Recovered Millstone on Display at the Prattaugan Museum

May 1, 2014

In 2012, Tommy Brown correctly identified the McNeill Mill site for the Autauga Creek Improvement Committee (ACIC) so that they could accurately capture the history for signage along the Canoe Trail. In January 2013, Tommy made contact with the Office of Archaelogical Research at Moundville and was referred to State Archaeologist Stacye Hathorn. This was all accomplished so that ACIC, who had permission from the property owner, could clear the site.

In November 2013, Ann Boutwell, a volunteer with the Autauga County Heritage Association, contacted Auburn University at Montgomery in regard to potential archaeological fieldwork at the McNeill Mill Site in Prattville, Alabama. This site is particularly significant to the local history of Prattville. Daniel Pratt, the founder of Prattville, used the McNeill Mill in 1834, before purchasing the land where he eventually founded the town of Prattville and built a large cotton gin factory.

With the permission of the property owner, Lois Reynolds, an initial visit to the site took place later that month with Ms. Boutwell and JoAnn Johnson, President of the Autauga Creek Improvement Committee (ACIC), and other volunteers from ACIC and our area.

This site is most commonly verified today as the McNeill Mill (also spelled McNeil), but historically has also been called Durden and McNeill Mill, Montgomery Mill, and Reynolds Mill. A deed from April 28, 1829 indicates that John McNeill purchased the property for $10,000 from Benjamin Durden. Benjamin was likely acting on behalf of the estate of Joseph Durden who died in 1825 and is mentioned in the deed transfer from Benjamin Durden to McNeill. According to the deed record, Josiah Durden built mills and other waterworks along Autauga Creek (Autauga County 1829). Other court records indicate that in 1828 the state of Alabama awarded $150 to Edwin Fay to construct a bridge across Autauga Creek at the Durden and McNeil Mill. Seven years later, the state again awarded Mr. Fay money for construction of "a bridge across Autauga Creek at McNeill's Mill" (Autauga County 1832).

Daniel Pratt's name first appears in association with the McNeill Mill in 1834 after he moved his cotton gin manufacturing business from Elmore's Mill, near present-day Wetumpka, to McNeill's Mill. While working out of this location, Pratt purchased land a couple of miles upstream from McNeill's Mill where he began construction of his large cotton gin manufactory and where he founded the town of Prattville. It is unknown at this time how long Pratt continued operations at the McNeill Mill site.

The next known person associated with McNeill's Mill was William Montgomery. On May 12, 1854, Montgomery applied for approval to "erect a new dam and buildings establish a Grist and Flouring mill, a Rice mill, Sawmill and other machinery and waterworks on Autauga Creek at the place known as McNeill's old mill" (Book of Probate Minutes 1854). Based on the description of the location of the property, it appears very likely that the property owned by Montgomery and that he selected to build on is the same as the current site under investigation.

The site is located approximately 2.5 miles south of downtown Prattville along Autauga Creek and below the bluff at the eastern end of Reynolds Mill Road. The most obvious indication of the site is intact brick structural remains. The remains of what may have been the dam that once stretched across Autauga Creek are evident in the northern portion of the site. Directly across Autauga Creek, intact brick can be seen in the bluff and may indicate where the dam crossed to the other side of the creek or other structural remains related to the mill. Previous removal of soil around the dam by volunteers indicates an archway under a portion of this structure, likely to channel water through the mill.

Also during site cleaning, volunteers uncovered a 50-inch diameter millstone, which remained in situ. The size of the millstone alone highly supports the belief that this site is that of a mill as it is clearly a millstone for industrial use, rather than domestic purposes. Approximately 50 feet to the south of the likely dam are a large brick pier and a portion of a brick wall. Although much smaller in scale, a portion of the wall appears very similar to a water trough seen at a restored 19th century mill site located outside Cane Hill, Arkansas. Off the northwest corner of the wall is a large depression, approximately 12 feet across and 2 feet in depth at the center. To the south of these brick structures is an earthen embankment that appears to be man-made and may relate to the mill.

Uncovered millstone.

Remnants of structure left standing at McNeill Mill site.

John Boutwell, Greg Duke, and Ann Boutwell looking for and logging artifacts at the site.

The millstone was removed from the site, with Mrs. Reynolds' permission, and relocated by the City Engineering Department to the Prattaugan Museum for display purposes. The City has two employees, Mike Taylor and Robert Browder, who created an iron stand for the millstone. The Engineering Department laid the concrete slab on which the stand rests.

The City and the Autauga County Heritage Association appreciates all who participated in finding and relocating the millstone. Prattville continues to grow and progress, but preserving our history is remains vitally important to all of us.

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Millstone in place on the stand at the Prattaugan Museum. Mayor Gillespie is shown here with City Engineering and representatives from ACHA and ACIC.

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Mayor Bill Gillespie, Mayor's Executive Assistant Teresa Lee, Ann Boutwell (ACHA), JoAnn Johnson (ACIC), and Greg Duke (Prattaugan Museum Director). Tommy Brown was present, but opted to take photos instead being in them. We so appreciate all his hard work.