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What Kind of Mill was Mills River Named After?

What kind of mill was Mills River named after?

It wasn’t named after a mill. It was named after William Mills.

William Mills’ father was Ambrose Mills. His mother’s name was Mourning Stone. They came from Derbyshire, England to settle on the James River in Virginia, where William was born. In 1765, Ambrose Mills was granted 600 acres in Craven County, South Carolina.

Miller's Dale, Derbyshire, England between 1890 and 1900 Views of the British Isles Photochrom Print Collection
Ambrose and Mourning Stone Mills were from Derbyshire, England
Miller’s Dale, Derbyshire, England between 1890 and 1900
Views of the British Isles Photochrom Print Collection

William Mills’ mother, younger brother and sister were killed by Indians at Pine Tree Hill, Camden County in South Carolina. This was at the beginning of the Indian War of 1755-61. After Ambrose Mills remarried Eliza Durant, he moved his family to Old Tryon County. He purchased 640 acres from Thomas Reynolds for 100 pounds. He built a sawmill and a trading post where Green River ran through his land.

Stone Hedge Estate, near Tryon, built around 1935
Stone Hedge Estate, near Tryon, built around 1935

In 1765, now 19 years of age, William Mills married Eleanor Morris from the Tryon area. They settled near the blockhouse, a frontier fort at the headwaters of the Catawba River in what is now McDowell County, North Carolina.

When war broke out, Ambrose and William Mills remained loyal to England. Father and son were already with the local militias under the Crown, commissioned to protect the frontier areas from Indians. Ambrose was promoted to Colonel with the British forces. William was made a Major. They fought together at Earle’s Ford and King’s Mountain.

Biggerstaff Hanging Tree
Biggerstaff Hanging Tree

The Battle of Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780, was a decisive victory for the Patriots. Following the battle, the Patriot army drove 668 Loyalists prisoners ahead of Cornwallis’ advance for a week without supplies. William Mills was left for dead along the way. At the farm of the Biggerstaff family, near Gilbert Town, then Tryon County, now Rutherford County, North Carolina, the Patriot army convicted 36 Loyalist prisoners in drumhead court-martials. Nine were hanged, including Ambrose Mills, before North Carolina Patriot militia leader, Isaac Shelby was able to stop them.

William Mills, severely wounded, made it to a cave in SugarIoaf Mountain*, where he hid out. Following the war, he made it home to find his lands had been confiscated.

“When his wounds were finally healed, William Mills came out of the cave on Sugar Loaf Mountain and made his way back to his home at Mill Spring. Here he learned that his father was dead, that the Revolutionary War was over and that thirteen English colonies were now thirteen states of a new country called the United States. All of the land owned by him and by his father had been confiscated by the new government. “
On the Banks of the Oklawaha, Frank L. Fitsimons

However Mills did not forget about the fertile valley he overlooked from the cave. The Act of 1777 opened the land around SugarIoaf Mountain to settlement. William Mills made it through the mountains using what we now call Mills Gap. He bought land and settled in what is now Fruitland, where he planted apple and cherry trees. He was eventually able to regain a portion of his and his father’s land back in the Tryon area.

William Mills eventually owned thousands of acres. When his family grew, he moved to the Mill’s River area, leaving his orchards and farms in Fruitland to his children and their families.

William Mills died November 10, 1834. He is buried in the William Mills Cemetery off US64 East by South Mills Gap Road.

Alternate Account

According to Postmarks by Lenoir Ray; “It was December 12, 1828 when the post office was established at Mills River. It was called Mill River. The ‘s’ was not added until December 2, 1885. Contrary to popular belief, the office was named for Mill Creek and not for William Mills.”

*There are a lot of Sugarloaf Mountains. This is the one that is in Rutherford and Henderson Counties near what is now Chimney Rock State Park.
The cave in SugarIoaf Mountain is one of the things that disappeared in the The Great Flood of 1916.
There is more about the flood on these posts.