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The Sawmills of Daggett's Mills[i]
By Dave Winterstein
Logging was the first great agricultural pursuit in the Daggett area. Did the early settlers come here for that purpose, or was it something that developed after they arrived here?
Seth Daggett built the first sawmill in Jackson Township around 1817, but the logging boom did not begin in earnest until the 1830s. Seth left Daggett for Tioga around 1842-43. I view that move as the beginning of the end of the lumber boom in the Daggett area.
Historians have not been very kind about the logging in Jackson Township. Apparently, very few trees were left standing.[ii] If you wander about the Daggett area today, you will not find any old growth trees, and it is not hard to picture in your mind that every square foot of land has at some point in time been clear cut.
The lumber boom occurred at a time when the second wave of settlers moved here. Those settlers would become the farmers who would develop the communities. Local wildlife must have been devastated by the lumber boom, but it provided jobs, cleared the land for agricultural use and provided some cash income for the local landowners that sold their timber.
Why so many sawmills? There must have been a local demand for lumber, but not so much as to justify the number of sawmills. My guess is that it was easier to process the timber into lumber to transport to market (Elmira area?) rather than to transport the logs. Not too many log trucks in those days.
I have not had a great deal of difficulty in locating the mills, but I have found little information on the sawmills themselves Some generalizations can be made.
Sawmills in the early days were predominately water powered and of a type known as a sash mill.[iii] Bear with me, I am not a millwright. Sash mills were what was referred to as up-down mills. They used a straight saw blade as opposed to today's circular saw blades. The blade was hung from a frame called a sash because it resembled a window sash. The frame was raised and then dropped by the action of the mill. The blade would cut on the down stroke.
The blade left a distinctive cut mark on the lumber as opposed to lumber cut by a circular saw. There is an art to it, but one can examine those cut marks and determine if the lumber had been cut by a sash mill and estimate as to when the lumber may have been cut. It would be interesting to go around the area and find structures with lumber showing cut marks to see if they date back to that era.
Most of the mills were powered by water wheels, but water turbines were available. The water wheels were either overshot or undershot wheels. It is my understanding that overshot wheels relied on the weight of the water passing over the top of the wheel, while undershot wheels relied on the speed of the water passing underneath the wheel.
The early sawmills in the Daggett area were built along watercourses, so I assume they were all water powered. I doubt very much that water turbines were used. Some of the mills were described as overshot mills. I believe they all were.
I doubt that they were designed to be elaborate structures or built to last. They probably only operated seasonally after sufficient water was stored behind mill dams to operate them. Frequent flooding in the area must have been a problem. As I understand it, the mills themselves were not labor intensive, but the logging and other parts of the operation probably were.
They may have been somewhat expensive to build given the expertise needed to built the hardware and components of the working parts. They probably had to bring in outside millwrights to help in their construction, especially if everything was handmade or forged rather than taken off a shelf.
The first mention of a sawmill in connection with the Daggett area that I have found occurs in a deed dated December 7, 1813, between Reuben Daggett, Jr, and Benjamin Smith.[iv] In that deed, Reuben sold the gristmill in Lower Daggett to Benjamin Smith but reserved the right to construct a sawmill there, together with other water-powered devices. Mr. Smith was to have an interest in the said sawmill.
The first sawmill I found evidence of was the Township's first sawmill built by Seth Daggett in the village of Daggett's Mills. That sawmill was first assessed in 1817, but when had it actually been built?
Seth did not arrive here with his father, Reuben Daggett, Sr., in 1807, but came at a later date. Family records say that Seth's son, Allen, was born here on October 6, 1811. Seth was assessed for land in 1812, but no sawmill.
The Township's first assessment occurred in 1816. Seth was not assessed for a sawmill in that assessment. You would think that that assessment, being the first assessment, would have been accurate and comprehensive.
You have a range of time of about 5 or 6 years in which the sawmill could have been built, but I think the 1817 date is probably accurate.
