McConnell’s Mill State Park, in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, encompasses 2,546 acres along the spectacular Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. The gorge, formed by glaciers eons ago, has steep sides and the riverbed is filled with massive rocks and boulders. Legend has it that many years ago colonial soldiers were bring chased across the creek by the Native Americans of the Seneca Tribe. The soldiers, with their heavy boots, crossed with ease but the Indians, with their leather moccasins, slipped on the slimy rocks in the creek bed. The Senecas subsequently named the creek Wechachochapohka or “Slippery Rock.” Other variations have the soldiers in pursuit and slipping on the rocks. Either way, Slippery Rock – the unusual name of a popular creek, college, village, and township – is known throughout the country.
A gristmill was built alongside the creek by Daniel Kennedy in 1852 to process corn, oats, and wheat for the local farmers. It was later destroyed by fire in 1867 and rebuilt in 1868. In 1874 a covered bridge, one of two still standing in Lawrence County, was erected across the creek and next to the mill. The mill, usually known as Forest Mills at the time, fell under different ownership groups for a while. U.S. Army veteran and experienced miller Thomas McConnell took over primary ownership in 1875 and made several modern upgrades. He soon operated the facility with his son James, under the firm of T. McConnell & Son.
Thomas McConnell, who brought the mill to the height of its production, was the son of James and Rachel (Lytell) McConnell, pioneering settlers in the region whose ancestors were from Ireland. Thomas worked his father’s mills along the Neshannock Creek, married Jane McComb in 1846 and fathered seven children, got involved in the oil industry in Titusville, and served in the Civil War as a captain. He was severely wounded in the neck by an artillery blast during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia and was discharged as a result in December 1862. He returned to working the mills in Lawrence County and served a three-year term as Lawrence County Sheriff beginning in 1864. He later purchased Forest Mills and operated it until he retired in the early 1900’s. Thomas died in New Castle at the age of eighty-two in August 1905 and was interred in Oak Park Cemetery in New Castle.
The aging mill, which soon adopted the primary name of McConnell’s Mill, was operated on a limited basis by the McConnell family until it was closed for good in 1928. The property, including the mill and covered bridge, was conveyed by local banker and civic leader Thomas H. Hartman (grandson of Thomas McConnell) to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1946. The Conservancy later transferred the property to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so that it could be preserved as part of a state-supported public park. McConnell’s Mill State Park, named for Thomas McConnell, was formally dedicated in October 1957 and included adjacent properties surrounding Slippery Rock Creek. The old mill was reconstructed and put back in working order by late 1964 to show visitors how it worked long ago.
A longtime fixture at the mill was an African-American man named Moses “Old Mose” Wharton. Under the care of Thomas McConnell he had come up from the south after the Civil War as a youngster with his mother. In the fall of 1880, when he was about age twenty, the likeable Moses started working for the McConnell family at the mill as a general handyman, caretaker, greeter, and groundskeeper. He was extremely popular with visitors and lived in a small cabin overlooking the mill area. He ended up working at the mill for a remarkable seventy-three years, until he went into a nursing home sometime in late 1953. He passed away in his early nineties on Saturday, December 11, 1954, in the Lawrence County Home in Shenango Township.
At the mill and bridge area the Slippery Rock Creek features a rugged shoreline and raging waters and is quite dangerous. Many people have died by drowning or falling from rocks over the years and there have been two recent fatalities. In May 2010, a 47-year-old man died after a fall while heroically rescuing a 17-year-old girl who had also fallen from rocks near the Kildoo Bridge. The deceased man and his two surviving companions were later honored by the Pennsylvania State Police for saving the young girl’s life. In late April 2011, a 38-year-old fisherman accidently slipped into the raging waters near the mill area and it was two weeks until his remains were finally located thirteen miles downstream. Use extreme caution if you ever roam off of the beaten paths in the park.
The old McConnell’s Mill (on right) on the Slippery Rock Creek. The mill was known by several names over the years to include Forest Mills. The present name is taken from Thomas McConnell, a U.S. Army veteran who took over the mill in 1875 and made several upgrades. The McConnell family operated the mill until it was closed in 1928. In 1946 the property was donated to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which in turn transferred the property to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so it could be preserved. The property became part of the picturesque McConnell’s Mill State Park, which was formally dedicated in October 1957. (c1925) Full Size
An old postcard showing the falls area beside the mill. Postmarked May 5, 1947.
