An Old Gent and the Wheels of Progress

Double mills

John E. Goslee

Content Tools

Sharptown, Maryland 21861

It will soon be fall of the year and already, due to the dry summer, the corn looks like it is ready to harvest. That is this new fancy-dangled kind they call Hybrid corn.

No, you don't see any other kind but this Hybrid yellow corn, that is, unless you come and visit with a friend of mine who has just turned eighty years old this past May 31st. This old Christian gent is no other than Mr. Sherman Cooper who is well known on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware.

The reason you can see something other than yellow corn is because Mr. Cooper is running one of the very few water-powered Grist Mills in the country today. He raises his own white corn and makes the best corn meal and hominy there is to be found.

Now this old gent is a hard worker who puts in eight to ten hours every day. His only help is an old colored man who is past seventy and has been a deaf mute all his life. Mr. Cooper took him in to raise before he was eighteen years old. He has been a blessing to Mr. Cooper more than once in his help on the farm and the mill.

Mr. Cooper and his father were steam sawmill men for many years. There is hardly a make of steam engine ever made from Stationary to Traction engine that he hasn't run at sometime. He claims to be the world's best fireman. (Of course he can spin a fast yarn when he has competition.)

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware we did not have what fields like the West, but we out numbered them in sawmills that at one time were all run by steam traction engines.

Mr. Cooper sells his meal and hominy to the local chain stores A&P, Acme, Safeway, as well as the wholesale houses. It is the only water ground meal available. He has to do his own maintenance, such as repair of belts and bearings. About once a year he has to replace fifty cogs made of oak in the crown gear that drives the mill. I have made these several times. It is just as hard to replace them as it is to make them. This is a job! It takes about two days of hard fitting with saw and wood rasp. Then there is the job of picking the mill stones. This requires sharp pick hammers, a good back, and strong arms, of which he claims to have. He says he can still hog-tie all of these young boys just feeling their manhood. (Could be all talk. Ha!)

There are lots of city people and people from every country in the world, except Russia and other Communist countries, that come to his mill pond at the head of Barren Creek between Marcela Springs, Maryland and Columbia, Delaware. (Known as Barren Creek District) They come to fish for bass and sun perch, but find it more interesting to watch an old mill over a century and three-quarters old-built in 1800-run by an old man that claims he intends to outlive the mill.

He has a visitor's book he wants every one to sign, and he will always stop to show you how the mill works. He says every time the wheel turns around it shells out a nickel, but the way these politicians have fouled the economy up, the two hundred fifty revolutions per minute the wheel turns doesn't make a very fast living. (Some more talk!)

He calls it the wheels of progress, but it hasn't progressed too much as it is still running the same way it did when it was built 174 years ago. You can hear Mr. Cooper singing favorite hymns, such as Standing on the Promises and Beulah Land, as the mill runs along quietly.

Mr. Cooper was born on May 31, 1894 at Columbia, Delaware in an old house his father and grandfather were born in. He has farmed, run mills, and worked on the water. He likes to go to church every Sunday at Mt. Hermon United Methodist Church, where he recently resigned as Superintendent of the Sunday School after thirty years.

For this old gentleman, let's wish him many more years with the mill and his family and his church.