A couple of years back, we wrote an article or two about Whitney Myths and Mysteries… Last week, we received an email from someone who actually knew some facts about one of those myths and he offered to share some time and the information he had on the subject, the old Towash grist mill. John Boothman said that he had come across my Whitney Lake Online posts about Lake Whitney Myths and Mysteries when searching the internet for references to Towash.
Mr. Boothman is the owner of EDDCO Machine & Tool in Hillsboro. He invited us down for a visit and last Thursday we were able to get there. Mr. Boothman was very gracious, sharing his time with us, a great host and a wealth of information. Mr. Boothman had been one of the divers, who back in 2002 located the Towash Mill on the bottom of Lake Whitney. Actually, at that time Mr. Boothman was the owner of the Dive Whitney dive shop at Harbor Master Marina in Lofer’s Bend Park. Mr. Boothman was quite humble about his experiences, but in the course of the visit, I gathered that he had lots of information about Lake Whitney and the views below the surface.
By the way, if you are trying to find Mr. Boothman’s machine shop business, it can be as difficult as finding the old Towash mill. Mr. Boothman operates out of a closed, non-nondescript building on Gould Street in Hillsboro. It is the only air-conditioned machine shop I have ever encountered. I thought the place was closed or not occupied when The Boss and I drove up. It was just on a chance, that I went up and checked the door, sure enough Mr. Boothman and his crew were working away.
Mr. Boothman said that back in the 2001 to 2002 time frame, he and others had begun looking for the old mill. Mr. Boothman said he began his efforts to locate the mill with an extended research effort. He went to the Whitney Museum, the USGS Archives and Photos, the Whitney newspaper, Hill County and other entities for maps, photos and other factual data about the old mill. Mr. Boothman even contacted family members of the owners and folks who had been involved with Whitney businesses back in the days before the lake was flooded. He had a notebook stuffed with information. While there were multiple folks looking for the mill, I understand that Mr. Boothman and his group were the first to locate it. He said he tried to keep the location marked with buoys, but they disappeared as fast as he could deploy them.
Anyway, we thought we would share some of the information that Mr. Boothman provided to us. He had a binder full of photos, maps, news articles and other things he had collected. We will just lead you through some of the things he had uncovered…. I took photos of some of the material for this article.
Note that the dam is pictured crossing the river. It actually terminates just behind the archway that fed water into the mill or mill pool. Some of the other pictures and drawings will explain how the mill functioned. It was not the classic “gear-wheel” driven grist mill, but rather an “impeller driven mill.” This photo was taken looking East.
This is another picture of the old mill in about the same time frame. Note the fishermen in the boat or along the bank… I can’t quite tell which. I guess folks have fished the Brazos for ages… including the Indians.
By the way, Towash (pronounced Tow-ash) was named for an Indian chief of the Ioni tribe which had moved to this location on the Brazos before being driven further up the Brazos, at least that is the story in some of the documentation to follow. The Ioni tribe was originally from Louisiana… I think they may have been easily identifiable by their LSU caps.
The next photo is one of the backside of the mill. A social gathering in the late 1800s.
This next photo, I believe, is also a picture of the back of the mill, though much later in time. At a time when the mill had begun to deteriorate. The documents Mr. Boothman provided indicate that the mill and dam were washed away or destroyed in a 1908 flood.
If you look closely at the right side of the picture, I believe you can see the river behind the old wheels there.
This next photo is of a document which I believe is a “family written history” of the mill, perhaps from one of the families of the original owners of the mill, the Cashes or more likely the Dyers… but that is all speculation on my part. I think the Whitney Museum has information about the source of this document as I recall seeing it there when we did our original stories.
The picture above is a copy of the document and the high-lighting added much more recently. And, as an added note, Mr. Boothman pointed out that what is now known as Frazier Creek was the original Towash Creek. What is known as Towash Creek today was known then as South Towash Creek. It is some of this naming and renaming of the local land marks that made the location of the old mill to be somewhat of a puzzle.
The following article was also preserved in the Whitney Museum. I am not sure which newspaper it came from, but I believe it is a much more recent article and I can’t even presume to put a date on it. However, it provides some great background information on the Mill and the Towash area.
