When pioneers settled a wilderness, they needed gristmills for flour and sawmills for making lumber. There were three mills along the Big Walnut Creek near early Sunbury.
In 1810, Nicholas Manville built the Sunbury area’s first mill at the juncture of Big Walnut Creek and Rattlesnake Creek on Granville Road, today’s State Route 37. That mill was passed on to Major Strong in 1817, then to Eleazor Gaylord in 1825, when it became known as the Gaylord Mill. The Gaylord Mill was short-lived. Years later, Billy Southworth collected stones from the creek bed and built his stone house on Gaylord Hill.
Samuel Peck and Thomas. P. Myers, son of Sunbury’s founder, built a sawmill on the Big Walnut Creek at Walnut Street in 1842. The creek was diverted upstream to flow into a pond with a right-of-way through John Knox’s land for a trail-race to carry run-off from the water wheel. They sold the mill to a Mr. Bailey in 1848. Because of the sharp bend in the Big Walnut Creek, this mill was actually in Trenton Township.
For any years I have looked unsuccessfully for Mr. Bailey, as did Carleton Burrer, who provided me with the mill’s history. There is a family buried in Sunbury Memorial Park spelled Baily. When I checked that spelling in the 1850 census, James Baily and his son Lewis were both listed as millers born in New York and residing in Trenton Township. As far as I know there was only one Baily Mill. Meanwhile, James Baily added stone buhrs for grinding grist — small batches of grain for local farmers. These buhrs were quarried in France when it was discovered that stone quarried in Sunbury was too soft for grinding grain.
In 1851, the year he brought his family to Sunbury, Johan Burrer made a stone purchase from John Knox in the same area as the Baily Mill. He was a good stonecutter and eventually took in Henry Fleckner as a partner so Burrer could build a bakery, store, and tavern on the lot next to the Myers Inn. The stone from his underground refrigeration system is in the Myers Inn Museum fireplace today.
John Van Sickle built a third mill with a brush dam across the Big Walnut Creek about one half mile northeast of Sunbury in 1845. The brush dam was eventually replaced with planks and the mill sold to E. M. Condit, who operated it from 1855 to 1866 before selling it to Jacob Boyd.
When Boyd later sold the mill to Johan and his sons Gottlieb and Jacob Burrer, F. B. Sprague, a Justice of the Peace, certified the Burrer-Boyd purchase agreement on June 16, 1871. Sprague had expertise in the milling business and bought in as a partner with the Burrer father and son. F. B. Sprague, Johann, and Jacob (Jakie) Burrer bought the Baily Mill in 1871 and moved some of the equipment from the Van Sickle Mill to the Baily Mill.
Six months of the year, the flow in the creek was not strong enough to turn the big stones. Upon Shrive Gammill’s suggestion the owners purchase land on the northeast side of Columbus and North Streets. At Johann Jacob Burrer’s death at 53 on April 19, 1874, three of his daughters were married. Louisa Catherine had married Henry Fleckner, who worked the stone quarry with Burrer. In 1879, Jakie and his wife Amy transferred the deed to the old Boyd (Bailey) Mill to his sister Louisa and her husband, who continued to operate the stone quarry. Fleckner built his family house at 10 Walnut Street (being renovated by Dan Schwartz today); and some of the old stone foundation of the mill can still be seen near the creek. Caroline Catherine married Daniel Miller of Delaware and Catherine Christine married Charles Rice.
Johann’s son Heinrich died a month before his father. In addition to his widow Barbara Catherine (age 54) who continued to live in the log house on Cherry Street, he left Gottlieb (age 26), John E. (Age 20), Nannie (age 18) and Frank (12).
John E. Burrer had shown more interest in the bakery than in the mill. He married Margaret Hyatt, and took over the bakery and the store next to the Myers Inn when his father died. They moved into the quarters over the bakery and had three children: Esther (born 1894), Arthur Merlon (born 1896) and Frank (born 1898).
Burrer sold the bakery and lot in 1899 to J. W. Barker, who ran it until he sold it in 1906 to Chauncey Root, who came to Sunbury from Pickaway County. Root sold the bakery and lot in 1919 to Robert Gelston. John E. bought a flour and gristmill in Centerburg and moved his family there, where he had two more children — George in 1902 and Ralph in 1909. Nannie married Thomas Payne, a Sunbury hardware merchant. Kidwell, Perry, Kitchen, Watson, Hobbs, Amerine, Hoff and Owens are just some their descendants’ surnames.
Frank never married but lived with his mother and helped in the mill. After her death, he moved to Westerville and started his own mill. When Sprague became Probate Judge in 1875 after being Justice of the Peace, he lost interest in the milling business. By 1875 young Jakie Burrer was the sole owner of the mill, but his brother Frank continued to help with the business. While the Burrer Mill was not the first in Sunbury, it would become the longest-running mill.
Myers Inn Museum Curator Horn wrote this article for Sunbury’s Bicentennial.