Newcomer-Bell Mill

The location of the mill is noted on this map of Woodside Township from the 1874 atlas of Sangamon County. The mill site (legally described as in the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 25 in Woodside Township) was about a mile directly east from the Strawbridge-Shepherd house on the campus of the University of Illinois Springfield. (Sangamon Valley Collection)

The Newcomer-Bell Mill was on Sugar Creek in Woodside Township, on a site that today is covered by Lake Springfield south of Lindsay Bridge.

William Southwick (1805-83)purchased the property on Dec. 6, 1830 and formed a partnership with Armon Lathrop to build the mill.  The two men hired Springfield attorney James Adams to represent them in their application for a license from the Sangamon County Board of Commissioners to build a dam across the creek.

On June 4, 1832 Adams applied for a writ of ad quod damnum (Latin meaning “appropriate to the harm”). The writ required the county sheriff to assemble a jury to examine the proposed site to determine if a mill dam would damage nearby property. The jury consisted of William Higgins, John Gulliford, Joseph Drennan, Isaac Keys, Alexander Jones, Anthony Deardorff, Nathan Lyra, Robert Jones, William Hons, James Stevenson and Jacob Miller.

The sheriff reported at the Sept. 3, 1832 board meeting that the jury had visited the site and determined that “no dwelling house, out house, garden or orchard will be flood by reason of said dam” and that the health of the neighborhood would not be affected.

The board issued a license for Southwick and Lathrop to build the dam.

Southwick sold half ownership of the land to Lathrop for $25 on July 28, 1834. However, Lathrop and Southwick did not remain owners of the mill for long, losing the mill to Leroy Hill in a lawsuit.  William Ramsey and John Williams also briefly held part ownership of the mill before Hill gained possession.

Pieces of a broken grindstone believed to have come from the Bell Mill located on a Lake Springfield house lot near the mill site. (SVC)

Hill sold the mill to Christopher Newcomer (1791-1852) for $1,000 on November 22, 1836.  Newcomer owned the mill until his death on Feb. 12, 1852.

Nothing is known about the day-to-day operation of the mill. Newcomer may have bought the mill as an investment and not directly participated in its operation.

The 1850 census of Sangamon County suggests a man named John Carmon might have been operating the mill at that time. James Carmon, John’s younger brother, was listed next to him in the census.  James worked as a wool carder, according to the census, which indicates the mill might have powered a carding machine.

After Newcomer’s death, ownership passed on to John Robinson, but he sold the mill on Oct. 29, 1853 to Franklin Priest and Asa Eastman, Springfield businessmen who had operated a mill in the city.

Benoni Bell (1822-1910) bought the mill on June 14, 1861.  According to the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Sangamon County (Bateman & Selby, 1912) Bell was a wagon maker before purchasing the mill.  He operated the mill until 1881, when he gave up the business to focus on farming.

Contributor: Curtis Mann (this is one in a continuing series of SangamonLink entries about Sangamon County mills written by Curtis Mann) 

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society. 

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5 Responses to Newcomer-Bell Mill

  1. Thanks for posting this. Always nice to learn new things about the neighborhood!

  2. Bob says:

    I saw a travel show on BBC which visited in Trefin, in Wales. The SVC photo of the decrepit grinding wheel reminded me of the program, a very poignant segment of the program in particular. There was a mill there for 500 years and when the last miller died in 1918, the mill went into ruin and the remnants, including the great wheel, still lie there. A much loved Welsh poem was written about that pile of stone and I suppose I was so touched because of the combination of my Welsh heritage, my love of history and my love of poetry. So, sensitive history lover here! It is a short poem and there are pics too. In a sense, it is exactly the same as newcomer bell and thank you for this entry.

  3. Richard E. Hart says:

    Curtis,

    Thanks for the story of this mill. Christopher Newcomer was my wife’s great great grandfather. His house was where the Catholic Retreat Center of East Lake Drive and the cemetery–Newcomer Cemetery is just to the north of where the house was.

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