|Towash Mill replica, Whitney Area Museum|
Except for the memories and the descendants of early pioneers, there is not much that now remains of the once thriving community of Towash, inundated in the early 1950’s by Lake Whitney. All that is left are relics from the original Towash Baptist Church and a historical marker at Lake Whitney State Park, near where the town once stood.
The community was named for Chief Towash of the Hainai Indian tribe, one of the three peaceful tribes to settle on the eastern shore of the Brazos River around 1835. It was originally supposed to be the site of Fort Graham, but an Army official decided instead to move the fort six miles upstream.
In 1854 Simpson Cash Dyer and his brother James Harrison Dyer built one of the first mills west of the Mississippi River at Towash. Soon after, the Dyer brothers and forty-three other residents of the area petitioned the Texas Legislature for permission to build the first dam on the Brazos. On December 13, 1855, a Senate committee responded affirmatively as follows:
"The committee on Public Lands to whom was referred the petition of Sunday Citizens of Hill County asking that Legislation permission be granted to S. C. Dyer & J. H. Dyer to construct and build a flouring mill upon the Brazos River in said County and to be permitted to erect a dam across said river for the purpose of facilitating the operating of said machinery; your Committee has considered the matter presented, and has come to the conclusion that if the construction of said machinery and dam is not a public nuisance, or would not become so by producing stagnant water, and hereby causing disease among the people of the neighborhood, nor disturb navigation on said river by the erection of said dam that there is no need to Legislation interposing and therefore report said memorial back to the Senate and ask to be discharged of the subject, believing it to be expedient to grant the prayer of the memorial."
When summer came around and the river was low, trees along the riverbank were cut down and hauled out to the dry riverbed with teams of oxen. The trees were set side-by-side close together, with their bases buried downstream. The branches were then partially cut and interwoven among each other. When the spring rains came, this mass of boughs let the water through but held the sand and gravel, thus forming the dam which directed water to the Dyers’ mill.
|Towash Mill social gathering, c. 1890's|
The mill was used to grind wheat and corn into flour and meal. Advertisements for the mill as far away as Mississippi brought new settlers to the area. The mill regularly employed more than fifty people, and operated around the clock, closing only from midnight Saturday until midnight Sunday.
Towash Mill became a social center. People came from miles around to mill their grain. Wagons sometimes had to wait two or three days. While they waited, the farmers visited, discussed the news of the day and listened to impromptu fiddle music.
In 1860, a carding machine was added. During the Civil War, women traveled a hundred miles to have their wool carded at Towash for weaving into clothes and blankets for the soldiers.
The town thrived initially. There were eight or nine stores, a blacksmith shop, a cotton gin, wagon yards, a post office and a church. The location of the mill on the Brazos River made it a popular place for young couples to visit on a Sunday afternoon.
The original Towash Baptist Church was constructed in 1856. Nearly a century later, a replica was built a few miles east when it became known that the original site was to be flooded by Lake Whitney. Church members saved the old bell, hand-hewn rostrum, banister, Bible, and church records.
Although Lake Whitney dealt the final blow to the town, Towash, like many towns in Hill County, began to decline when the railroad bypassed it in the 1880’s. The post office and several stores moved a short distance east to the new railroad town of Whitney. Nearly twenty years later in 1908, a flood destroyed the mill and did extensive damage to the town, devastating the once prosperous community on the banks of the Brazos.