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April 18, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham Mills: Payne’s Mill, Part I

SRR_Mary Payne_1954_1

Courtesy Richmond Times-Dispatch

Many Slate River Ramblings readers remember Mrs. Annie White and her mother, Mrs. Mary Cecelia Payne, who lived and worked at Payne’s Mill. Buckingham County was rarely the subject of feature articles in the Richmond newspapers; however, Mary Payne proved a lively exception. On December 3, 1954, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a lengthy article, written by Hamilton Crockford, entitled, “Buckingham County’s Woman Miller Finds ‘Daily Grind’ Just a Lot of Fun.”

Submitted from Centenary, the article’s dateline was December 2nd. It began by identifying Mary as N. Tom Payne’s widow. She was a mere seventy-six years young. Crockford insisted that she was the only “lady miller” anyone in Buckingham had ever heard of anywhere. Indeed, in 1954, she was the only miller of any kind remaining in the area. Crockford wrote:

Payne’s Mill sits down at the bottom of a lonely hill a few miles above this tiny spot; on the lonely road almost at the north edge of Buckingham County – almost, it seems, at the end of the world. A long jump and you’d be across the James River near Scottsville. It’s the only water powered mill running in the county, they say.

Mrs. Payne’s been running it, she reckoned, for 32 years.

What amazes her is, strangers still look amazed.

Why, it’s only one of the things she does since her husband died six years ago last March, she said. With a help of her daughter, Mrs. Annie White, the only other person on the place, she tends 26 head of Hereford cattle, 17 pigs, and 100 chickens, and looks after the whole 600 acres.

Then when they run out of something to do, they go down to the dam at the beautiful old mill pond stocked with fish, and fish.

Clearly the biggest joke Mary Payne ever heard was somebody’s idea that she should sell the place and clear out where she could take life easy.

“I have to live somewhere,” she allowed, “and as long as I can make a living here I might as well do it.”

Why, she practically married that mill, she said.

She was born Mary Cecilia Arnold in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and married Tom Payne, of Buckingham County, on the last day of 1900. According to Mary, “He had $6 and I had $11.”

Tom’s great grandfather built the dam and the first mill before the Civil War; however, three days after Mary’s wedding, the dam broke again and the mill washed away. A week later, she and Tom bought the site from his grandfather. (What did they purchased the mill with?)

Another three months went by and the Paynes had a little mill that ground cornmeal. Tom worked away from home; he was a “steam shovel man.” He wasn’t satisfied with the man he hired to run the mill. So, when their oldest son was ten years old, he was taught to run it. At the same time, Mary learned how to operate the mill. She raised five children, kept house, and filled in at the mill. She told the reporter that Tom used to say, “Mammy, can you run the mill a little while this morning?” Then he’d be gone all day!

Coming Next: Payne’s Mill, Part II

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