Mills of the Paint Branch
The quiet Paint Branch stream valley, where we hike, bike, and watch birds, was once a thriving industrial center. Early settlers found that the valley provided a perfect setting for small water- powered mills. The valley sits almost at the edge of the Eastern Fall Line, the division that stretches north and south between the higher ground of the Piedmont Plateau and the flatter land of the Coastal Plain. Streams rushing down these grades provided an easy-to-harness source of power.
The remains of four mills can still be seen today between Fairland Road to the north and Randolph Road to the south. The oldest, Snowden's Mill, was built in 1723 and was situated near the present-day baseball field along the bike path. Snowden's Mill was Montgomery County's earliest enterprise.
Farther down toward Randolph Road were Edmonston's Mill of 1764 and Valley Mill, which operated from 1792 until 1930 under several different names. According to a plaque in Valley Mill Park, "In the 1790s. Peter Kemp built a saw and grist mill and brick miller's cottage on this site. Two subsequent mills replaced the original in the nineteenth century. The first, constructed in 1835 by Dr. Washington Duvall, became the leading producer of corn meal in Montgomery County by mid-century. In 1879, Franklin Pilling built the mill known as Valley Mill. Pilling replaced the old water wheel with a more efficient Poole and Hunt turbine, a portion of which remains. The centralization of milling to the Midwest in the late 1800s caused the economic demise of numerous small mills. The Valley mill ceased to operate by 1930."
Up near Fairland Road, Fawcett's Woolen Mill operated in the 19th century. Traces of the dam for that mill are said to exist north of Fairland Road. According to some local oral history accounts, the dyes flowing from the mill into the creek were what gave the Paint Branch its name.
Eyes of Paint Branch member Monroe Novell produced a video highlighting the mills of Paint Branch. Copies of this video are available at Montgomery County libraries. Copies may be obtained by donating $50 or more to the Eyes of Paint Branch.
Sources: James Sorensen, Montgomery County Archeologist, and a plaque placed in Valley Mill Park by the Montgomery County Park Commission, Department of Parks.