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Maryland's National Register Properties

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Potomac Mills
Inventory No.: WA-II-1178
Date Listed: 2/5/2014
Location: River Road and Trough Road, Shepherdstown, Washington County
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: 1826-1901
Description: The Potomac Mills Complex is situated on the south bank of the Potomac River in Jefferson County, West Virginia approximately one mile below Shepherdstown. The 18-acre property is situated on the river flood plain and the adjoining limestone hills. It is heavily wooded and bisected by River Road leading east to west toward Shepherdstown and Trough Road leading north to south from the Packhouse Ford through a gap in the ridge toward Engle-Molers Road (the old road to Harpers Ferry). The property is bounded on the north by the Potomac River, where the remnant of the Potomac Mills dam can be seen. The south boundary runs along the ridge crest of the limestone hills and through several ravines created by drainage runs. The jagged cliffs of several abandoned quarries cut into the wooded hills and loom above River Road as it passes along the river bank, bisected the mill complex property. Near the center of the narrow, wedge-shaped property sits the stone ruins of the Potomac Mills, the roofless brick "office building" or warehouse/dwelling, and the still-standing battery of six stone limekilns attached to the original small test kiln. Standing alone, the oldest stone limekiln sits perched on the hillside within a ravine nearby. The portion of Potomac Mills which lies in the state of Maryland is the Dam Remnant, built in 1826. During periods of low water, the partial remains of the Potomac Mills dam can be seen as a distinct ripple across the river. The remains are the stone foundation of the dam; none of the historic log cribbing remains intact. Significance: The Potomac Mills complex is regionally historically significant for its important role as an industrial cement mill, appended in 1829 to Henry Boteler and George Reynolds' already active grain mill, producing hydraulic cement used in the construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, regional railroads, and for public building projects in Washington, D.C. through the late 19th century. Now a standing ruin, the industrial complex has significant potential to yield archeological information about the hydraulic cement production process during the 19th century. The Potomac Mills complex gains additional historical significance on a local level as a merchant grain mill established in 1826, which purchased and processed locally grown grains for resale in the port city markets of Georgetown and Baltimore. As both a grain and cement processing facility, the Potomac Mills was an unusual combination. The Potomac Mills complex is one of ten cement mills located in Maryland and West Virginia associated with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and appears to be the best preserved of the ten. The processing of grain in the Shenandoah Valley, particularly wheat and corn, in water-powered mills helped develop not only a thriving local and regional industry, but also aided in the transportation of agricultural products to the eastern port city markets by reducing their bulk. Still, wagon transport over bad roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains made transportation improvements in the region of primary importance, culminating with the 1826-1850 construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal along the northeast bank of the Potomac River. The Potomac Mills, established by Henry Boteler and George Reynolds, was initially a merchant grain mill, but added a cement mill and processing complex by 1829 primarily to meet the C&O Canal construction need for hydraulic cement. Potomac Mills cement was also used in Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad construction projects as well as many public buildings in Washington, D.C. throughout the 20th century. Production all but stopped during the American Civil War due to the Potomac Mills' location adjacent to a Potomac River ford, historically known as Packhouse Ford. The river crossing, known as Boteler's or Blackford's Ford by 1861, crossed the boundary between the United States and the Confederacy and placed the Potomac Mills complex in a dangerous position. In 1861 Union troops burned the buildings and in 1862, the charred mill stood on the front line of the September 19th-20th Battle of Shepherdstown, also known as the Battle of the Cement Mill, on the heels of the Battle of Antietam or Sharpsburg. The Potomac Mills buildings were rebuilt following the war, processing both grain and cement for local and regional markets. While the region's grain continued to thrive, producing building materials for construction projects in Washington, D.C. In 1889, the C&O Canal was devastated by a flood, remaining closed until 1896. Though the flood closed the Potomac Mills only for a week, the canal's extended closure curtailed cement production through the 1890s. Facing increasing competition from Portland cement production elsewhere, the Potomac Mills closed permanently in 1901 and fell into ruin.


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