James Mendenhall’s mills and house deserve attention
By Mary Browning

If there is one place in Jamestown that should be commemorated with a sign showing its historic importance, it is the location of James Mendenhall’s mill and house—even if it is officially in High Point now.

Jamestown was named for James Mendenhall, a Quaker from Chester Co., Pennsylvania, who moved to then Rowan Co., North Carolina in 1759, according to his descendants, and by 1762, according to documentary evidence. His wife, Hannah Thomas, and six of his eight children came with him, and he took up a grant of land from colonial Proprietor John Earl Granville for 204 acres adjoining Richard Beeson on Deep River. He was, at that time, forty-four years old. In 1775, James left his house and mill in the capable hands of his son George, and moved on to Georgia, where he died in 1781. It was George who developed the plan for the village named Jamestown, and who left town lots to his children in his will.

The house and mills that James and his sons built have been gone for about seventy-five years, the foundations drowned by the waters of High Point City Lake. 

The house was built on the south bank of what was then the shallow West Fork of Deep River, near the western edge of James’s grant. At the time, the river probably could be crossed on a foot log by a pedestrian or easily forded by horse or wagon. This house site is well known, just east of and a stone’s throw from the present bridge on Penny Road.

The house had a chimney stone dated 1765 which was rescued from the rising lake waters by Martha Robbins Tilden and her daughter, Sophie Tilden, in 1929 when the dam was built and the house was demolished. The two diminutive women carried, pushed, and rolled the stone from the shore of the lake to their home on Main St., and of course it was uphill all the way. The cornerstone now rests on a granite windowsill in 1811 house James’s grandson, Richard Mendenhall, built in Jamestown. 

Another dated stone there from the old house is carved with the initials G.C.M. and dated 1843, no doubt placed there by James’s grandson, George C. Mendenhall, who followed his father, George, as the third generation to live in the house and mind the mills. George C. no doubt, was responsible for one of the additions to the house; he was a successful lawyer and state legislator.

During the winter of 1999, when the lake water was extremely low, the foundations of the house could be seen, and walked on if one didn’t mind getting pretty muddy. Photos of the house as it was in the last quarter of the nineteenth century show three distinct buildings attached end-to-end. Unseen behind the house was the river, and the ground in front rose sharply up to discourage building additions in that direction. During his residency, George C. called the house “Champlain.”

The mills were upstream from the house. There were a gristmill, and also, if not at first, soon afterward, a sawmill, and references to other kinds of later mills are found. Some years ago, local residents remembered a milldam west of the present bridge, on the south-curving portion of the river. The original gristmill would have been a tub mill, and would not have had a picturesque overshot waterwheel—that came later. For the curious, a drawing of a typical tub mill of that period can be found in the book Frontier Living, by Edwin Tunis.

George C. took seriously his father’s will, which charged him to “keep the mills repaired.” In 1832, he had them completely rebuilt. According to a 1937 newspaper account, there was a ten-foot high rock foundation that was three feet thick, where the driving machinery rested. There were three stories above this base, framed in oak and weather boarded with heart pine cut at the sawmill a few feet up the mill-race. The machinery was driven by two overshot water wheels eighteen feet high. 

George C. Mendenhall died in an accident in 1860. Following the 1881 death of his widow, Delphina Gardner Mendenhall, the mill is said to have belonged to Paris Benbow, then his son Oliver C. Benbow, who in 1902, following a fire, rebuilt the mill on the old foundation. He sold to O. W. Williard, who sold to Sam Stafford, who sold to Ralto Horney. The property was finally acquired by the City of High Point. Now, the mill site is covered by about 30 feet of water, give or take. 

Really, there should be a sign there.

News & Record, Sunday, November 20, 2005

Reprinted with permission of the News & Record  and of the author