onto land south of Osceola, close to the Harris Plantation.
U.L. Sutherland had a large house about ½ mile southwest of the river bridge. He was probably responsible for the starting of a school in the area, Cole-Hampton-Riverview. He had several slaves. Some of the rock foundations are still visible on the north side of the present road, about one block west of the bridge. On the night of Jan. 9, 1862, several riders came to his house looking for his gold and called him out to kill him. He told them they could kill him but not his soul. They let his wife keep a team, then shot him and burned their house. The riders told his wife they would come back and kill whoever buried him. His wife and children went to one of his slave’s cabins and stayed until they took her husband and buried him at the George’s Cemetery (Harris Plantation Cemetery). His father-in-law was Major Edwin Eugene Harris. A number of his young children are buried there along with William R. Ritchey and his family. Mrs. Sutherland later went north and the family doesn’t know what happened to her. U.L. did have a large amount of gold, which Mrs. Sutherland tied around the children’s neck and escaped with it. The family said her hair turned white in one night.
A small battle was fought there at the mill on Oct. 13, 1862. A small unit of the Southern Army took over a short time and began to mill their flour. A union force of 50 men under General U.R. Parsons took the mill back and began to mill their flour and meal.
A number of operators ran the store and mill over the next years. There was always a blacksmith shop in the settlement, several drug stores, probably several stills, a saw mill, several homes, store and one-pump gas station ran by James Keeton which burned about 1927 or ’28. Evon Gentry built a store south of the El Dorado – Collins road in the early ‘30s. The area has some nice homes there now, but only rocks and some bolts drilled into solid rock that held the mill in place show where the mill was at an earlier time. Mills were washed away with flooding quite often, rebuilt, and destroyed again by floods. The last mill burned around the turn of the century and was not rebuilt. Many stories from the memories of early residents are also there.