Dover Steam Mill
44Go327
 


Overview

History

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History of Dover Steam Mill (ca. 1855)

The ruins of Dover Steam Mill in Goochland Co., Virginia, are located on land once known as Dover Plantation. According to county records, the farm of 1500 acres was bought by Ellen C. Bruce on November 15, 1842 for $45,000. In September 1843, she married James M. Morson, and in a few years the couple had built the Dover mansion at a cost of $17,000. On April 30, 1850 the Morsons bought the next-door plantation, Sabot Hill, for $30,000 and then sold it to James A. Seddon, who had married Ellen’s sister, Sally. Seddon later became Secretary of War for the Confederate States of America.

The mill for Dover Plantation was built in either 1850 or 1855, when building value improvements are shown on land tax records for the property. A brick salvaged from the ruins bears the date “1853,” so the latter construction date is more plausible. By 1860, James Morson was trying to manage several plantations in the Deep South, all lands that he had purchased in partnership with Seddon and others. In letters to Seddon in 1860, Morson suggests that Jessee Bowles, superintendent of the Dover Mill, be sent to run the mill on one of their Mississippi plantations.

In February 1862, Ellen Morson died during one of their trips to Louisiana. James Morson spent most of the War years keeping his Louisiana and Mississippi plantations operating and therefore became a mostly absentee owner of Dover Mill. The mill must have continued to operate, however, because an 1863 map of the plantation shows a building with the designation “ST Mill.”

On the morning of March 1, 1864, a column of Union cavalry appeared at Dover Plantation. They were under the command of Col. Ulric Dahlgren, who had begun his famous raid on the
Capital of the Confederacy. After some confusion and destruction at the mansion, the horsemen torched the stables behind the mansion, the mill and a straw barn closer to the James River. A detachment of this cavalry unit continued burning other barns and mills along the north bank of the river. Several eyewitnesses testified that the mill burned completely. A Lt. Samuel Harris of this Union cavalry group, who had prior experience working on steam engines, said in his memoirs that they left the mansion and came to a large grist mill with a saw mill attached. These were powered by a 100-horse-power steam engine. They proceeded to set fires in several places to these mills.

In the Goochland Co. land tax records for 1865, the value of buildings on the Dover Plantation was reduced, with the comment that $15,000 had been subtracted for “buildings, Mill, etc. burnt by the Yankees.” This amount far exceeded the $2,000 reduction for similar property losses at neighboring Sabot Hill Plantation, home of Morson’s brother-in-law.

Dover Steam Mill has been deteriorating since that early spring day in 1864.

Date posted: 8.22.03

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