Don, ‘We had a little rain’
By BETH ALTENA
A gullywasher rainstorm during the night of Saturday, June 17 and Sunday, June 18 created a torrential runoff from the roof of Cannonsburg Village’s historic 173 year old mill, taking down the northern foundation and wiping out the interior support structure.
The storm brought in four to five inches of rain during the night and early morning, and the earth, cement block and ancient support beams all succumbed to the pressure. Don Kurylowicz, King of Cannonsburg, said both the township and a local builder said the structure is unsafe, unsaveable and has to come down.
The old gray building with the red roof just south of Cannonsburg Road on Honey Creek Road has witnessed a lot of history from when it was first built in 1844. Over its 173 year history, there have been a dozen owners, beginning with EB Bostwick, who, along with John Ball, helped develop Canon Township. Over that time the mill has been destroyed by fire in 1875 and then again after being struck by lightening in 1914. Each time the tragedy struck the mill was rebuilt. The mill has always been an integral part of the Village of Cannonsburg. On Saturday, June 17, after nearly five inches of rain in a very short time, the north foundation wall gave way and in doing so destroyed two of the main columns supporting the mill. On that morning John Wilson, Lonnie Herrington, Pat and Bill Verlin quickly came and helped secure the site.
From the street side of the structure, through the front door, you can see the floor in place until midway through the building. After that the floor drops away, disappearing into the lower levels and destroyed.
Some of the content you can still see stored in the estimated 2,800 foot structure. Out of reach of retrieval are the holiday lights Don uses to decorate the town. You can see an old election poster from when he ran for office. Other items are already demolished and more will go when the building comes down.
The building and its contents are insured, so Kurylowicz will be able to replace the holiday lights, an estimated $12,000 investment. There is no way to reach many of the stored items given the extremely dangerous condition of the building. The contractor who looked at it said he doesn’t know what is holidng the frame and remaining structure together.
Kurylowicz said he plans to recreate the building to a near exact replica. He appreciates the historic value of the four story structure, which he calls, “the reason Cannonsburg is here.” Originally built in 1842, some of it rebuilt in 1907, the mill used to serve not only the townspeople, who came to have corn and wheat ground into flour, but also the area farmers, farther out from the village center.
Kurylowicz said accounts say that during the fall corn grinding, the pile of husks and cobs in the valley behind the building was a hundred feet tall and a hundred feet wide. He said there used to be a lot of rattlesnakes there.
From the banks of Bear Creek flowing westerly behind The Bottle Shop, to the fall of the mill, the drop was a twenty foot fall. Now the creek cannot reach the building, the route diverting it from across the street now concreted closed. It used to run in a tunnel under the roadway.
At one point in time the merchant running the building in the Bottle Shop (Belkie’s store) set up a tornado shelter complete with food, cots, blankets and bottled water. He said he heard kids used to get into there and misbehave. It is filled in now since the early to mid 1950s.
Kurylowicz shows off the old mill pond behind the shop and said old riparian (water) rights from 1844 allowed the mill owners to back the mill pond up as far back as the Townsend Park pavilion on Six Mile Road. It was a booming business and the heart of village life. The next nearest mills were Rockford and one at Chauncy.
“People would bring in their corn or grain on Friday night, go to Cool’s Tavern, stay in one of the two hotels and go to St. Pats on Sunday. The little village was likely booming back then, with a population of about 100, with the mill, tavern, hotel, drug store, church and blacksmith’s shop all a draw for nearby pioneers.
One old home had to be torn down on a lot that now looks like a beautiful creekside park, and Kurylowicz actually hopes to turn it into a park. Saved and seemingly fine is the huge tree that overlooked the Edmond Joyce house for a century. Kurylowicz calls it “The Witness Tree” in honor of all that has happened in the trees estimated 300 year life.
“It was here before we were a country,” he notes. From the grassy open space that used to be family gardens for the Joyces you can see a foundation on the opposite banks of Bear Creek. According to Kurylowicz, it is the foundation of one of the blacksmith shops that used to be in business in Cannonsburg a hundred years ago.
Edmond Joyce built the house in the 1860s and it was his son, William, who was the blacksmith. He twice moved his businsses, once to the other side of the creek where the foundation is still evident, and then again to the spot where the gas station (and Ralph T. Moose) are now located.
William took on work making wagon wheels at one time for a company named Studemacher. The wheels were wooden, but had a metal strap on the outside of the wheel for sturdiness and endurance. Kurylowicz said some pieces of the wheels are still there, twenty feet under ground now. In 1974 the Road Commission raised the surface 20 feet to improve the road, and when he was digging for some soil testing, Kurylowicz found some of the remnants of the wheels.
“The wheels were for a new thing called automobiles,” he described. “William’s dad thought that wasn’t a very good business move. Those things were never going to catch on.”
In some ways the town is a living museum to its pioneer past (see sidebar for more history). Kurylowicz said he tries to be a good steward of the village, where he owns many of the historic buildings. He runs the Honeycreek Inn, the Bottle Shop, the Gristmill and a post office. The history of the town is evident all around, from the sawn smooth stones in the foundation of the Bottle Shop (how did they do that without power tools).
A similar architectural feature is evident in the walls under the new bridge. The walls used to be the mill sluice that blocked up the water for the millpond. You can still see the outside of the sluice gate.
Kurylowicz said he is happy to keep the sense of history and all the stories alive in the village. He is also aware that now is history happening as well. “No one knows who built the Globe Theater in London, but that’s where Shakespeare’s work was performed. I’m more like the guy who built the stage, and all people here are on the stage.” He called his village a little bit of “concentrated heaven.”
He said he knew by 9 a.m. Saturday that the damage had been done in a devastating degree to his beloved mill. By the time 25 minutes went by, word was out and he had a slew of people offering to help. “There were 25 people here in 25 minutes.” Someone brought the temporary fence, someone put of the no crossing tape… “Within the hour they had all helped me out.”
The building is in a historic district, so rebuilding it will be a challenging project, but Don believes it will happen. The original, now doomed structure is worth replacing. With its origin going back 163 years, the mill was there before Abraham Lincoln was president. It was there before slavery. It was there before the Spanish American War, before California was a state, before the California Gold Rush.
“It’s seen a lot of history. With all the powers that be, I hope to create a replica.”