This postcard is postmarked Oct 1907 and shows the area just below the mill and bridge area. Its not easy to see but several men are standing on the rocks to the right.
A scene at “the Narrows” just below the mill and covered bridge. (c1905) Full Size
Slippery Rock Creek. (c1905)
A whimsical postcard depicting how the creek was named. (c1912)
The covered bridge at the mill site was erected in 1874. It is still in use as one of the two remaining covered bridges in Lawrence County. (c1948)Full Size
Another view of McConnell’s Mill. (1908)
Slippery Rock Creek. (1909)
A girl and her dog perched in a precarious position on the Slippery Rock Creek. (1910) Full Size
A 1970’s view of the old mill on the Slippery Rock Creek. Full Size
The old covered bridge was built in 1874. (1977) Full Size
The street sign along Route 422. (Jul 2010)
An old photo showing the mill and the house that once sat just above it. (c1915)
The mill. (Jul 2010)
Inside the mill. (Jul 2010)
Another view of the inside of the mill. (Jul 2010)
The covered bridge and mill amid the fall foilage c1975. Full Size
Inside the old covered bridge. (Jul 2013) Full Size
Jean Stewart #
Jeff, Thanks so much for this site! I live outside of DC too, but have been traveling to Lawrence County to find evidence of my gg-mother’s parents. She was orphaned young, but remembered that her Grandfather Jacob Kaufman lived in a house on stilts at McConnell’s Mill. I’ve been out there, and I’m not quite sure where that would be, but thought it was interesting. Since May I’ve found Jake’s family and his daughter’s death notice, now tracking the elusive “Smiths”! Thanks again, great contribution that you’re making.
Jeff Bales Jr #
(EDITOR’S NOTE) Jean, Thanks so much for the compliments and the great post. I appreciate that there are folks out there that love this site as much as I love doing it! Thanks so much. Jeff
James Myers #
My grandfather lived his entire life (1909 – 2011) just west of the mill where McConnells Mill Road and Trusel roads cross (‘the crossroads’ towards Princeton). I have a narrative of him describing his time as a boy at the mill. Many stories heard about Mose stopping by to buy a calf from my grandfather and memories of being at the Mill and Mose’s mother giving him cookies or a piece of pie while he waited for the grain to be ground.
Good memories of a simpler time!
James Myers #
Sorry – my grandfather was born in 1908 and died in 2010
James Myers #
Here is the narrative referenced above:
McConnell’s Mill Memories – A Visit with Gerald Harlan
June 12, 2007
Mr. Harlan lives in the same farmhouse on Trusel Road where he has lived since 1933
just across the field where he was born in 1908. For forty-six years he and his family
raised milk cows on that farm, which is just a few miles from McConnell’s Mill located on
the Slippery Rock Creek. He has lived, worked, and raised his family in ‘Pleasant Valley’
across the road from the farmhouse he was born in 98 years ago in November of 1908.
He remembers well being sent to McConnell’s Mill with grain grown on the farm.
Starting at age 8 or 9, he would be entrusted to load the buggy – a cracky wagon, and drive it to the mill. Once there, he would be greeted by Mose or Jim McConnell and unload the grain. They were both very pleasant fellows and he enjoyed his trips to the mill. Often, he would be given a fishing pole and he would fish from the boulders under the mill or bridge while he waited for the grain to be ground. He might catch 6 or 8 suckers, which he would take home to his Mother to cook for supper.
Every year on the last day of school, there would be a picnic. Mose’s mother, Mrs. Wharton, would always bring a cake for the children. It was angel food, a big tall cake, and it had a dozen eggs in it. Boy, it was delicious. Mrs. Wharton was very popular.
Often in winter the roads would be nothing but a glitter of ice. He remembers his neighbor, Leif Dean (down by where the two roads split) once started off for the mill and his horses got down there and couldn’t do a thing. Leif walked back home and got new corks for the horseshoes (he was a blacksmith) and walked back and put the new corks in right there so the horses could come back.
Farmers would come to the mill from a wide area, at least 6 or 7 miles. He knew some that came from Shenango. There were often half a dozen teams of horses waiting, and the farmers would gather and wait and talk in Jim’s office, which was downstairs, at the same level one would come off the bridge. There were usually at least half a dozen men gathered there, talking and laughing, keeping warm by the stove. The walls of Jim’s office were covered with advertising pictures and calendars from all sorts of feed companies. Jim would often give a boy a brand new notebook, mostly about 4”x6”, probably from a feed or farm equipment company, which was a great treat.
