John Williams, a Geauga County resident in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is our case study for documenting a life in Geauga County, using GCPL resources. Per the previous blog, the 1910 census lists John as a miller, living on North Hambden Street in Chardon with his wife, Harriet, and son, Alva. The census does not indicate the mill’s location. Was it behind the family home, on a stream or in another township? To visualize the Williams family setting, locate the home and mill on maps. Geauga County land owner maps (aka tax maps) show landowners’ names, locations and acreage. Digital versions for the years 1820 to 1998 can be searched on the Allyn Room’s genealogy server. Geauga County maps are intermittent until 1973, then annual. Hard copy land owner indexes exist for 1820/30. Atlases, with their indexes, can also be searched in the Allyn Room for 1857, 1874 and 1900.  By 1900, John’s father, Heman Williams, also a miller, appears on Geauga County Landowner Maps for 1820 and 1830. Heman owned 186 acres in Concord (now part of Lake County), straddling Big Creek, where John lived as a child. The 1857 and 1874 atlases depict the exact location of Heman Williams’ mills with small squares opposite each other on the banks of Big Creek, along with the term “G Mill.” The 1900 Geauga County Atlas shows John’s flour mill on Center Street in Chardon and his home property a few blocks east, where Center Street becomes North Hambden Street.

GCPL subscribes to the Ohio Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (late 1800s to 1960s). Created for the use of insurance companies, the maps depict owner, location, structure and use of buildings in many U. S. cities. Chardon is the only Geauga County town listed. To see several different years for Chardon, go to the GCPL website, click on “Resources and Research,” then scroll to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Enter “Chardon” in the search field. John’s flour mill appears in 1904 (Sheet #1) and 1911 (Sheet #1).

John Williams’ flour mill is along the railroad tracks. The 1900 Atlas even shows a spur from John’s mill to the tracks. The details of the mills depicted on the various maps underscores changes in technology the family experienced from 1820 to 1911. Big Creek ran through Heman’s lot and powered the water wheels for his mills showing on maps from 1820 through 1874. In 1900, John’s steam-powered mill in Chardon was located along the railroad, to bring in whole grain and coal, then take out flour to distant markets. The 1911 Sanborn map labels the corn cracker, the feed grinder, the flour sifter, the coal bin and the separator. Although wired for electric, the mill has no lights. But fire walls and iron doors provide safety features. Maps provide rich details!

Cheryl McClellan is a genealogist at the Chardon Branch.