Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ruins of abandoned Tunnel Mill, Charlestown, Indiana

Located north of Charlestown, Indiana, these ruins are all that remain of the historic Tunnel Mill.  Now a national historic place and Boy Scout Camp, conservation efforts are finally underway.  Follow along with us as we explore this neat and unusual piece of local history.

Old photo of mill, from "Historic Tunnel Mill Website."
Finished in 1816, the mill is the second that has been located on this site.  The original mill, plagued with problems from wear and chronically low water levels, was demolished and the "new" structure shown here was built.

Water running from the remains of the massive man-made tunnel, a black hole in the hillside.
John Work, the owner of the mill and the land surrounding it, had a clever solution to his problems.  Rather than risk the season changes in water level of the nearby 14 Mile Creek, Work decided to build a dam uphill from his new mill site.  This posed a new problem as well, that of getting the water to the mill sluce.  The solution, a daring one, was to carve a 6 foot tall and 5 foot wide tunnel down from the dam, a length a nearly 400 feet.  It took three men nearly two and a half years to dig it, at great expense and pain.  It worked though, and the mill was able to run and grind grains even in periods of low water.

View down the sluce to the mill wheel.  A recent heavy rain made the creek especially swollen.
The remains of the massive mill wheel, constructed of riveted plate steel and large castings.
The largest relic still on the site is the this steel water wheel.  It is a replacement, as the original would have been made of wood.  Regardless, it is still an interesting piece and shows a great deal of craftsmanship.  Sheet steel and rivets make up the bulk of it, while the main axle and gear are large castings.  The "spokes" of the wheel, long since rotten away, were made of wood.

A shot of the axle, some scraps of wood still visible.

Axle bearing, missing its cap.  This would've required lots of grease and regular maintenance. 

What is a historic site without vandalism?  Well, we will never know, given the state of the world.

Here is a make-shift effort to keep the wheel from washing away, rope and two pulleys.  Yup, its a shame its gotten to this point.

The wheel has been warped and twisted by heavy water flows.  Note the rivets holding everything in place.

Remaining stone foundations.
 While the building was largely made out of wood, the first floor was actually constructed out of stone.  This makes sense, as the wheel and mill stones needed a solid foundation.  Further, the stones would be more resistant to water damage and erosion.  When the mill burned down in 1927, all that was left was the stone foundation and the metal wheel, both of which have decayed heavily over the years.
Post fire photos, not the person on the right for scale.  Photo from Historic Tunnel Mill Site.

Corner of building.  The stonework looks to have been done without mortar.

More stones.


Wheel, seen from afar.

Two hundred years late, 14 Mile Creek still rushes past the site.

Other interesting links:

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  1. I don't think I ran across it on here but I'm positive there's still a creepy house on Tunnel Mill Road....

    1. Its still there. It's called the John Work House, and its actively being restored. A neat place.

    2. Nothing "creepy" about it. It's been 80% restored and is starting to really look great! It is open for tours April through November. for more information.

  2. There are lots of great events at the John Work House. Check out the Tunnel Mill Historic Site on Facebook. You can see photos of the work and stay on top of the latest news and progress. Be a part of this exciting project!

    1. Agreed! We already follow you guys on Facebook. There's a lot of neat stuff happening out there.

  3. I'm a volunteer at the John Work House. It is really coming along- if you are interested come for a tour, we would love to show you our progress!!