When the day came to go to the mill they would leave early in the morning. If Gerald was going by himself, he would take the one horse cracky wagon, which was a two-seater buggy, long and narrow, with a cloth roof with fringe over the driver. If a bigger crop was ready for the mill, they would take a wagon and a team of either Percherons or Belgians. Gerard says he would like to get a hold of a pair of lines now.
Once when Gerald and his Dad had unloaded their grain and gone into the mill, when they came out their team of horses and wagon were gone. They looked around and saw that the horses had crossed the bridge and were on a big slanted boulder almost in the creek! Now the one mare was blind, and had wanted to go down to the water and the other horse could see and was scrambling like anything to back the wagon and all up away from the water. They could see hoof marks in the moss on the boulder all over from the struggle. Well, everyone poured out of the mill to give them a hand and it took a lot of doing to get those two horses and the wagon back out of there and calmed down.
In later years, Mose was still there but the mill wasn’t running. Thomas Hartman had a big house on the left by the cliff on Mill Road, a ways below Mose’s house. Mr. Hartman headed the Lawrence Savings & Trust in New Castle, where they banked. He was a very pleasant man and cared about the mill, but he didn’t run it.
The mill was a great place for holiday visitors. People from New Castle would rent horses and buggies and come out and spend the day picnicking by the mill.
Jeff Bales #
(EDITOR’S NOTE) James, Thanks for posting the great narrative written by your grandfather. Very informative and descriptive! That’s some good stuff for sure. Thanks again. Jeff
Robin Simkins #
I just want you to know how very much I have enjoyed your website. It’s obvious that you have put hours upon hours of work into it. I’m not originally from this area (NYC) but have lived in southwestern Beaver County for 30 yrs. and knew little about Lawrence County. (Shame on me!). Your website is charming, professional and captivating. I’ve spent the last two hours pouring over it!
Thanks for all your effort and for sharing it with others.
Jeff Bales Jr #
(EDITOR’S NOTE) Robin, Thanks so much for the compliments. You are correct – I’ve put “hours upon hours” of work into this website. But its all worth it when I read that someone appreciates it. Thanks again! Jeff
Enjoyed all the pictures. We visit the Mill often and just love being there. Thanks for all your hard work. It is appreciated.
I so love reading all these comments. Thomas McConnell is my 3rd Great Grand Uncle. I am looking forward to visiting with my boys as soon as we have the time to take a trip east.
McConnells Mill does not have an apostrophe s in the word. Just to clarify this info to you.
Carol McVicker #
Another small note…Builder of McConnell’s Mill, Daniel Kennedy (1799 – 1872) was my g-g-grandfather.
Tom Altman #
my grandmother would send my uncle, William Altman, there to stay and work with Mose during the summer vacation months.
Mary E Baker #
Can anyone give the history of the connection with the Kildoo family? I believe there was a Miss Kildoo who ran a camp nearby in the 1930s or 1940s.
Philip Pockras #
I’m married to James Myers’ cousin, the former Judy Wilson. Gerald Harlan, “Uncle Jerry”, was her grandma Wilson’s kid brother. I remember him well. When my father-in-law was 85, and still maintaining a dairy herd, a cow plowed into him. He hit the concrete barn floor hard and broke a hip. While in Jameson Hospital, he told someone that his uncle was coming to visit. Yeah, sure. Well, shortly afterward, Uncle Jerry came striding in.
Some young man rear-ended Uncle Jerry in 2005 or so, when he was 97. Totaled his car. He called James’ brother a few days later to ask him to drive him (Uncle Jerry) to buy a new car. It would have been really bold to have bought it on credit, but Uncle Jerry and Aunt Ella would never do such a thing.
I remember being at their place a number of times. I remember always wonderful fresh eggs, Teddy, the dog, and ice cream in the evening.
BTW, the land, on which the Mill is, was originally owned by my wife’s four-great grandfather, Ezekiel Willson, who is buried in the Neshannock UPC yard in Hickory Twp.
Say, James, are you kin to Ray Bales on Princeton Station Rd.? Judy was two years ahead of his daughter Pam at Laurel HS.