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Tacketts Mill Farm


Farm History

Tacketts Mill was originally settled as part of the Tackett (Tacquette) land grant in the late 1600s.  Tackett's Mill was one of the earliest mills in Stafford County and was originally built to serve the Huguenot populace that began settling Stafford County in the late 1600s.  According to tax records in Stafford County's public records the original land grant was in excess of 350 acres of land.  It may well have been much larger.  The mill and its surrounding property included a grist mill, a saw mill and a textile manufacturing mill as well as a school for girls and a store which was the only store that served the area during the middle parts of 19th century.  To this day the road that our farm faces is known as Tacketts Mill Road.  The original mill had an overshot wheel and was powered by water.  The crumbled stone foundation of the original mill still exists as do remnants of the mill race.   This mill also went by the names of Skinner's Mill (willed to Lawrence Skinner after Tackett's death and then owned by Peter Goolrick of Goolricks in Fredericksburg). This mill was considered the "center of the universe" in Stafford during the 1800s. It was such a huge part of Stafford County history and I'm surprised the only known remains are now located in Woodbridge, VA, in Prince William County.

The farm house dates to the 1850s and local legend says it was occupied by Union forces during the civil war. That is believable since large parts of Stafford County played unwelcome host to Yankee soldiers and Tacketts Mill and Farm are strategically located on Aquia Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River. The farm house sits on high ground above the creek and commands the approaches of Tacketts Mill Road. As far as we know this farm house is one of the only remaining structures from the original Tacketts Mill complex. 

Tacketts Mill, besides being a commercial enterprise, also describes the local area.  On February 27th, 1837, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act stating that a separate polling station will be opened “at a storehouse, near the mill called Tackett’s.”  In 1855-56 the Virginia General Assembly recognized Tacketts Mill as a separate voting precinct within Stafford County.  Also in 1856, Tacketts Mill is listed in the Post Office Directory.  David W. Combs is listed as the postmaster with an annual salary of $10.57.  It was listed again as a separate precinct in 1862 by the Commonwealth’s General Assembly, when Virginia was a Confederate State.  Even modern maps show the area as Tacketts Mill, in spite of the fact that there is no longer a mill or a separate voting precinct and the closest Post Office is in nearby Ruby. 

Tacketts Mill During the Civil War

We know that both Union and Confederate forces moved through this area and assume that the mill complex was alternately occupied by each.  A mill producing food, clothing and ammunition would be a strategic target for both sides.  John E. Tackett is listed in “Virginia at War, 1862,” by William C. Davis, James I. Robertson, as being one of 121 producers of woolen goods that could be used to clothe the Confederate Army.  There is mention in “Confederate Industry,” by Harold S. Wilson, that Tackett may have been commissioned to supply wool blankets for the Confederate Army.

My current research indicates that Wisconsin elements of the “Iron Brigade” of the Army of the Potomac arrived at Tacketts Mill in November, 1862, expecting to go into winter quarters, but were soon ordered south in the attack on Fredericksburg the following month, December, 1862.  They may have encamped just south of the mill and the bridge spanning Aquia Creek, which would be the area around our house and across the road from our house, now containing a widely spaced sub-division called Mill Brook.

Union dispatches from the civil war describe the area of Tacketts Mill as being on the outer, western edges of the Army of the Potomac’s Area of Occupation.  At that time the area was a virtual “no-man’s land”.  In April, 1864, a number of dispatches between Major General Philip Sheridan, Commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and Brigadier General Gregg, Commander of the Second US Cavalry Division in Warrenton, VA, ordered that US Cavalry scouts be sent to “the vicinity of Grove Church, United States Ford, Stafford Courthouse and Tackett’s Mill” to deal with “numerous rebel scouts,” and that, “Major General Meade is exceedingly anxious to have them driven from the country, killed, or captured, and directs the officer in command to be very vigilant, and to collect as much information as possible of the enemy.”  Numerous other dispatches from April, 1864, direct Union Cavalry to send scouts “as far out as Tackett’s Mills”, seeming to confirm the belief that Tacketts Mill was the outer edge of the area under Union control. 

A passage in volume 28 of Confederate Veteran Magazine, published in 1920, entitled “Scouting in Lee’s Army”, by William Johnson of Warrenton, VA, describes the author’s activities as a Confederate scout in 1863.  According to his story he crossed the Rappahannock River from Culpeper, VA, and met up with a number of other Confederate scouts at Tackett’s Mill.  From here he and another scout struck North with the intent to capture some Union troops, which they ultimately did. 

Far downstream on Aquia Creek from Tacketts Mill is Aquia Landing, a port on the Potomac River used extensively by Union forces as a logistics base and a power projection platform for Union forces moving south.  It was also a holding area for captured Confederate troops being sent north to more notable prison camps. 

