Originally known for its public tobacco warehouses and iron foundry, in the second half of the 18th century Occoquan also became a center for the processing of grain, particularly wheat farmed in the surrounding backcountry. John Ballendine built the town's first two grist mills, the Country Mill and the larger Merchants' Mill during the 1750s. Both were water powered, and the section of iron conduit in front of you was once part of the system that harnessed the energy of the Occoquan River to operate them.
Water diverted from upriver flowed through a man-made sluice, or race, regulated by a series of floodgates, until reaching a holding tank located across Mill Street. Operators released water from the tank as needed, channeling it under the road through a stretch of iron conduit. Emerging with force, the water powered the mill wheels before eventually tumbling back into the river at a point along the riverbank adjacent to where you are standing. In 2004, workers constructing the cul-de-sac behind you discovered this segment of conduit that once carried water under Mill Street.
As the first half of the 19th century drew to a close, the silting of the Occoquan River and the growth of rail transport combined to reduce Occoquan's utility as an industrial center. The Merchants' Mill (later known variously as Ellicott's Mill and Janney's Mill) forged on, however, remaining active until destroyed by fire in 1924. Today all that remains is the small Miller's House to your right and some stone ruins visible near the waters' edge.
(Caption under small center picture) Merchants' Mill - 1863
(Caption under picture in upper right) Artist's Rendition of Merchants' Mill
(Caption under picture in lower right) Merchants' and Country Mills and 1878 Bridge
(Sidebar in yellow box, bottom center)
Historic Occoquan, Inc., 2007
This display was funded in part by a grant from the Prince William County Historical Commission.