Chrisman Mill, Chrisman Mill Pike, Built in 1775
History & Heritage

Welcome to Chrisman Mill Vineyards!

Tucked away in the rolling hills of the Bluegrass, our estate in Jessamine County, Kentucky is settled only a few short miles from the first commercial vineyard and winery in America!

Kentucky’s mild climate and limestone soil replicates conditions in successful grape-growing regions across the world. Kentucky soil produces excellent wine grapes when varietals that thrive in our terrain are chosen for planting. Our wines have heart! At Chrisman Mill Vineyards, we are Kentucky Proud with 100 percent of our grapes being grown in our own vineyard or from a local farm families across the state. Our estate focuses on Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chancellor, Cabernet Franc and Norton.

We enjoy sharing our unique estate and garden fresh Tapas for your special events. Chrisman Mills Vineyards has over 15 years experience creating personal events for memorable retirements, birthdays and anniversaries. Our Award Winning Catering features choices for your event from our Chef’s eclectic specialties to down home local favorites. Let us make your special day one to remember!

Kentucky's Winemaking History

Check our this little history lesson on The First Vineyard in Kentucky provided by History by Zim.

The Story of the Old Chrisman Grist Mill

We often field questions at the tasting room concerning the origin of our winery’s name. As the name suggests, there was a long-standing and important grist mill in our area of southeastern Jessamine County, Kentucky that at one time was named Chrisman Mill. From the inception of our winery in 1997, we have been captivated by the sense of history, community and connection to the earth that grist mills represent in the landscape of what it means to live in Kentucky, so we decided to name our winery after this local historical landmark. We are proud of our land’s history and feel a commitment to preserve the memory of days gone by. The following history of Chrisman Mill was constructed from Jessamine County historical texts and records, as well as an interview with Robert Clay Watts, the last person to operate the mill until its demise in the late 1950’s.

Grist mills were, in their time, an important source of corn meal and flour for the communities in which they were located. But they also were public gathering places that, with time, became a nucleus around which schools, churches, businesses and entire communities were built. Thanks to a preponderance of springs, creeks and streams, as well as its proximity to the Kentucky River, Jessamine County has been home to a bountiful number of water-powered grist mills. The majority of the grist mills in Jessamine County were built in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s as the earliest pioneers were settling the area. The basic grist mill was a simple wood and/or stone building generally positioned next to- or directly over a flowing stream or creek. Integral to the grist mill was a wooden wheel or turbine positioned so that the resistance created by water flowing across its surface forced the turbine to turn a wooden shaft. The wooden shaft was attached to a set of two large, thick, round milling stones, one placed directly over the other. Corn and wheat were introduced into the small space between the two stones, and as one stone turned upon the other, the grains were ground into corn meal and flour, respectively. The quality and texture of the ground meal was regulated by adjusting the space between the two stones by a simple lifting mechanism. Settlers would harvest and transport their corn and wheat to the grist mill by horse and buggy, and later by Model T and Model A automobiles, paying a fee to the miller for grinding them into meal and flower. The miller would keep a portion of the milled four or meal called the “toll”. At Chrisman Mill, the toll was collected in a shallow, square wooden bowl called the toll dish. The most elemental working parts of the grist mill, the mill stones, were quarried from granite and other hard stone sources both in the U.S. and abroad. Due to the erratic and ever-fluctuating water level of the creek powering a grist mill, it was necessary for the millwright to protect the mill house from floods and inadequate water flow during dry periods and drought. In order to provide a consistent source of flowing water to drive the mill turbines and stones, the miller constructed a mill pond with a diversion canal called the mill race for directing the flow of water to the mill. The flow of water through the canal could be controlled by the use of a water gate or gates which could be opened or closed at the desire of the miller. At Chrisman Mill, a mill dam located approximately 200 yards upstream from the mill was used to provide a steady flow of water to the mill. The dam was largely washed out in a tremendous flood in 1932, requiring rebuilding of the dam with large stones and concrete. The mill had a large, 1-cylinder gas-powered engine to run the mill during times when the water levels in Hickman Creek did not allow water to power the mill. It took two men to start the engine. In the flood of 1932, 6 feet of water in the mill ruined the engine, which had to be replaced. Large gunny sacks of various grains stored in the mill were given credit for preventing the mill from washing away in the flood.