Stafford County also played a major role in the Underground Railroad.  Stafford County was the goal for runaway slaves heading north along the Potomac towards Washington.  Once a fugitive crossed into Stafford County they were “free” because they knew Union forces would transport them north. 

Post-Civil War Tacketts Mill

Tacketts Mill appears in several post-war records in the Stafford County Courthouse tax and property records through the late 1800s.  Clearly, the mills continued to operate even in the deeply depressed reconstruction era.  In the December, 1892, edition of the Farm Journal, E. L. S. of Tacketts Mill, VA, (one of the Skinner family, perhaps?) wrote in to ask a question about raising chickens.  According to the Electrical Review, a national listing of telephone companies and telephone lines, Tacketts Mill received its first telephone line in 1905.  In 1910 Tacketts Mill is listed in the Virginia Department of Agriculture’s list of corn and wheat mills with a capacity of 100 bushels of corn meal per day.  In the same year the publication, “The Operative Miller” lists L. A. Skinner and Son, operators of Tacketts Mill, as having purchased a steel, overshot water wheel, 14 feet in diameter by 3 foot face, from the Fitz Water Wheel Company.  It is highly likely that this steel water wheel is the same one donated by the Emerts to the Tacketts Mill shopping center in Woodbridge, (which was subsequently never used) and is pictured on page 67 of “Stafford County, Then & Now”, by Anita L. Dodd and M. Amanda Lee.  In 1914, L. A. Skinner is listed by the Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth as the Constable of Tacketts Mill in the Rock Hill Magistrate. 

In 1942 the property was purchased by the Gutches family and the place was known as Gracewood.  At that time there was still no electricity in the area and the house was heated by the fireplaces and wood stoves and lighted with lanterns.  There was no indoor plumbing either.  The outhouse and well were still in use.  The mill was still standing, but in disrepair.  Mr. Gutches sold some lumber off of the land and as payment had the lumber cut to repair the mill, including the 12” x 12” support beams.  As it turned out, however, no one was willing to do the repair work.  He contacted all of the local historical societies and no one was interested in the mill.  Over the years the mill continued to deteriorate and eventually collapsed.  The lumber Mr. Gutches had prepared for the repair work stood outside and eventually rotted away.  The portion of the property the mill stood on was sold and the subsequent owners, the Ermerts, donated the mill’s remnants.    

Ghost Stories.

A neighbor told us a tale of a farmer who resided on the mill complex going out to meet the approaching Union Army during the Civil War.  According to the legend, the farmer was lynched from a nearby tree.  It is not known whether the farmer lived here or in one of the other nearby old houses. 

When Mr. Gutches purchased the house in 1942 a couple of sisters who lived nearby told him to be very careful as the house was haunted.  The house had stood empty for some time prior to Mr. Gutches purchasing the place, they said, and previous tenants had told them of being extremely frightened when dishes came flying from the cupboards and smashing on the floor.  Mr. Gutches and his family told of hearing footsteps in the house when no one was there and once, when Mr. Gutches was sleeping alone in the house he heard the distinct sound of someone walking around in the kitchen.  He went downstairs with a pistol and a flashlight (there was no electricity) and found no one in the house.  He opened the kitchen door and went outside to see if someone was out there.  He found no one, but upon returning to the kitchen door he found it locked from the inside!  There was no way to lock it from the outside as it was a screened door secured by a hook and eye.  It took some force to get the hook through the eye to secure the door, so there is no way it could have simply locked itself.  He was forced to let himself in through a ground floor window.  We have heard strange noises in the house as well, but we usually discount them as “old house noises”.  On one occasion, however, I heard the unmistakable sound of men talking in the one of the upstairs bedrooms.  I automatically assumed that the children had left their TV on when they left the house, so I went upstairs to turn it off.  When I opened the door to the room the TV was off and the room was quiet.  There was no other TV, radio or computer on that could have cause the voices and, try as I might, I could not come up with a logical explanation for the voices.  On another occasion my wife was laying in bed at night, everyone else was asleep, and she heard the faint sound of music playing.  She could not determine the exact type of music because it was very faint.  She determined that the children’s radio was off and there was no other explanation for the music.  We later learned from the Gutches family that there had been a Victrola in the living room and that on weekends during the summer the family used to play music together on the front porch.  When she heard about the Victrola she commented that the music sounded like old music one might expect to hear on a Victrola.  Not exactly enough evidence for us to call TAPS and have the Ghost Hunters film a show here, but interesting all the same.  Lots of old places have ghost stories, so why shouldn’t we?