By CHAD BAILWY
Jonesborough Genealogical Society members Dwight H. and Cheryl A. Christensen Bennett never knew that their genealogical research would bring them from California to Broylesville, (a little historic community in Washington County.
Cheryl’s two 5x great-grandfathers Nicholas and Cyrus Broyles settled in this community in 1783. Two Broyles brothers, who came from a long line of millers in Germany, settled on Little Limestone Creek. According to Cheryl’s book entitled “The Broyles, Bashor & Bennett Mill, Broylesville, Tennessee: A History of the Mill, the People and the Town,” Cyrus purchased land from Nicholas several times, beginning in 1783. When this property was sold in 1797, a land deed records a grist mill and saw mill on this property.
Throughout this history, the building that houses the mill have been owned by several families including the Broyles, Bashors, Telfords, Swatzells, Mitchells, Smiths, Andersons, Parkers, and Taylors. The mill ceased operations in 1952, and remained vacant for its next 32 years until Erlene Hoover Ledford purchased the mill in 1982.
Erlene Hoover Ledford saved what has become known as the Broyles, Bashor, and Bennett Mill, after she “discovered the mill was to sold for $1,000 so that the brick and wood could be harvested,” on Thanksgiving 1981. With her daughter, Faith, Erlene purchased the mill and .595 acres, where she opened a second antique store inside, after retiring from the Ledford’s Antiques in Greeneville after 30 years in business. In 1983, the mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places through the Tennessee Historical Commission, where it remains on the register today.
Since this time, other owners including artist Margaret Gregg (1994-2007) and Richard Davis Smith and Marie F. Jones (2007-2016) improved the mill’s condition, turning it more into living quarters.
Bennetts Find Home
But by 2015, the Bennetts were not looking to buy a mill, but fate has a way of bringing you home. On a trip to attend a conference in Washington D.C., Cheryl and Dwight made a road trip to see Broylesville, where Cheryl had traced her ancestors too. According to her book, “Broylesville is small. It is said that about 20 people live there now. When Cheryl and Dwight first arrived, they were not sure where the town started and stopped.They asked for directions from a man who was mowing his lawn. He laughed. They had already arrived. The first building they spotted was the back of the mill. When they got to the front, they say the for sale sign.”
After about 6 months negotiating, the Bennetts purchased the mill, which set off the journey of a lifetime. The Bennetts hope to see the mill become a museum, establishing the Broylesville Archives and Museum. From 2016 to today, they have begun examining the old mill, finding several signatures including the oldest dating to 1863. From Dwight’s schematics to interviews with previous residents and hours upon hours of research, Cheryl was able to publish this 323-page hardback book on the history of the mill. This book, full colored, showcases a living testament to mill history in Washington County, as well as small community histories that still have not yet been recorded.
Dwight and Cheryl have donated a copy of this self-published book to the Jonesborough Genealogical Society, where it will be placed in the Washington County-Jonesborough Library’s Genealogical and Historical Collection for researchers to use. This book was paid for by a matching reimbursement grant from the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM) They have no plans of selling this book at this time. For more information on the Broylesville Archives and Museum, contact Cheryl and Dwight at [email protected] or visit www.broylesvillehistory.com.
Cheryl’s next adventure is to publish a book on the history of mills throughout Washington County, Tennessee. Do you know of a mill and its history? If so, let the JGS know, by email us at [email protected]