A Brief History of Witherow’s Mill (12/14)

BY DOUG COOKE / DECEMBER 2014

After 100 years since its demise, physical traces of “Witherow’s Mill” remain along with its long-past history of legal disputes. Located on Marsh Creek near Emmitsburg Pike and shown on the 1858 Adams County map as belonging to Henry Myers, the site can be identified from a roadside boulder that is prominent in an 1897 photograph of the mill.

Today, a dam that forms a small lake undoubtedly originated as the mill dam. The mill race still exists alongside Marsh Creek Road, beginning near the dam and rejoining the stream at the mill site. In the mid-1700s a log grist and saw mill was originally built by George Sipes, who obtained the Manor of Maske warrant for 120 acres. Brothers Samuel and David Witherow bought the mill and 185 acres in 1812.

According to Robert C. Witherow in 1931, a stone mill was erected by “Epley” in 1812/1813. Samuel Witherow sold the property to Peter Epley in 1823, presumably having compensated David for his interest. Samuel died. David claimed he was never compensated and sued Epley. The legal dispute raged for more than 40 years and two generations. The Witherow heirs finally won in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court against Henry Myers, who had bought the Epley heirs’ interest in 1844 and was married to daughter Lydia Epley. In late 1863, an Adams County Court of Pleas commission resolved that the grist and saw mill and 20 acres be awarded to the Witherow heirs, and that Henry Myers would retain the remaining 130 acres of farmland.

Noted lawyers Thaddeus Stevens and David Wills represented parties at different times in this case. During the period from 1859 to 1863, Henry Myers lost the mill, his wife Lydia to consumption, six children to diphtheria and suffered damages to his farm from troops before and after the battle of Gettysburg. He sold the farm and moved his family to Iowa in 1867. Washington Witherow bought the mill property from his siblings in 1867 and bought the original farmland in 1889. He operated the mill and later farmed.

Due to debts, both properties were seized and subject to a sheriff’s sale in 1895. Washington’s son, Joseph, bought the mill property, but the farmland was lost. Joseph died months later, and the mill was seized for public sale to cover his debts. His widow Katie managed to buy it. She sold it in 1907, with an unusual provision that she “reserves her claim for damages to the water power” from the Gettysburg Water Company.The property was later bought by the Water Company in 1911. The company owned it until May 1913, when Robert Witherow, Katie’s brother-in-law, bought it. The deed included an agreement that the Water Company had the right to remove water from Marsh Creek to supply the community and removed Katie’s claim.

In 1931, Robert Witherow said the mill was taken down in the winter of 1913.Once a bustling business, the mill is gone and little remembered but still has an interesting story.

Doug Cooke is an aerospace consultant.He retired from NASA as associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate after 38 years at Johnson Space Center and NASA headquarters. He is past vice president of the Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable. Doug and his wife Renee are now Gettysburg residents.