Castor Creek holds secrets of long ago

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

The introduction to a Castor Creek story might read: "I have been here longer than even I can remember. All I know is that my waters have flowed down out of the sand hills, around and through the flat woods, over and under roads draining water from a lot of land on the way down to where I join Black Lake. It is hard to determine just where I begin or how many other streams empty their water through my banks.

--- I travel the same old creek bed day after day unless I have to find my way around some obstruction that has fallen in my path.

--- When the rains come, I get big and important and people notice me when my water overflows my banks and blocks their roads." Tracings of local history often center on this creek.

The name Castor is surrounded by myths that vary with the "authority" telling the story. \par }{\plain However, many have spent time and effort to research early settlements located along Castor Creek and have enriched our knowledge with the reliable information they found.

Early settlers coming into this area of Bienville Parish purchased land near a wagon road that ran from Sparta in a southwest direction to (Sections 16&17 T.14 R 8 W), located near Castor Creek in Bienville Parish.

A historical marker located by the Creek where it crosses Ridge Road marks the former location of Mulberry, (1850-1900), an early community that had a sizable population, a water powered gristmill, a post office, and two medical doctors. Many have searched for artifacts left by this early community but few have been found. A post and some flooring had been seen earlier indicating the site of the old mills' foundation. Castor Creek once again drew attention when its waters dwindled during the recent summer drought when a closer look opened up. The foundation of the mills once operational by man's ingenuity and the free flowing power of Castor Creek could even be walked upon.

Alvie Myers, long time area resident and student of local history, was excited by the "find" and conjectured that it had been one hundred years or more since human feet had walked on the foundation affording a crosswalk to the bank on the other side. Close examination of the structure; still firm years beyond its use, revealed large supporting wooden posts carved to fit into holes in the floor beams. Other smaller wooden posts were also driven into the beams along with many square metal nails. Myers, who often frequents the mill site, has found other metal objects, one identified as an operational gear section.

A short distance down from the first foundation is another smaller foundation indicating a second mill. Conjecture is that the second site might have been a sawmill. The most common kind of mill, according to one source, was gristmills, or corn mills which grind corn into flour or meal. Sawmills powered by water, cut timber into lumber.

After a look at the mill foundation, one informed source had this to say: " I would guess that the mills on Castor Creek used undershot or breast shot wheels. The massive 50 foot long wooden structure in the creek bottom was for the dam, wheel, headrace, tailrace, and erosion control. Maybe the wheel sat to one side and the excess water from the millpond spilled over the top of the dam onto the wooden floor and was conducted downstream. Water from the pond could also be channeled to the wheel. When the creek was in flood stage, water could flow around the whole structure into the woods to the north. That might explain why the land to the north is lower in elevation and looks like it has been carved out over the years."

Water powered the largest part of industrial power until after the Civil War. In 1790, according to a report on early industrialization, there were some 7500 small mills in the United States. Most of these mills were grist and sawmills.

Gristmills were among the first and most important mills to be built. Heavy iron castings and millstones (huge, round, flat stones) were needed to operate the mills. Before these most settlers had to grind their corn by hand.

A sawmill was usually the second mill to be built. Before sawmills, settlers usually constructed buildings out of logs and hand-hewn planks. Once sawmills were in place, the planks they produced were in great demand as people were eager to improve their hastily built cabins. In some early sawmills, planks were hand sawn by means of a two-handled pit saw. In time, waterwheels would power most pit saws.

Water from a few summer rains has made the mill foundation on Castor Creek less accessible today.