Chrisman Mill not only served the needs of farmers to mill their grain, but also the need for chicken feed and even for moonshiners. The miller could set the stones to grind corn in just the right way for making moonshine. Some of the best clients of the mill were Jessamine County moonshiners. The mill dam and pond on Hickman Creek was a gathering spot in the summer. Swimmers came from all around to bathe in the cool waters of Hickman Creek. The mill owner sold soft drinks and rented bathing suits to locals and tourists from all around. Clay Watts remembers attaching a steel cable to a large tree overhanging the pond so that he and others could swing out over the pond and drop into its waters.

The history of Chrisman Mill is a long and interesting one. The mill was originally constructed by Jacob Hunter Sr., one of the earliest settlers of Jessamine County. He was born in 1753 in Rowan County, North Carolina, son to Charles Hunter Sr., one of the earliest settlers of Boonesboro, Kentucky. According to historical records, Jacob Hunter Sr. came to Boonesboro with his two brothers, John and Samuel, in 1778. He was a millwright by trade, but also served time as a Revolutionary War soldier (w.9046). In 1779 he floated down the Kentucky River from Boonesboro, selecting 800 acres of land comprising a corridor along Hickman Creek, extending to the Kentucky River, including Boone’s Ferry, as the property that he would later develop. He also established a separate 200-acre plantation at Marble Creek in Jessamine County where he kept slaves. On the Marble Creek plantation were large orchards where he grew apples, which were used for distillation into apple brandy. Of historical note, Hunter’s son, Joseph, was the first white child born (in 1780) in Jessamine County and the fourth in the state of Kentucky. According to historical markers, Hunter served as a garrison guard and Indian spy at Boone’s Station where he entered U.S. military service in 1780. Under George Rogers Clark, he participated in raids at Old Chillicothe and Piqua, and marched with Benjamin Logan to reinforce troops at the Battle of Blue Licks where he joined survivors in burying the dead soldiers after the battle.

At the conclusion of his military service to his country, Hunter selected a site on his original 800-acre tract on Hickman Creek about 7 miles upstream from the point where the creek joins the Kentucky River and set about constructing his mill in 1779. He procured two sets of millstones (French burrs) which were brought over from France by ship, hauled to Boonesboro by wagon train across the mountains of eastern Kentucky and then floated down the Kentucky River to Hickman Creek. The original mill structure was built using hand-hewn logs, the floor consisting of yellow poplar. The walls of the mill were later covered with weather boarding. The structure had a hexagon-shaped roof and was comprised of three stories, including a basement where the mill engine was housed. According to Robert Clay Watts, the mill used an undershot turbine mechanism, with water being directed to the turbine through a narrow, deep, stone-lined canal called the flow bay located just below and next to the mill. Flour produced at the mill passed into a hexagon reel covered with silk, called a bolting cloth. Whole wheat flour, corn meal, bran and shorts were made at the mill daily.

