Milling on the West Fork of the Red River
Barker's Mill, on the West Fork of the Red River, was one of several mills that once operated on the river in that area. Other nearby mills included Coleman's Mill, Ringgold Mill, and Peacher's Mill.
The Barker's Mill Bridge, where I stood in mid-April to take the photo at the top of this post, is on Barker's Mill Road in extreme southeastern Christian County. Stone structures can be seen on both sides of the river. These were probably anchors for a dam.
Dates and owners
The exact construction date of Barker's Mill is unclear. Western KY History's history of Barker's Mill says that the mill had been in operation at least 20 years before 1860. Kentucky Genealogy's history of Trenton precinct is a little more specific. It says that the mill is believed to have been in operation as early as 1812.
A biography of Thomas S. Watson mentions that he was an early owner of the mill. Watson was a Tennessean who had a brief business partnership with Andrew Jackson in the Nashville area before investing in milling and ironworks along the West Fork.
[Thomas S. Watson] became owner of Barker's Mill on the West Fork of the Red River in Christian County, Kentucky by 1815; and he also built, about 1816, what later became known as Peacher's Mill in Montgomery County, Tennessee. (Source)
A historic marker, erected in 2005 by "relatives of former residents of the West Fork community" at the nearby Chapel Hill Methodist Church gives this information:
The water mill, built in 1812 by Bailey Martin, was located on West Fork downstream from a covered (later iron, now concrete) bridge. Later mill owners were: Stephen Woodward, 1826; James Miller, 1826; John T. Allensworth, 1841, Richard H. Kelly, 1853; Peter Peacher, 1859; Chiles T. Barker, 1860; and his son John W. Barker, 1884, hence the current community name, Barker's Mill. The mill operated until the late 1920s and was torn down after 1937. For a time it was known as "Glenburnie Mills.
A photograph of Barker's Mill is included in Christian County by Chris Gilkey and William Turner. These authors note that the mill was closed about 1910, but was not torn down until 1937 after a flood.
Wooden mills, gone but not forgotten
Despite the various disagreements about dates, it seems that a mill operated for about a century in a site near the Barker's Mill Bridge. It's certain that the mill was renovated or rebuilt several times within those years. The wheels of mills like this were made of wood, as were their gears. The sluices that channeled water to the wheel were also wooden.
When steam engines (and later, gasoline motors and electricity) became available for power to grind grain, watermills were abandoned. Most mills were torn down, fell down, or rotted away. They are still remembered in the names of the roads that once led to them -- such as the Barker's Mill Road of Christian County, Kentucky.
On the web:
How a gristmill works
Two Red Barns on Edwards Mill Road