Dateline: 1923: Cyclone Destroys Lanier’s Mill

One of Pittsylvania County’s favorite places was completely destroyed by a violent tornado on April 23, 1923.  Here is a photograph of the aftermath:

Minnie Ola Scarce (1895-1960) snapped this picture of part of her family the day after the disaster at the ruins of the old mill.  Her father John Thomas “Tap” Scarce (1861-1936) was the miller at Lanier’s Mill when his first four children were born.  Tap married the former Lucy Emma Scearce (1868-1939) at Stewarts Creek Mill on March 15, 1888.  When their first child, Sallie Ethel Scarce (Winn) was born on May 7, 1890, Tap was the miller at this mill.  Three other children, Howard A. Scarce (1892-1923), Minnie Ola Scarce (Hubbard) (1895-1960), and Jennie Alice Scarce (Boaze) (b 1901), were born in the miller’s house across the road from the mill.  Jennie is the girl in the white dress in the picture.  A younger child, Geraldine F. Scarce (Braford) (b 1909), who was born at Payne’s Mill at Trelow on Sandy River, gave me this photograph.  Geraldine went with Tap and her sisters from their house on Claiborne Street in Danville on April 24, 1923 to see his old workplace.  Another sister Nellie Reaves Scarce (Yeatts) (b 1906 at Payne’s Mill) visited the ruins.

The “cyclone” left the sturdy building in total ruin.  Large twelve-by-twelve beams were twisted and broken like toothpicks.  Pieces of wood and tin were blown miles away.  The wind even destroyed the wing of the mill dam and drained one of the area’s most popular swimming places.    

Joe T. Law also remembered going to see the damage with his father Jim Law.  He was a fifteen-year-old at the time.  Joe said that the heavy four-foot-in-diameter millstone was thrown down Sandy Creek by the violent wind.  Joe lived on my mail route, not so far from Geraldine, before I retired in 1992.  They have since both died. 

Jim Slaughter reported that a barrel of flour landed on his farm after flying a mile and a half.There was a widow, Mrs. Bailey, who missed her favorite mild cow after the tornado.  Jim Slaughter, her neighbor, helped her search the surrounding area.  They heard a moo and found the animal lying in a ditch with two broken legs.  Mrs. Bailey refused to “put the animal out of it misery,” as thought to be the only option.  With a horse and sled, the neighbors drug the cow back to her stable.  The Veterinarian came and constructed a canvas sling with holes for the cow’s feet and a hole to allow milking.  Mrs. Bailey fed, watered and milked the cow until it recovered.

The first mill at this site on Sandy Creek was built in 1788.  In February of 1881, William S. Lanier and Rawley Robertson were granted a permit to build a mill at this site.  The mill became known as Lanier’s Mill and Rawley Robertson operated a store in the area.  The mill site was called “Gray’s old mill site” when Lanier and Robertson bought the property.  The location in upstream of state road 863 (now called Lanier’s Mill Road) on Sandy Creek.  Down Sandy Creek just over four miles (as the crow flies) is the site of the well-known Beavers’ Mill.  See the site for pictures and information about that mill.  

Copyright 2008 Danny Ricketts

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