Next we have some aerial photos and some maps to help us locate exactly where the old mill is.
That is the old State Highway 22 bridge crossing the Brazos in the lower part of the picture. The mill is up stream where you can see where the road running along the east side of the river turns abruptly away from the river. Here is an enlargement of the section of the river where the mill was located.
The hand drawn lines illustrate where the old dam was located. The Mill was on the east side of the river and its outline is also hand drawn in.
Next is an old County Land map.
The S.V. Boyd property is where I believe the mill was located. This next photo is a hand drawn map. I am not sure of the origin of this map, but it was included in the stack of source material that Mr. Boothman provided.
This last map is a copy of a modern lake map which shows the location of the mill in relation to the lake now.
You can see the old road as a dotted line and see where it curves when it hits the lake and the old bridge. Mr. Boothman says that the old Highway 22 bridge is still standing and I have seen it on the sonar in the river channel just north of the current Walling Bend Island.
Next is a drawing made by Mr. Boothman and his associates. It comes from actual measurements from that mill site that they made during their dives. According to Mr. Boothman, all that remains of the old mill are the stone walls. All the wood has long ago rotted or washed away.
It shows the old intake archway to be some 58 feet from the remaining stone walls of the old mill. It also reflects some trees that are still standing around the mill. I visited with Roy Riddle about those trees and others that I have seen along the river channel, some were exposed when the lake was down 16 feet two years ago. He says that old Mesquite and Bodark trees don’t rot under water and that they are like “iron wood.”
One article reported that the “wheel” was imported from Sweden and another reported it was from France. I understand it was shipped to Galveston, then hauled by wagon up to Towash.
This is the type of “wheel” that Mr. Boothman’s research indicated that was used in the Towash Mill.
This is substantiated by this old drawing.
This photo was included in his supporting documentation, but there was no indication of the source of this document. The water from the river passed through the archway into a pool and then into the mill through the shoots. Roy Riddle advised that those old shoots were made of concrete, that he had seen them.
Mr. Boothman said that there had been a lot of interest in the location of the impeller because it was brass or bronze and would have been quite valuable if it were still there. But, he said it wasn’t there. He also said he had visited with descendants of the mill’s owners. One person he visited with advised that the mill stones themselves were in his grandmother’s backyard. Mr. Boothman said that he did locate the stones and that indeed that’s where they were. They were being used as “flower beds.” He said that no one could recall what became of the bronze impeller. But, likely it was as valuable back in the early 1900’s as it would be today and was likely sold for the bronze. He speculated that perhaps it was converted into shell casings for use in World War I. He said that obviously the Dyer’s were savvy businessmen and they would not have let such a valuable resource get away.
Mr. Boothman pointed out the old Towash Cemetery on the map. He advised that the walls of the Towash Church were still standing near the cemetery. Here are a couple of early photos of the old church. One in pretty good times and one on the down hill side of good times.
I have heard rumors that some of the old grave stones are still standing in the cemetery and can be seen when diving there. The Old Towash Cemetery and Church were adjacent. Most of the folks interred there were supposedly moved to the Whitney Cemetery before the lake was filled.
If those folks were the congregations of the time, they were certainly a hardy bunch.
Mr. Boothman had some other comments that were interesting. He advised that in Lake Whitney, there was enough ambient light from the sun and clarity of the water to have visibility down to about 30 feet. After that he advised that it is pitch black in the lake. He also said that the lake contained a “lot of stuff” on the bottom. He said the lake was unexpectedly filled by a storm. The Corps had thought that it was going to take several years for it to fill, but it was filled in a matter of days leaving some unintended items on the lake bottom. He mentioned the old Coke truck, and some houses. He said all the houses you see on the map are still there, or at least the stone walls are. Any wooden structures have long ago disappeared. He also said that the remnants of the columns to the old railroad bridge that crossed between McCown and Cedron Creek Park are still standing. He advised that like the old houses, they were made of stone and concrete. He said that his research had shown that the folks around Towash and Whitney probably made their own concrete by burning limestone of which there was plenty along the Brazos River. He advised that the current maps have pretty good GPS coordinates on them and that you can locate the underwater structures by measuring the distance in inches on the map from the designated or marked GPS locations and converting those measurements to miles or feet.
