At one time, a walk across the bridge to Harmar would have included the sight of a huge building sitting just off to one side. Sounds of machinery and men’s voices would have emanated from the building, indicating all sorts of activity inside. The smell of coal smoke would waft through the air from the steam train laboriously making its way down the tracks laden with flour. The building was called Phoenix Mill.
For many years there was no mill at all at the mouth of the Muskingum and Marietta was reliant upon a mill at Devol’s Dam which ground very slowly. The first mill in Marietta was actually located in Harmar and built in 1811. The first Harmar Mill was organized by David Putnam, William Skinner, Levi Barber, Paul Fearing, Oliver Dodge and Benjamin Gilman. These important men lived in showcase homes in Harmar, some of which still stand today. (Learn more about the Fearing House at wchshistory.org). They built the first mill out of stone, and it was successful for a while, until more modern forms of power came into use. The property was sold to the Marietta Bucket Company in 1847.
The mill that became Phoenix Mill was located across from Harmar on the Marietta side. It was built in 1838 by John O. Cram. Originally, the land was a shipyard owned by the Marietta Ship Company and composed of John Mills, William and S. Slocomb, Bosworth and Wells, William R. Wells, John O. Cram, and A. T. Nye. They made about 6 ships before business was discontinued. Cram’s mill was then built on the land and was successfully operated for many years. John Oliver Cram was known as a man of great energy and a town leader. He was involved in many projects relating to the improvement of the town when he died at the young age of 48 on Nov 7, 1860. The firm then became Cram & Conley, and in 1865 changed its name to Conley, Hall & Co. The mill was in the meantime greatly enlarged and improved by the addition of modern machinery. The machinery was driven by water power transmitted by a turbine wheel fifty-two inches in diameter. During seasons of high water, steam was applied.
It sat directly above the outlet of ‘Mill Race’ creek that once ran in the alley between Front and Second Street. Mill Race was joined by Goose Creek, which still runs beneath Butler Street today. The mill was of great importance to the town. It predated the bridge across the Muskingum to Harmar and was capable of producing 300 barrels of flour per day and employed 20 men. In 1857, a covered walking bridge to Harmar was built and in 1873 the bridge was converted to rail.
Cram’s Mill, being a large wooden structure, burned 5 times throughout its history, including at least one time by arson, allegedly by William McBride. The building was later renamed ‘Phoenix Mill’. I like to think they renamed it this because it was continually ‘rising from the ashes’.
There were 2 back to back fires at the end of 1912. In October, a fire destroyed most of the building and word was put out that the company was determined to rebuild. After another fire in December destroyed their reconstruction efforts. In January of 1913 there was a large flood, and in March of 1913 the worst flood in Marietta’s history occurred. This flood wiped out the railroad bridge and many other structures in town. There were no further attempts to rebuild Phoenix Mill.