Jacob Hunter Sr. operated the mill on Hickman Creek for several years following its construction. He sold 30 acres of land including the mill to Hugh Chrisman, the man for whom the mill was then named (and the name by which the mill and the road passing the site are presently known), on July 18, 1803 for $50. It was about this time that the road leading from Nicholasville to the mill site at Hickman Creek was surveyed and laid. The road was accordingly named Chrisman Mill Pike. Jacob Hunter Sr. moved from Jessamine to Fayette County, and then to Owen County, Kentucky in 1817 where he lived on Big Twin Creek, operating a water mill and a lumber mill until his death in 1856 at 103 years of age. He was buried near the creek but his gravestone in later years was moved by the Daughters of the American Revolution and placed in the Owenton, Kentucky Cemetery. Hugh Chrisman operated the mill on Hickman Creek until his death on September 14, 1849. The mill was inherited by his son and heir, Henry M. Chrisman and Andrew Hemphill, the executors of his estate. Henry Chrisman sold the mill to Henry C. Potts on November 1, 1871 for $2460. Potts, in turn, sold the 17 acres, 3 rods containing the water and grist mill to Daniel Gribney and his wife Susan, descendents of Jacob Hunter Sr., on December 19, 1881. J.F. Sagerser and wife Lucy bought the mill in 1885 and then sold it to John M. Taylor in 1900. In May of 1900 John Taylor sold the 17 acres, 3 rods and 26 poles to R.H. Quinn for $1900 cash. The mill was conveyed to W. W. Quinn on May 22, 1900 and became the Quinn Mill. Subsequently, William Quinn and wife Rodie sold the land for $1 to Herman Elisteen Watts and the mill became known as Watt’s Mill. Herman Watts worked at the mill on Sugar Creek, also in Jessamine County. The mill was operated by Mr. Watts and his son Letcher Ammon Watts, who also was a miller at Union Mill, until 1944 when Herman Watts died. Finally, sometime in the 1950’s, Letcher Watts hired Thomas Mackey to tear the mill down, and the woods reclaimed this historic ground.

Herman Watts was an avid fiddle player, fisherman, hunter and trapper. He was a self-taught taxidermist, skinning and preserving trophy fish, hides of foxes and other animals, as well as the skin of a diamondback rattlesnake that he killed one morning in Florida with his walking stick. He traveled each winter to Florida to go fishing. Very little got in the way of his fishing trips.

The only present-day remnants of Chrisman Mill are the mill pond, the mill race leading from the pond to the mill site, the stone foundations of the mill and the stone flow bay used to direct water to the turbine under the floor of the old mill. The mill pond lay approximately 150 yards up stream (North) from the actual mill site. Some local residents can recall fond memories of swimming in the old pond, and many people in previous times were baptized in its waters. An excavated channel leads from the pond, it’s initial portion covered by the present-day Chrisman Mill Road bed, only to re-emerge on the west side of the road to run just to the west and along side Chrisman Mill Road, eventually leading to the old mill site ruins along side the road. These features are completely obscured from view from Chrisman Mill Road by a woody thicket during the summer months, but they may be clearly seen during the winter when the leaves fall from the trees. The beautifully-hewn and stacked stone features that formed the mill foundation as well as the latter portion of the diversion channel leading to the mill’s turbine may still clearly be seen at the site. The turbine itself, the canal water gates and all above-ground wooden mill house structural elements have long-since disappeared, leaving only the attractive old stones to mark the location of the once-busy mill. Interestingly, next to the old stone canal that at one time underlay the mill is a long, narrow elevated stone and concrete trough that provided drinking water for the horses that carried farmers, their wagons and their grain to the mill. According to Robert Clay Watts, the trough was also used as a holding tank for fish caught from Hickman Creek and the Kentucky River by Herman and Letcher Watts. They would often offer fresh fish to their mill customers. The trough was fed by a spring on the Quinn property across the road and up the hill from the mill.

In the fall of 2005, the property on which the mill ruins lie as well as the large farmhouse next to the site was sold. Prior to the actual sale of the property and by special arrangement with the property’s heir (Sherry McMillan), we were graciously given permission to transport the last remaining sectioned millstone to our vineyard and winery, located on a sloping hillside terrace above Hickman Creek, approximately ¼ mile south of the old mill site. We are proud to have the opportunity to restore and display this wonderful piece of our county’s history in order to preserve the rich heritage of Chrisman Mill and to honor the memory of the earliest settlers who walked the lands that we now call home. The original Chrisman Mill millstone is on display at the winery each day during business hours. We welcome visitors and would love to hear from anyone with a fond recollection, photo or story to tell about the old mill that they would like to share with us so that we may add to the rich heritage of Chrisman Mill.

~Chris Nelson

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We are OPEN on Fridays & Saturday from 11am-9pm- serving lunch and dinner. Also check out our organic bakery and coffee bar!

Phone: 859.264.9463