Central Texas Storybooks

Central Texas Stories and Legends

Mote Smith Mill
Last of Eight
(Late 1870s-1900)

Mote Smith Mill site in 2015
Mote Smith Mill site photographed on August 27, 2015.

"Just a little further," our guide said as he coaxed us on. "It should be around the next bend." The four of us - myself, my husband, and two friends - pushed through heavy underbrush, crawled under a barbed wire fence, and thrust onward in the direction of our guide's triumphant, "Here it is!"

"It" was the site of the Jeremiah Morton (Mote) Smith Mill. We stood in silence as we took in the scenery around us. Even though it was a hot August afternoon, the tall majestic trees along the creek bank provided a comfortable shade. We could hear the rushing of the water as we peered over the bank and looked into the creek below us. There we saw the twisted metal of a part of the dam that had once held the water of the Mote Smith mill pond.

At the time the Mote Smith Mill was built in the late 1870s, the Salado River was providing power for six other mills. The Chalk/Ferguson Mill had been sawing lumber, grinding corn, and ginning cotton for over 20 years when Smith built a gristmill and cotton gin about a mile downstream from Summers Mill.1 It was the last of the eight mills located along the banks of Salado Creek and was built in a pasture owned by the Garrison family of Salado, accessible only through their property off of Campbell Hill Road.

The mill was run by three brothers, Jack, Bob, and Bill Holmes. The mill was completely destroyed in 1900 when, during the Galveston Hurricane, heavy rains and floods prevailed throughout the State of Texas. After the flood the only item remaining from the mill was the mill stones. A miller by the name of J. A. Dice salvaged the stones and installed them in a small gasoline mill he operated on the Lampasas River.

Even though the Salado was a fast-flowing stream prone to flooding, there was something about the area that enticed people to make their homes along the banks of the creek. Perhaps it was the tall, stately trees that lined the river bank or perhaps it was the river itself that provided an abundant source of cool, fresh water.

Nevertheless, by 1849 there were enough people in the area to employ a teacher and start a school. The first school in the Salado area was in a cabin located on the bank of the Salado across from the Mote Smith Mill and gin. The cabin had been occupied by a Mr. Kuykendall. When he moved, the people living along the lower Salado employed Mr. E.N. Goode as the first teacher for the new school.2

The millwright of the Mote Smith Mill, Jeremiah Morton Smith, was born in Orange County, Virginia on April 20, 1848. His parents were George Andrew Smith and Julia Somerville Smith, both of Virginia3. The Smith family came to Bell County in 1867. Jeremiah Morton married Cora Lee Fowler, daughter of Josiah and Rebecca McCamey Yett Fowler, on March 1, 1877.4 The marriage took place in Salado, Texas, perhaps at the Fowler home, one of Salado's historic homes. The couple had three children, George A. Smith, Fowler Smith, and Murray Mayrant Smith, all born at Salado. Their second son, Fowler, died at the age of 14 months.

Cora Lee Smith Fowler was born June 23, 1854 at Marble Hill, Burnet County, Texas.5 She came to Salado as young girl with her parents when her father, Capt. Josiah Fowler, was employed as a mathematics professor at Salado College. Cora Lee was a student at the college and a member of the Amasavourian Society, a literary society for young women.

At the time of his death on June 1, 1923, Smith was living in Rosharon, Texas.6Cora had preceded him in death some 20 years earlier. Some years later, Smith married Jessie Adams of Wichita, Kansas, and at the time of his death, the couple was living on their cotton plantation in Brazoria County. Smith had been active in cotton buying, ginning, and milling for several years.

Funeral services were held in Temple, Texas at the residence of his son George on North Third Street. Interment was at the North Belton Cemetery on June 2, 1923. Smith was buried next to his wife, Cora.

This drawing below shows the location of each of the eight mills on Salado Creek and the year each was built. The first mill in operation was Chalk Mill, built in 1848. The last mill to cease operations was Summers Mill in 1957. Although only nine miles long and not so deep as other streams, the Salado attracted millers because of its never-failing water supply. The distance between the mills ranged from one mile to two and a half miles. The dams were built just far enough apart to allow the water released from one mill to gain sufficient volume before it had to turn the wheel of the mill below it.

By Charlene Ochsner Carson
Page last updated: March 4, 2019

Footnotes:

  1Tyler, George W., History of Bell County, edited by Charles William Ramsdell, Ph.D., The Naylor Company, San Antonio, 1936. p. 85.
  2Ibid.
  3Ancestry.com
  4Ibid.
  5Ibid.
  6Texas State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Standard Certificate of Death., 1923
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