Historic Metamora, Indiana 1838 Canal Town

Canal’s Historic Significance 

As settlers moved into the Northwest Territory after 1800, transportation routes became a priority for the government. In 1836, Indiana legislators passed the Internal Improvements Act, which began Indiana’s brief experience with canal building. Whitewater Canal was one of several projects started as a result of this act.

The canal began in Lawrenceburg and originally ended at Cambridge City. When the state went bankrupt in the 1840s, the canal was completed by private enterprise. Extensions and spurs o the canal were added by the merchants of Hagerstown, Ind. and by the state of Ohio to link Cincinnati to the canal. All of these factors combined to make the canal 101 miles long. Along the route, 56 locks were built to accommodate a fall of nearly 500 feet.

Two of these locks are preserved and can be viewed at the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site. Once contains the massive doors similar to the ones that were used to regulate the flow of water that would raise or lower boats to the proper elevation.

The state of Indiana assumed management of a 14-mile section of the canal in 1946 and today operates a horse-drawn canal boat and the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site. Visitors can step back in time while taking a leisurely 25-minute cruise on the Ben Franklin III. During the voyage, the vessel passes through the Duck Creek Aqueduct, a covered bridge that carries the canal 16 feet over Duck Creek. It is the only structure of its kind still in existence.

In 2005, the state of Indiana completed some repair/refurbishment work on the old wooden Aqueduct and on the gates for lock #24 just east of town. To accomplish this work, water had to be removed from the canal. The water supply had been shut down and thus there was no water in the canal. Work was completed and water readmitted to the canal by June 25, 2005.

The work that was done on the structures will result in extending the life of the aqueduct and lock, though not much will appear different. That is because, for the aqueduct, the floor and sides of the water channel had to be rebuilt, and for the lock, the massive gates were repaired. Thus, most of the work was completed under water as designed.

 

Mill’s Historic Significance

Whitewater Canal State Historic Site has been the home of the Metamora Gristmill since it was built in 1845. After the canal transportation era ended, the canal was used as a source of power for many gristmills, including this one. 

Built in 1845 by Jonathan Banes as a cotton mill (spun cotton into thread) this mill was equipped with 1,000 spindles (the equivalent of 1,000 spinning wheels) and was known as the "Metamora Cotton Factory."

Soon, this factory was in serious financial difficulty because cotton was not grown in the area and the import of dry goods and ready made clothing via canal boat. In 1856, the cotton machinery was taken out and the establishment changed to a flouring mill under the ownership of Murray and Banes. Purchased in 1857 by John Murray, the flouring mill went by the name of John Murray & Son. Murray sold to Thomas Tague about 1863 and it was known then as "Hoosier Mill". In 1877 the mill was acquired by William McClure and by the early 1880's it was called "Crescent Mills."

The original three story mill burned sometime between 1882 and 1900. In 1900, Frank Wright erected a three story brick flouring mill with a daily capacity of fifty barrels of flour. This mill operated day and night, depending entirely on hydraulic power. The mill employs a 50 inch hydraulic breast wheel on an eight foot fall of water, thus receiving 30 horsepower. Relics of these hydraulic turbines lie outside the mill today.

This mill burned again in the early 1930's and was rebuilt to its present two story structure. Ross Brumfiel bought the mill and ground corn meal, sold coal and mixed feed. The mill continued in use until 1941 when its water power was halted by a break in the feeder dam at Laurel.

The Mill was acquired by the State of Indiana in about 1947 along with the canal and aqueduct, which was turned into the Whitewater State Historic Site to preserve the history. The Mill, along with the Feeder Dam, Aqueduct, and portions of the canal, were restored to operation by the State and are operated today as a State Historic Site by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources parks department.  Visitors can stroll through the first floor of the mill and see corn meal, flour and grits being ground much as it was done nearly 50 years ago. Visitors may purchase the products produced at the mill.

(The following comments are provided by Metamora's Mrs. Gail Ginther:)

Bane’s partner was Andrew Murray (we live in the house that he built on the hill outside Metamora). Andrew and his wife are buried in the cemetery on Little Duck Creek Rd just north of Metamora.

Interesting note, Andrew Murray’s daughter Katy married Andrew Johnson from Blooming Grove who was the proprietor of the later grist mill down by the Hearthstone lock which produced White Rose flour. That mill is shown in the county atlas reprinted by the Franklin County Historical Society. The whole area around that lock (#24 I think) was called Millville and there were several hydraulic powered mills located there. No trace of any of those has survived. Those mills, and others in Brookville, that depended on the canal for water power are the reason that this particular stretch of the canal was maintained. The combination of the existing mill, locks and aqueduct with still usable canal is the reason that this area was chosen to be designated a state historic site.

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