War Eagle Mill in Arkansas Is a Step Back in Time
There is nothing like fall in northwest Arkansas. The serenity of the changing colors of the leaves in the mountains gives off a hue that is just mesmerizing. If you're ever in this neck of the woods you have to take a little trip to War Eagle Mill. It's somewhat off the beaten path, but well worth the drive in the beautiful countryside of Rogers, Ark. The moment you see this mill you are taken back in time to when the world was much more simpler.
Let me tell you a little history about War Eagle Mill. It all started because of a pioneer couple -- Sylvanus and Catherine Blackburn from Tennessee. The couple married when Sylvanus was 16 and the couple was living at his parent's house. Sylvanus decided it was time to find a place of their own so he set out alone and headed west where he came upon some land next to the War Eagle Creek in Arkansas what is known as the War Eagle Valley. Blackburn fell in love with the area and decided to sink his roots and so Catherine joined him and they built a home using wood from the nearby forests. The home still stands today next to the creek, which is still in use today because the home was so well constructed.
The couple used the farm-rich land to grow corn but they had to travel 25 miles away to the nearest gristmill to have their corn ground. Knowing the need for a mill, the Blackburns recognized they could use the War Eagle Creek as an energy source to grind their grain into flour. Soon, word got out and everyone in the area started bringing their own corn to be ground and eventually a community was formed around the Mill. However the Mill was totally destroyed in 1848 and was washed away to a nearby river after a major flood struck the valley. Determined, the Blackburns rebuilt the mill and expanded into a lumber mill in addition to milling grain.
In 1861, the civil war broke out and many of its residents were torn to either enlist to fight with the Confederates soldiers in the South or the Union soldiers to the North. Five of Blackburns sons enlisted in the Confederate Army while the rest went to Texas to ride out the storm. It wasn't until four years later the family returned to the War Eagle river valley.
In 1862, the Union Army moved into the War Eagle Valley in northern Arkansas and used the Mill to grind for food. With an approaching Confederate Army, the Union soldiers left for Pea Ridge Arkansas leaving the Confederate general to have the Mill burned to the ground so the Union soldiers could never use it again. After the Battle of Pea Ridge the entire surrounding area was turned into a wasteland by retreating Confederate soldiers and looters.
Fayetteville and Bentonville Ark., were the first U.S. cities to be devastated by a fire that destroyed the Mill again and forced many residents to flee due to food shortages in the area.
In 1865, Sylvanus returned with his family to their old homestead, which was still standing, and Sylvanus' son, James Austin Cameron Blackburn, set out to reconstruct the Mill which was finished in 1873. Their sawmill became one of the largest in Arkansas and contained a more powerful grinding machine that was run by a turbo engine instead of a water wheel. The lumber cut at the War Eagle saw mill was instrumental in rebuilding Fayetteville and Old Main at the University of Arkansas. However, in 1924 the Mill was destroyed by a fire again and the only thing left was the foundation and remnants of the building.
Finally, in 1973, the property was purchased by Jewel Medlin who with his family found blueprints of the third Mill and decided to rebuild it for a fourth time. The Medlins wanted to take it back to more of an original feel with the addition of the waterwheel that Sylvanus used more than 100 years ago. War Eagle Mill happens to be the only working mill in Arkansas and is believed to be the only undershot water wheel in operation in the U.S.
Since 2004, Marty and Elise Roenigk are the proud owners of this historical landmark in northwest Arkansas focusing on high quality, healthy organic products, jams and jellies, mixes and soups for sale. Not to mention they have a great restaurant named the Bean Palace Cafe that serves up some of the best homemade beans and cornbread around. The site is also used for a huge arts and crafts festival in the fall.
In 2016, the mill suffered another setback due to flooding again, which destroyed the first floor and most of its contents including the wood floor. The mill has been rebuilt to highlight the traditional grinding equipment and his powered by the War Eagle River.