The first grist mill on the Coal River was built sometime in the first decade of the 19th century. The most recent mill was built in 1884 by Roman Pickens. The foundation of this grist mill, and the dam that helped power it, can still be seen today.
According to the book Tornado
Remembers: Upper Falls of Coal River 1788-1988, sometime between the years
1801 and 1812, the first grist mill was built on the Coal River. It was built by James and Hamlin Ballard for
Joseph Thomas at what was then known as the Falls of Coal, now Tornado. The building was constructed of round logs,
on a foundation of stone and had one tub wheel.
It only ground corn.
In 1884, Roman Pickens bought land in Tornado and built a
mill. This mill and the first bridge in
Tornado were both built by Pike Trowbridge of St. Albans. Corn and wheat, flour
and middling, were ground at the Pickens mill and people brought their goods in
animal pulled wagons from all over the area, from as far away as fifty miles,
to get their grain ground there.
The mill was managed by various men until Roman Pickens’
death in 1922. After that, until 1930,
James Wisman, Pickens’ son-in-law operated the mill with the help of George
Washington Stumm, a veteran of the mill trade who had helped set up mills all
over the world.
The mill worked on the concept of a turbine wheel that
received its power from water falling through the channel under the mill. The corn meal made by the mill was marketed
under the name “Bob White.” By the
middle of the 20th century, other ways of making corn meal and flour
had become available and the structure had become unsafe with remodeling being
impractical so, in 1953, the mill was torn down. (Tornado
Remembers. pgs. 18-9) Some of the
foundation of the mill can still be seen at Upper Falls in Tornado today.