Where was the sawmill built?
Time has erased the exact location of the sawmill from the land and the minds of local people. The best location I have been able to determine is a triangular area that was part of what most of us remember as the Roger and Vivian Wells Farm.[v]
That area is to the west of SR 549 and south of Church Street (T-952) with the hypotenuse of the triangle being Seeley Creek. Just remember that the creek frequently changes its path in that area.
Part of the yard of the Mary Lou Garrison property adjacent to and north of Church Street has been described as being part of the mill yard, but I doubt any of the actual sawmill was located there.[vi]
My grandfather, Richard M. Smith, once owned part of the area we are talking about. It is my understanding that he filled in and graded some of it, making it difficult to actually picture the lay of the land as it existed in Seth's day.
Tradition has preserved the location of the mill pond. It was located east of SR 549 where the current bridge spans Seeley Creek just south of the Town and adjacent to and south of the hill upon which the old Daggett Cemetery is located.
As I stated, Seth moved to Tioga around 1842-43.
The sawmill was gone sometime between 1849 and 1853.
By 1831, Foster Updike was assessed for a sawmill.
Foster Updike and his son, Richard, conveyed Lot 227 of the Bingham Lands in Jackson Township to Richmond Jones on May 14, 1836.[vii] The deed stated that the property contained 2 sawmills, one of which was described as an overshot sawmill.
Lot 227 was a small 4.9 acre lot. The former Catherine Ayers house and the Donald Vincent property are a part of Lot 227.[viii]
Clark Stillwell acquired Lot 227 and put together the farm some will remember as the J. Edgar and Catherine Ayers Farm. It is well known that Clark Stillwell became engaged in the lumber business.
I had a chance to talk with Mrs. Ayers about Clark Stillwell. She knew of one sawmill that had been constructed on the opposite side of the road from her house. She was under the impression that that mill had been built by Stillwell. If so, and if it was not one of Foster Updike's mills, there may have been at least 3 mills in all on the property.
She told me that Stillwell had built the main part of the house from lumber processed at that mill.
She told me that the water source was located off property on someone else. Troubles developed and Stillwell had the source of his water cut off, forcing the closure of the sawmill. The sawmill disappeared from the assessment records in 1861.
By 1836, Foster Updike lost his sawmill assessment, but by 1839, his son, Richard Updike, was assessed for a sawmill. In 1840, the Richard Updike sawmill assessment was crossed off and a sawmill assessment was added to Foster Updike. That sawmill was located on Foster's home farm which was located at the intersection of SR 549 and the Pony Hill Road (SR 1018). The sawmill was located on lands now of Herb Furman.[ix] Foster died in 1845 and that sawmill was still there 1847. I am not certain how long it lasted after that.
The Herb Furman property may have been the source of the water supply for the Stillwell sawmills.
1831 also saw the first assessment for a sawmill in Lower Daggett on the gristmill property. The property at that time was owned by Jeremiah Ayers, he having purchased the property from Rufus Daggett, Sr. on Christmas Day in 1830.[x]
It is not known if the sawmill had been built by Mr. Ayers or if it had existed prior to his purchase of the gristmill property.
The exact location of the sawmill is unknown. I presume it was built north of Eighmey's Bend near the gristmill to take advantage of the water source for the gristmill.
Was it the sawmill that was intended to be built by Reuben Daggett, Jr. referred to in the deed to Benjamin Smith?
The sawmill lasted until around 1846. It was marked as “rotten” in the assessment book and never appeared in the assessment records after that.
The gristmill property was owned at that time by the Heirs of Rufus Daggett, Sr.
Norman Wells moved from the Town of Barrington in New York State to Jackson Township around 1828.[xi] He initially settled around the intersection of the Pony Hill Road and the Bear Creek Road (T-894). The exact location is not known. By 1831, he began to be assessed for a large amount of land with no recorded deeds to verify it.
A sawmill assessment was added to the land assessment in 1833.
