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John Work House and Mill Site

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Main Entrance to the property

John Work House and Mill Site is a Registered Historic Place just outside Charlestown, Indiana, owned by the Lincoln Heritage Council, (BSA). Prominent features in the park are Fourteen Mile Creek and the Devil's Backbone.

Mill days

In 1814 John Work (1760-1834) decided to build a new gristmill, to replace the one he had bought in 1804 from the Bates Brothers, for which he paid $10 an acre for 100 acres. It was near the only road leading from Charlestown and New Washington to the growing Madison. He decided to create a tunnel through a spur of a hill to act as a mill race, which would mean a better source of water to power his mill. The race was completed in 1816, and the mill itself in 1818. 650 pounds of powder made from saltpeter was used for the tunnelling. The total cost was estimated at $3,300. The race was 6 feet deep and 5 feet wide; a 200-lb man reportedly rode through it on opening day.[1] A dam was later built for better year around use. Work would be creditted for building three more mills upcreek.

The mill started operating in 1819. The mill was ideally situated by being a day's ride from New Albany and Madison, the second and third largest cities in Indiana at the time, and for being so close to Ohio River landings. A sawmill was added to the mill. Tunnel Mill was also the first mill in the region to use a series of elevators to move corn called the Evans and Ellicott's machinery, which made milling the work of two people instead of six, a great technological advantage over those who had to carry sacks of corn all the way to the top of the mill so it could be milled step by step. The mill was able to handle 2.5 barrels of corn an hour.

John Work 1804-1832
John R. Work 1832-1854
Wilford M. Green 1854-1896
Henry C. Dodd 1897-1920
Shiloh Swango 1920-1926
Henry Murphy 1926-1927

After Work's death, the mill would pass through the hands of several owners, and would change with the times. The Mill under Work was a custom mill, where farmer's would just send corn for their own personal use. Future owners would make the mill a merchant mill, where farmers would sell the corn to a mill and the mill would process the corn to sell for itself in various forms, from flour to grits to flakes. Some of this would be shipped on the Ohio and the Mississippi River. The original mill wheel was made of oak, but in mid-century 1800s the wheels became metal, as wooden wheels only lasted 5-10 years before needing major repairs.

The mill would remain in operation in the 1920s as the sole remaining operating gristmill in Clark County, but would sparsely used as mills in Louisville were cleaner and more efficient due to their modern technology. However, the mill was often used as a bathing house for those who liked to swim in the creek. In 1927 a fire destroyed the mill building. It is unknown if it was started by a lit discarded cigarette by one of the swimmers, or if was caused by the last owner Henry Murphy, who reportedly had a history of his properties being set ablaze.[2] Plans to rebuild the mill in 1958 and 1981 were never realized.

There were plans for development to occur on the property. In 1904 three developers from Jeffersonville planned an inter-urban trolley line between Charlestown and Madison, and would have placed a fifty-foot hydroelectric dam where the mill's dam would be, which would have made a 100-acre lake, for which could be use for public recreation. Engineers at the time decided it was not feasible. The plan was brought back in 1921, but it was also a failure. 1935 would see the last attempt of such a project, but while a new dam was finished in 1936, it produced no electricity. In 1940 rural electrification finally powered the property.

Scout camp

The property became a Scout camp in 1927. However, this did mean some improvement of the property. In 1942 the Scoutmaster's Cabin and Evergreen cabins were completed. In 1950 the McDonald Bridge was completed across Fourteen Mile Creek. In 1969 the property's swimming pool was built, as the creek was no longer safe to swim in. Since 1993 the property has thankfully seen less use, and the rough terrain protects it from development.[3]

On November 6, 1996, Andy Campbell, a ranger serving as the caretaker of the property was shot to death by Roger Caldwell, "a diagnosed, paranoid schizophrenic" who trespassed onto the property while drunk.[4] This was the first such incident in the history of Scouting.[5] Campbell was able to drag himself 50 feet to call 911. After police arrived on the scene to get information about the drunk from Campbell, they found Caldwell wandering on Ind-62. Caldwell was sentenced to 70 years in prison, with parole possible after 31 years.


There are many legends surrounding the property. One involves stepping on a particular step on the McDonald Bridge at night. If stepped upon, a ghost will chase you down to kill you unless you race up the hill before it catches you. Another legend is that a cache of gold is somewhere near the old mill. There is also reportedly a silver mine known to the Indians here. The ghost of John Work reportedly haunts the remains of the mill.


The property includes a cabin village, a swimming pool, and a dining hall built in 2000. The current dining hall replaced the one from the 1980s that once served as a steakhouse in Jeffersonville.

The Civil Air Patrol has used the property for training.[6]

The remains of mill became part of the National Register of Historical Places in 2001.[7]

External links

38°29′00″N 85°37′36″W / 38.4833°N 85.6267°W / 38.4833; -85.6267


  1. Baird's History of Clark County, Indiana, (1909) page 71
  2. Purlee pg90
  3. Tunnel Mill: the story of an historical grist mill and an historic Boy Scout camp by Gary D. Purlee (2005)
  4. Reynolds, Janna. "Caldwell receives 70 years for shooting of Tunnel Mill Ranger". reen Banner Publications. Retrieved 2006-09-03. 
  5. Purlee 2005