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The Old Mill at the Snake Den Ford
March 19, 2012 - Jodi Burnsworth
(Previous Post: see link at right)
River Bend Park in Elkins is one of the region’s finest facilities being an important center for recreation. Besides a state-of-the-art little league baseball facility, the park also boasts a soccer field, volleyball court, walking trails, exercise equipment, skate park, picnic tables, playground, and two pavilions. Gradually over the past 25 years, the park was developed from two vacant fields. The pioneers encountered the wildlife there, particularly snakes, and before the Civil War the spot was known as the “Snake Den Ford.”
It had been a center once before. 175 years before River Bend Park, a road forded the river there just west of what is now the west field of the little league facility. This road came down the west bank of the river from what is now the area of the armory and forded the river into the present-day park, and went down the east bank to the vicinity of the flood control bridge.
In the eighteenth century, the armory area west of the river was the Joseph Donoho pioneer land grant. The east side, now South Elkins, had been the pioneer settlements of Joseph and Andrew Skidmore, the whole coming into son Andrew’s hands after the death of his father Joseph in the 1770s. In the 1790s Andrew sold the portion of his farm that is now the park to Thomas Phillips; it was Phillips who began development.
In 1805 Phillips sold a ½ acre lot at the Snake Den Ford to Andrew Shanklin, who built a water-powered mill there of the type common in the era, being used to saw lumber or grind grain or both. Shanklin sold quickly to Eli Butcher who also bought the land on the west side of the river that had been the Donoho settlement. During this period the Snake Den Ford was a local center just as River Bend Park is today.
Records of the Randolph County Court show several motions for roads to be built from various parts of what is now Elkins to the mill between 1810 and 1820. These records are evidence of considerable interest in the spot. In 1828 Zirus Wees, for whose family the Wees Historic District of Elkins is named, bought the mill and the old Donoho place.
By the 1830s the mill at the Snake Den Ford apparently was a thing of the past. Wees’ deed refers to the “old mill” and he petitioned the court in 1834 for permission to build a dam there for the purpose of building a new mill. The request was denied as Andrew Skidmore was also petitioning the court for permission to build his own mill at or near the spot.
After the building of the railroad in the late 19th century and the flood control project in the mid-20th, the old ford and mill passed out of existence. Nearly a half century would pass before the Snake Den Ford would again become an important center with the development of River Bend Park. If visitors to the park today look closely at the low banks of the river just west of the small pavilion, the spot where the old road would have crossed the river at the ford can be easily imagined.
Special Contribution by David Armstrong
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Map and walking bridge at Riverbend Park.