In 1837, Norman and two of his sons sold the sawmill and 285.60 acres of land to Seth Daggett.
I have not been able been to determine the makeup of the entire 285.60 acres. It did include Lots 160, 161, 163 and 197 of the Bingham Lands in Jackson Township.
It is not realistic to believe the current Bear Creek Road and Bear Creek occupy the same paths as they did in 1833, but it is the only information I have. If you plot out those Bingham Lots on the current assessment map, Bear Creek runs along the Bear Creek Road on the current Brian Watkins part of the 285.60 acres and the Vera B. Mahar part of the 285.60 acres.[xii] I believe that the sawmill was located on one of those two properties along the Bear Creek Road. If the lay of the land was similar in 1833 as it is today, the sawmill was more likely to have been on Vera B. Mahar and located to the east of the road.
I rule out the former Mahlon Smith property because I do not believe it was part of the 285.60 acres.[xiii]
Seth had moved to Tioga by 1843. He lost the assessment for the Wells sawmill, and it reappeared back into the Wells family that year.
The sawmill assessment continued for various members of the Wells family until 1853, when the sawmill assessment ended for good.
Seth Daggett succeeded where others failed by expanding his lumber business to other areas of the Township and County.
Around 1833, Seth expanded to the Bear Creek area by building a sawmill there on Lot 121 of the Bingham Lands in Jackson Township.
Seth sold the sawmill and land to Stephen L. Parmerter on December 1, 1844.[xiv] The deed was not recorded until 1849, and the sawmill assessment was not transferred until 1846.
Today, Lot 121 is owned by John Bennett.[xv] He has split the lot in two. On the west side of the road is a 19+ acre lot that Bear Creek runs through. John has built a house on that lot. The east side lot has been incorporated into his farm. I believe the sawmill had been located on the 19+ acres. I do not know when the sawmill ceased to exist.
George and Alfred Weyborn or Weyburn built a sawmill on Lot 210 of the Bingham Lands in Jackson Township just north of the Job's Corners Cemetery around 1835.
Ownership of the sawmill passed to Richmond Jones. He would convey it to Seth Daggett and Seth's nephew, William B. Keyes.[xvi] Seth conveyed his interest in the sawmill to his nephew when Seth moved to Tioga.
William followed in his uncle's footsteps and became a major player in the lumber business.
He owned and controlled much of the land and businesses in the village of Daggett, but lived in Job's Corners just south of the cemetery. I believe that the Weyborn mill became his main sawmill.
The geography in that area was significantly changed by the road work that was done around 1957 to relocate part of SR 549. If you walk around that area, you can see the old road, now known as the Old State Road (T-906), and get a feel for the elevations as they once were.
The 1862 Walling Map locates the sawmill north of Lake Road (T-669) and the L.B. Sheive house.[xvii] Barbara Garrison now lives where the L.B. Sheive place was.[xviii] I believe the sawmill was located on lands now belonging to C. LaVerne Jennings, but I am not satisfied as to its exact location.[xix] Too much has changed.
The sawmill does not appear on the 1875 Tioga County Atlas Map.[xx] I presume it was gone by then.
Joshua G. Spencer acquired his 49+ acres of land on which the bulk of the village of Daggett was built from Seth Daggett in 1827.[xxi] In 1836, he sold all but 3+ acres of it to Abram Minier.[xxii] The deed stated that the property contained a sawmill.
That gives a date range of 1827 to 1836 for the construction of the Spencer sawmill. The great lumber boom in the Daggett area did not begin until the 1830s, so I believe that the mill had been constructed in the 1830s. Some records indicate there may have been two sawmills in all.
