Henry Byal’s Old Millstone

This is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

By R.L. HEMINGER

 

In our article last week regarding Henry Byal, one of Findlay’s pioneer leaders, we spoke of the construction by his father, John Byal, of a mill along the Blanchard River west of Findlay near the former site of the Hancock County home.

The mill held a prominent place in the early life of the son, and when it was eventually abandoned near the close of the 19th century, Henry Byal decided one of the stones of the mill deserved preservation.

In the May 22, 1918, issue of the old Morning Republican there is an interesting story with regard to this stone which Mr. Byal preserved. The article was written by Miss Florence Blackford, for many years a Findlay newspaper woman on the newspaper’s staff. The Blackford family lived next door to the Henry Byal home and so she was very familiar with the situation. The Byal home stood at the southeast corner of East Sandusky Street and Beech Avenue, while the Blackford dwelling was next door on the east. Miss Blackford’s father was Jason Blackford, a prominent Findlay lawyer.

Here is the May 22, 1918, story:

 

 

“WORKMEN AT THE MANSE of the First Presbyterian Church removed from its place an old mill stone that is one of the few relics of pioneer days that Hancock County possesses. It was the old mill stone from what was known at the old Byal mill, located just above the infirmary in Liberty Township. The old mill was built in 1834 by John Byal in section 10 of Liberty Township, on the south bank of the Blanchard River. The old grist mill was not abandoned until the last of the century, during the sixty years of its existence grinding flour by the water process, and keeping up its prestige long after the other water power mills had been retired by the steam process.

“When the old mill was dismantled the late Henry Byal, a son of the founder of the mill, took the old mill stone to his residence on East Sandusky Street, and placed it as a memorial to his father, under the old maple at the corner of the lot.

“The old mill stone has been a curiosity and is perhaps one of the last of its kind anywhere. It was encroaching on the roots of the shade tree and of the walk and the workmen removed it, shattering the quaint old cuttings into many pieces. It was banded with a heavy iron hoop and was a massive piece of masonry. Henry Byal left the residence to the church at his death, since which time it has been occupied by the ministers of the church as the manse.”

 

 

SOME 20 YEARS EARLIER, Miss Blackford was writing a series of historical articles for the newspaper. One appeared each week and in one of them she told more about the Byals. The father, John, arrived here in March, 1832, when three of the four Fort Findlay blockhouses — one on each corner — were still standing.

The Byals had traveled the 150 miles from their home in Stark County (Canton) in 15 days.

“Fifteen days,” wrote Miss Blackford, “might seem a long time for going 150 miles, but the roads were frozen over at times so that travel was impossible; water at other times hindered the progress. At Carey, the caravan was swamped in earnest for the first time. Help was secured there to get through the marshes which made the way between the two places a terror for the immigrant.”

When the family arrived at the cabin just west of Findlay which Mr. Byal had built when he was here the year before making plans to bring his family here from Stark County, food became an immediate problem.

“A flock of wild turkeys opportunely flew over the cabin and a quick rifle report was followed by the fall of a great bird that was immediately prepared for the stew,” wrote Miss Blackford.

But the meat of the turkey wasn’t exactly to their liking, it seems.

“The flesh proved rank and even the hunger which all felt could not excuse the flavor,” Miss Blackford said. “It was simply not edible. The turkey had fed on ramps, a species of wild onion that is occasionally yet found in the woods and consists of a concentrated combination of the essence of garlic and onions, with a tincture of asafetida. The first green thing of the spring, the cattle and fowls used to eagerly seek the whereabouts of the pungent herb and the milk and flesh were rendered useless. It was later found that by eating a small piece of onion just before each meal, one could consume the meat with enjoyment.”

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