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The History of the Osceola Mill House

Osceola Mill House DrawingThis area of eastern Lancaster County is known as the Pequea Valley for the Pequea Creek which winds throughout the county, surrounds our house on three sides, and empties into the Susquehanna River around what is now known as Holtwood.  The earliest of the inhabitants of the land were the Conestoga Tribe of Native Americans who were said to be a peaceful tribe who traded with the European settlers and converted very early to Christianity. The Pequea Valley was included in the original land grant when King Charles II conveyed all of Pennsylvania to William Penn on March 4 1681.  European settlers quickly arrived in the new colony, most of them seeking the religious freedom promised by Penn.  Upon accepting the charter Penn jubilantly wrote, “It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.” The Huguenots settled in nearby Paradise, but the majority of the Valley became the new home for the Swiss-German Mennonite and Amish colonists.

The first owners of the 120 acres of land just south of the Pequea Creek were George MacKerel and his wife Agnes who purchased the land on July 14, 1741.  The deed for the land was conveyed by John, Thomas and Richard Penn – three of William Penn’s sons. The land remained largely undeveloped and transferred twice over the next fifteen years until purchased on June 8, 1756, by Samuel Patterson who already owned some of the surrounding acreages in the Valley.  At about the same time Patterson also secured the water rights to the Pequea Creek from John Huston who owned the land just to the north side of the creek.  Patterson’s plan was to build a dam and flood the land upstream to create a millpond.  The ruins of this dam can still be seen across the creek just to the east of the house.  It was Samuel Patterson who in 1756 built the original grist mill which still stands next door to us.

Unfortunately, Samuel Patterson did not live long after building the mill.  Orphans Court records show that in 1758 the executors of Patterson’s estate – James Patterson and Matthew Slaymaker – sold the 120 acres of land, the grist mill, the water rights, and various houses and other buildings to Jacob Ludwig (sometimes spelled Ludwick) and his wife Elizabeth.

Osceola Mill House Peak StoneIt was Jacob and Elizabeth who in 1766 built the “Mill House Mansion” as their family home.  If you carefully step out onto Osceola Mill Road and look up to the peak of the west-facing wall, you can see the date stone there that reads “JL.W.E.1766” which means “Jacob Ludwig and his wife Elizabeth in 1766” . The house was built of locally-mined limestone in a fine Georgian style. Our Gathering Room was their kitchen or great room with its walk-in hearth and baking ovens.  The Living Room and Dining Room with their detailed mantel and woodwork, are thought to be original to the home.  The second floor held three bedrooms – what is now The Blue Room and the two bathrooms, The Rose Room and bath, and The Green Room.  There is an unsubstantiated legend handed down to us that when he finished building the mansion and moved his family into it, Jacob was visited by the local Church Elders who told him that the house was a bit too fancy for a good Mennonite family and that he should tear it down and start over.  Gratefully, he apparently declined and left the Church instead.

The Ludwigs had three children, Jacob, Catherine and Elizabeth who were raised in the house.  Land records show that on May 21, 1783 Jacob and Elizabeth Ludwig sold the property to Catherine and her husband George Eckert.    George Eckert is said to have expanded both his property holdings surrounding the creek as well as the milling business itself.  Assessment lists from 1783 through 1796 list the property of George Eckert as including a grist mill, sawmills, a forge,  several horses, cattle and a female servant.  Their son, George Eckert, Jr. is noted in local history as an industrialist and quite a wealthy man who used his inherited property and more importantly the inherited water rights to increase his wealth and prominence.

The property was divided over time, but the bulk of the holdings were transferred through the Eckert family for several generations until sold on April 1, 1868 to Israel and Nancy Rohrer.  The property transferred at that time included “31 acres of land, a grist mill, sawmill, plaster mill, a two-story stone house, stone barn, two tenant houses, two stables and water rights”. Unfortunately, that period was not a good economic period for the State of Pennsylvania.  Much of the mining and milling business was leaving the State and going out West, leaving Pennsylvania businesses in dire straits.  Israel and Nancy Rohrer lost the property in 1874 to foreclosure in a public sale to David Landis for $17,500.  Curiously, David Landis resold the property four days later to Martin Rohrer (a relative?) .