When Seth moved to Tioga, he divested himself almost immediately of all his interest in the several sawmills that he owned or had a partial ownership in in the Daggett area, except for the pioneer sawmill. Seth conveyed his interest in the Spencer mill to his nephew, William B. Keyes in 1842.[xxv]
Joshua G. Spencer held a mortgage on the property which he foreclosed on in 1843.[xxvi] Court documents state that there was both a sawmill and an ashery on the property. After the foreclosure action had been completed, Joshua sold the property back to Richmond Jones and William B. Keyes.[xxvii]
By 1853, William B. Keyes had acquired complete ownership of the property and sawmill and had formed a partnership with a member of the Wells family, probably Orrin Wells.
In 1855, the sawmill was crossed off in the assessment book, indicating the end of the Spencer sawmill.
The sawmill was located west of SR 549 and probably near, but east of Seeley Creek, somewhere between where John Degarmo lives today and the former Skip Alexander property.[xxviii]
The small creek that runs along the Garrison Road (T-719) that crosses SR 549 and empties into Seeley Creek was often referred to as a mill creek or mill race in early deed descriptions. It probably served as a partial water source for the Spencer sawmill.
An ashery is involved in the process of burning hardwood down to ash.[xxix] The ash is then boiled with water and reduced to lye. The lye can then be mixed with animal fat to make soap or further processed to make potash and pearl ash. I am assuming that the ashery in Daggett was used to produce potash, a commercial product at the time, which was probably transported to Elmira and sold.
I do not have any information about the ashery in Daggett, except that there was one. It was located in the same general area as the sawmill, except it was probably located along the road. It was a logical accessory business for the sawmill.
In 1865, a flour mill assessment and a shingle mill and sawmill assessment appeared for the first time. The assessment was in the name of E. L. Parmenter. The flour mill assessment appeared only that year. Was it a mistake? I have found no other evidence for that flour mill in the Daggett area, other than the 1865 assessment.
The shingle mill and/or sawmill were steam powered. They were located in the village of Daggett between SR 549 and Seeley Creek near the south line of the former Maynard (Skip) Alexander property.[xxx]
That area was once a part of a pasture field on the former Merle Daggett farm. His son, Lyn Daggett, once told me that there were the remnants of one or more foundations in that area. The area is now grown up, and I have made no attempt to check that out.
Several individuals, including E. L. Parmenter, O.B. Wells, Markle C. Wells, William H. Furgeson, Moses D. Wylie, Carew M. Wylie and possibly Orman J. Wiley, had ownership interests in the mill or mills.
E.L. Parmenter appears to have built the mills, but over time, Moses D. Wylie appears to have been the predominate owner.
The mill owners had a building along SR 549 that probably served as a store or office for the mills.[xxxi] The former Maynard (Skip) Alexander house may have been that building.
Sometime around 1878, the steam shingle mill and/or sawmill were damaged or destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.
Were the mills a renovation of the old Spencer sawmill, or at least had been built on the site of that sawmill?
On December 17, 1919, Edmund N. and Leda A. Garrison began to establish the farm that they lived on until they died. Edmund had a sawmill along the Garrison Road next to the old mill race creek. It was located on the former Frank and Pat Martin property.[xxxii] I have always been told that the building on the left as you turn onto that property housed the sawmill.
I talked to Bert Garrison, grandson of Edmund Garrison, about the sawmill. The original barn on the farm was located to the west of the sawmill on the north side of Garrison Road.
That area is a pasture field today. That barn was destroyed in a fire around 1942-43. I believe it was the same fire that destroyed the Oddfellow's Hall.
The sawmill was built to process timber for a new barn. The new barn was built across the road near the current house. That barn has been demolished, but most local people remember it.
The sawmill was powered by a tractor. Its primary purpose was for use on the farm, but some commercial use of the sawmill was made. Bert told me that his grandfather had some sort of ties to a sawmill in the Millerton area. When the sawmill ceased to be of use to the farm, it was ended.
The building has been remodeled and renovated over the years, but it still exists.