I asked Mr. Boothman about the water having no visibility below 30 feet and being black. I wanted to know if there were many fish below 30 feet, in the “black water”. “Lots” he replied. I didn’t have time to ask all the questions I wanted to know about the fish and how they related to these structures and other Lake Whitney structure. I gathered that Mr. Boothman wasn’t a fisherman and therefore had little interest in fish behavior and habitat. BUT, I bet he knows plenty.
When we visited with Roy Riddle who is nearing 80 years old, we learned a little more about life around the Brazos in the early 1900’s. Roy was born near Bear Creek and the old Fort Graham. He told us of crossing the Brazos at 5 different low water crossings in the 1930’s. He said that his family had either 180 or 360 acres south of where the Whitney Dam is currently located. He told of crossing the river down below the dam and near Walling Bend as well as up near Kimball Bend and the old Chisholm Trial. He said they farmed cotton on the acreage using horses and single tree plows. I believe he said there were 10 siblings to help out. He said that to remove “bugs” from the cotton, they would tie a board across a single tree plow and set the horse to a trot, running the board a cross the rows of knee-high cotton plants, knocking the bugs out of the cotton. He said when they picked cotton, his Dad would wait until they accumulated a bale, then would load it onto a two wheel trailer that he pulled behind his Model A. Then he would drive the car across the Brazos pulling the trailer and cotton. He said the car typically would make it, but then again it might get stuck. He said the cotton always got wet, but that it would usually dry out, along with the car, by the time they got to the cotton gin in Towash or Whitney.
He told of crossing the river with his Dad in the car and the car got nearly out of the river, but the back wheels were in it and would spin out while the front ones rested on dry ground. His dad told him to get out and go get help. He sent Roy from whatever crossing it was up toward Kimball Bend where there was a store and a man with horses. He said he got out and walked up to the store (Roy didn’t indicate how far it was or how long it took him). When he got to the store, he found several men playing dominoes. He told the store owner that his Dad needed help with the car, that it was stuck in the river. The store owner pointed him to a team of horses that was already in harness. He said he tied a double tree to it and rode the horses back to where his Dad was still sitting in the car, apparently holding the brake so that the car would not roll back into the river. His Dad told him to hurry up and hook up the horses and pull him out, that he was tired of holding the brake. Roy said he hooked the chains up to the car then climbed up on the horses and told them to “giddy-up.” He said he rode the horses so that they would not run off and leave him. He said when they returned, they crossed the river closer to home, just in case they got stuck so they could easily get some of their relatives to help them get across.
Roy also said that there was a whiskey still down near Towash. It was “hidden” back in a canyon on the Brazos. He said the old man sold the whiskey and some times Roy and his siblings would take a boat down the Brazos to the still. He said he remembered once when he was kind of young that he got really drunk. His grandpa, who did not like drinking at all, asked Roy’s Dad what was the matter with Roy. Supposedly his Dad told him that he was sick with something. We wonder if Mr. Boothman would be interested in searching for that old still. It may have had a bronze boiler.
Roy confirmed a lot of the things Mr. Boothman had said. Roy had visited the old mill and the old church before the lake was created. He had lots of memories to recall about goings on around the Towash and Whitney community. Probably a good thing about Roy is that he doesn’t ordinarily have much to say, keeping a lot of things to himself. That Roy is a smart fella.
So, there is some of the mystery of Lake Whitney unveiled. My thoughts are that if you are interested in structure fishing on Lake Whitney, that you need to find a good current map with good GPS references. Mr. Boothman pulled out a map produced by Lake Products of Arlington. He said the GPS coordinates on it were accurate. I compared it to my high-dollar Pasadena Hot Spot Inc map of Whitney and found that the Lake Products Lake Whitney map indeed had more structure identified and marked. I think Mr. Boothman would know what he is talking about as he was the “dive” man at Lake Whitney.