Osceola MillIt appears that the mill and property never regained the prosperity once enjoyed under the Ludwig and Eckert Family.  Over the next one hundred years the property was transferred, divided, sold and inherited, often for less than the original purchase price.  By 1980, the mill, the foreman’s house across the road, and the Mill House Mansion were all separately deeded.  The Mill was closed and the building was in total disrepair and in danger of being raised.  It was purchased and lovingly restored as a private residence by Charles Shoemaker who remains the current owner.  The foreman’s house was purchased by Dr. Edward Frost, a New York City dentist, and his wife who used it as their county get-a-way until he sold it in 2013 to a local Amish neighbor.  The Mill House Mansion and approximately one acre of land continued to be a private residence until it was converted to a Bed and Breakfast in the mid-1980s.  Several owners have lovingly restored and cared for the home over the years until we bought the Mill House in 2006.

We feel grateful and blessed to be able to be the stewards of this historic home for a period of time.  It is our pleasure to continue the loving care of the property and to share it with you, our guests.  May you feel the peace and comfort that she has given to families and guests for more than 240 years.

…And So Where Did That Name Come From…?

If some of you have traveled through the State of Florida, you will recognize the name Osceola as one which is quite common down there, but not often seen up here in Pennsylvania.  How did the Mill come to be named as it is?

History tells us that the original name of the Mill was Springwell Forge, so named by George Eckert in the late 1700s.  In The History of Lancaster County first published in 1883 by Frank Ellis and Samuel Evans, the name was changed to The Osceola Mill by Martin Rohrer, who purchased the property in 1875.  To date we have not been able to document why he changed the name – so we can only speculate and share the stories that have been passed down to us.

Painting by Dolores HackenbergerChief Osceola was a Seminole who grew in reputation throughout the United States in the mid-1800s for his resistance and leadership during the Second Seminole War.  He was born in Georgia about 1804, and his family moved to Florida when he was four years old.  He would have grown up during the First Seminole War, learning from tribal leaders about the resistance to Andrew Jackson and the US government’s takeover of Native American land.   By 1832, Osceola was a major leader of the Seminole Nation, when the United States offered them a treaty to acquire the land in return for relocation to Oklahoma and peace.  Called The Treaty of Payne’s Landing, the agreement was favored by many of the Seminole leaders, but not Osceola.  In a much-dramatized account, Osceola rose and plunged his dagger through the agreement, saying “This is the only treaty that I will sign with the whites”.   He was imprisoned for his insolence but was later released when he pretended to acquiesce and support the agreement.  By December 1832, the Second Seminole War had begun, led by Osceola.  While the Chief knew that the Seminole warriors were no match for the white army, for several years he bravely led the resistance from the Seminole base far into the Everglades.  In October 1837, Osceola was invited to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, supposedly to negotiate a truce and put an end to the conflict.  But the invitation was a ruse, and Osceola was immediately captured and imprisoned.  He was later moved to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina where he died  – probably of malaria – only a few months later.

While in prison at Fort Moultrie, the uproar over the deceitful method of Osceola’s capture grew across the nation.  Osceola was visited by many prominent townspeople, included painters George Catlin and Robert Curtis who painted the famous portraits of the Chief which quickly circulated throughout the land and raised the level of the furor.  We can only speculate that the news of the controversy spread up here to Pennsylvania, where the support of the oppressed people of the South, including the Underground Railroad, has a long and prominent history.  It is not hard to imagine the natural inclination of Martin Rohrer in 1875 to honor this legendary Seminole by naming his newly acquired property and business The Osceola Mill.        

Patricia Ernst, March 7, 2010

Updated January 2018