My Grandfather, Richard M. Smith, built a sawmill on the current Richard N. Smith property behind the house in the flat area on the north end of the property.[xxxiii] My Grandfather purchased the property in 1926, but I do not know when he built the sawmill. My Uncle, Robert C. Smith, was born in 1936, and he remembers as a small child the sawmill being there.
My father, Charles H. Winterstein, came to work for my Grandfather after being discharged from the Navy after WWII. He operated the sawmill.
My Grandparents moved to Florida in the early 1950s. I can remember as a small child playing on old stacks of lumber that were piled in the area of the sawmill, but no sawmill. That would have been in the late 1950s.
More research needs to be done on that sawmill.
I have found numerous family photographs of friends and relatives, but almost no pictures of the many buildings and businesses my Grandfather had. Fortunately, my Uncle and Aunt, Richard N. and Beverly Smith, have a picture of the sawmill. Everyone, please do not forget to document buildings when taking your pictures. Historians will love you for it.
The building that housed Ed Garrison's sawmill
[i] The purpose of this article is to show the locations of the sawmills not to give extensive information about them. That will be done in other sections of my history.
[ii] W.W. Munsell & Co, ed., 1804-1883 History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania (New York: Press of George MacNamara), 58.
[iv] Tioga County Deed Book 3 at page 335.
[v] Arthur Hungerford Trust property: 7697 Route 549 Tax Parcel 17/6.00/066.
[vi] Mary Lou Garrison, 7749 Route 549, Tax Parcel 17/7B/009.
[vii] Tioga County Deed Book 12 at page 287.
[viii] Otto H. and Cindra A. Bean IV (Ayers property), 37 Hill Road, Tax Parcel 17/6.00/067 and Connie Layton (Vincent property), 12 Hill Road, Tax Parcel 17/6.00/073.
[ix] Herbert Furman, 17 Old State Road, Tax Parcel 17/6.00/075.
[x] Tioga County Deed Book 9 at page 79.
[xi] See the section of my history on Seth Daggett.
[xii] Brian Keith and Diane M. Watkins, 607 Pony Hill Road, Tax Parcel 17/6.00/025 and Kristi L. Bartlett (Mahar property), 733 Bear Creek Road, Tax Parcel 17/4.00/044.
[xiii] Chad M. Smith, 535 Bear Creek Road, Tax Parcel 17/4.00/053.
[xiv] Tioga County Deed Book 19 at page 664.
[xv] John S. and Brenda M. Bennett, 1141 Bear Creek Road, Tax Parcel 17/4.00/048.
[xvi] Tioga County Deed Book13 at page 315.
[xvii] Walling, H.F. Map of Tioga County Pennsylvania. Map. New York, NY. Way Palmer & Co. 1862.
[xviii] Brian E. Garrison, 7187 Route 549, Tax Parcel 17/6.00/041.
[xix] Charles L. Jennings Iax Parcel 17/6.00/039.
[xx] Beers, F.W. & Co. County Atlas of Tioga County Pennsylvania. Map. New York. 1875. See maps of Jackson Township.
[xxi] Tioga County Deed Book 7 at page 437.
[xxii] Tioga County Deed Book 12 at page 401.
[xxiii] Tioga County Deed Book 13 at page 478.
[xxiv] Tioga County Deed Book 13 at page 596.
[xxv] Tioga County Deed Book 24 at page 16.
[xxvi] Tioga County Appearance Docket M at page 124.
[xxvii] Tioga County Deed Book 17 at page 119.
[xxviii] John Degarmo, 7781 Route 549 Tax Parcel 17/7B/17 and Gene E and Deborah Shalters (Alexanders) 7877 Route 549 Tax Parcel 17/4.00/066.
[xxx] See note xxviii.
[xxxi] There are other stories that the Skip Alexander house was the second school house that had been moved to the Alexander property
[xxxii] Jeffrey J. Walker, 85 Garrison Road, Tax Parcel 17/4.00/068A.
[xxxiii] Richard N. and Beverly A. Smith, 36 Church Street, Tax Parcel 17/07B/008.