The Battle at Van Nest’s Mills

van nest's millsPHOTO BY: WILLIAM W. TETLOW (around 1910)
ONE OF THE BUILDINGS FROM THE OLD VAN NEST’S MILLS WAS LOCATED RIGHT AFTER THE WILBUR SMITH BRIDGE HEADING OUT OF TOWN ON THE MANVILLE WESTON CAUSEWAY ON THE LEFT… IT’S PICTURED ABOVE, ALTHOUGH THE ACTUALLY BUILDING THAT WAS ROBBED BY THE BRITISH ARMY MAY HAVE BEEN SLIGHTLY UPSTREAM.

In the pre-Manville Weston days the most important event that probably ever happened was the ever famous “Battle of Millstone” or “Battle for Van Nest’s Mills” Actually in my travels amongst the the information superhighway the name Van Nest or Van Neste has popped up quite a bit. When I started to understand that Van Nest Mills was along the Millstone, memory beckoned and I thought EUREKA! I HAVE BEEN THERE! When I was a young kid my grandfather used to fish off of the old Millstone bridge, the mill was still there in the early 80′s (or what was left of it) he used to explain to me the importance of the area and as a young guy I don’t think I really got it. However, I do remember the old water turbine in the building after it collapsed… when you’re a kid the prospect of creating power by water is like mindblowing. At the time I had never seen anything like it. When the building collapsed in 1982 I remember being bummed because i loved the place, if I had only realized what a blow it really was for history. The Van Nest Mills was believed to have been built around 1740. On January 20th 1777 it was the site of the famous Battle of Van Nest’s Mills” in which the British, being low on rations, tried to rob the mill of flour to feed their troops. Much to the dismay of the British the Continental army of 450 men including 50 Pennsylvania Riflemen were wading across the freezing January water of the Millstone  to avoid the defense cannons the british had set up on the bridge and intercept the goods, which they eventually did. Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson reported that the Patriots captured “107 horses, 49 wagons, 115 cattle, 70 sheep, 40 barrels of flour – 106 bags and many other things.” They also took 49 prisoners. General Washington reported to John Hancock that the British removed “a good many dead and wounded in light Waggons,” estimated to be 24 or 25 in total compared to the 4 or 5 losses sustained by the Patriots. From what i can gather from random articles on the actual Mill, it was later known as “Bayards Mill” and then””Rodger’s Mill” named after each of the owners. Beginning in the 1920′s it was owned by Wilbur Smith, in 1982 it collapsed, and in 1983 a fire burned the remanants to it’s foundation.

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10 thoughts on “The Battle at Van Nest’s Mills

  1. I believe you’re wrong with the location of the mill. The mill in the photo was owned by Wilbur Smith but the mill fought near was up river about 1/2 mile. More or less across from the Sacred Heart Cemetary. Nothing is left or the mill or dam but the millrace is still there if you know what you’re looking for.
    Furthermore, Wilbur’s mill didn’t have a water wheel. The mechanism for producing the power was a turbine affair.

    • hmm, i got that info from the Franklin Times who i guess were perhaps uninformed. are you 100% thats not the correct place?
      http://www.franklintwpnj.org/Final_Winter2007Newsletter.pdf
      In reguards to the waterwheel, when i saw the building it was after the building had collapsed… and your right about the turbine because as i recall now the mechanism was inside the bottom of the builing. The thing that struck me then was all the machinery that made it work, i guess i just assumed that it was a wheel since i only vaguely remembered. How can i find this old millrace… is it in someones backyard?

      you have any other local history you want to unleash… id love to hear it.

    • also, its always referred to as “Mills” it’s plural alluding to the fact that there must have been more than one. i wonder if the property at the time spanned across both locations. I also vaguely remember there being like a rundown house across the street from the mill i have pictured. maybe it was one big farm.

  2. The find the mill race for the mill upstream of the causeway mill you’d need a boat.It’s hard to find as it’s just like a little stream coming into the Millstone river. It’s up past the Manville Rod & Gun club where the water gets very shallow. I have seen it a few times but I never saw any mill remains.

  3. If you stunk at fishing,any moron could catch fish inside the mill.I spent many a day drowning worms in there.The stone millwheel and the gears were all intact when I was in there-I believe Doria in ’71 or ’72 did the first horrible damage-the water was up to the second floor windows.The mill had a very bad lean off the stones then-dangerous to be in.

    Once in a while Wilbur would come around and yell at us kids,but he basically didn’t give a damn.He was 70 or 80 then-we would go to his barn across the street to see his Model T and other jalopies.

    Did anybody else here get shot at picking watermelons,pumpkins ,corn and strawberries there?

    Was always a scary thing hearing of guys with salt shot into their buttocks from The Holy Rollers defending the stuff.

  4. I used to pick strawberries there.They paid me 10 cents a quart. Unfortunately it was near the end of the growing season so I think the most I made is a day was 40 cents. Wilbur had some wild old cars in that barn. I remember a 1909 Rambler with the stick steering. Also remember seeing an 1920something Oldsmobile touring car with little glass vases hanging inside for fresh flowers. Also been shot at when we crossed the river down by Selody’s field.
    The big damage to the mill was when someone(I won’t mention names) torched it.

  5. Pingback: Van Nest’s Mills « Manville, NJ … Revolution on the Millstone

  6. I grew up in Lost Valley and that area of the Millstone river is where I spent many hours of my youth swimming, fishing and camping. The mill pictured is the one where the battle was fought. In the early 60′s when I was in jr high I worked for Selody’s sod farm which ran along the Millstone River in Lost Valley. One day when we were cutting sod
    in the area where the river and the brook meet by the mill we uncovered and old musket after we lifted up some of the sod we had cut. That musket may have been from that battle.
    According to the history I read there were 2 brothers who originally built 2 mills one in what is now Manville and the other upstream in
    Blackwells Mill. The one in Manville was later bought by Van Neste.
    Here is a link to an article about the battle.
    http://www.myrevolutionarywar.com/battles/770120-millstone/

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