November 15, 2013

Up the falls: Mills recall history of Pipe Creek

Mills recall history of Pipe Creek industry

by Sarah Einselen Pharos-Tribune

---- — WALTON — In eastern Cass County, near the Miami County line, you might spot a blue heron or a kingfisher diving into Pipe Creek near a waterfall, fishing for its next meal.

The falls on Pipe Creek, near the intersection of 850 East and 275 South, have seen decades of outdoors enthusiasts fishers, bikers, even a few boaters taking in the changes of scenery as summer rolls into autumn. But underwater, remnants of several grist mills built by the falls can sometimes be seen peeking above the low water levels of November.

The thick forests in early Cass County spurred settlers in the 1800s to build sawmills to turn the forests to lumber, according to Thomas B. Helm's "History of Cass County." The first of four sawmills built near Pipe Creek Falls within about a decade went up in 1850, built by George Sharts and Jacob Ringer. That one was followed quickly by Thomas Hansberry's mill around 1851, a large grist mill shortly after and a large flouring mill built below the falls in 1860.

Those mills no longer stand the grist mill James A. Lewis built burned down in the mid-to-late 1800s, then rebuilt and torn down again after its operations ceased in the early 1890s. However, the flouring mill built by John Costenborder who also bought the Sharts and Ringer mill a decade after it was built operated for decades before Costenborder sold it to the Anderson family.

Portions of the wooden dam channeling water for the Costenborder mill, which was later replaced by a cement dam, can sometimes be seen poking above the surface of the water about 20 to 30 feet upstream from the existing cement dam, which itself is half gone.

Both are sometimes visible from the bridge where 850 East crosses Pipe Creek, just north of the road's bridge over Little Deer Creek.

And if you're looking closely, you might see a mill wheel resting on the creek bed remnants of one more mill, which today has been turned into a private residence.

Local resident Joe Bowyer, who for most of his years has lived within a stone's throw of Pipe Creek, recalls the old mill his grandfather built having been turned into a restaurant and later a tavern.

Charles Bowyer built the family's sawmill in the mid-1930s, pouring another cement dam at the site at the same time. He passed the mill to Joe Bowyer's uncle, Raymond Mayne Bowyer, who converted it into Pipe Creek Falls Resort a restaurant, then a tavern and later sold it. Eventually, it came under the ownership of Tom Malott, who's turned it into his residence. The site was officially registered with the National Registry of Historic Places in 1995.

Growing up, Joe Bowyer spent time fishing from the half-fallen dam near the old wooden dam at Pipe Creek, swimming in the mill pond and trapping muskrats in winter.

"We used to catch bass and goggle-eye" what he calls rock bass "like nobody's business," recalled Joe Bowyer. He would see snapping turtles, too, and hooked channel catfish at times.

In winter, he and his friends would skate on the iced-over creek, and play hockey using old rocking chair rockers as hockey sticks.

These days, the grounds surrounding Pipe Creek Falls are privately owned, though a few longtime area residents, like Bowyer, still go fishing on the creek near the falls.

Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at or 574-732-5151. Twitter: PharosSME