Wednesday, 30 August 2017 00:47

A History of Richmond County: It Leaks Fresh Water like a Sieve

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Falling Creek, at the site of the ruins of Great Falls Mill, west of Rockingham, gushes in a waterfall 43 feet before flowing into Hitchcock Creek. Falling Creek, at the site of the ruins of Great Falls Mill, west of Rockingham, gushes in a waterfall 43 feet before flowing into Hitchcock Creek. Photo courtesy of Richmond County Historical Society.

RICHMOND COUNTY - Richmond County leaks like a sieve. It continuously leaks fresh spring water into hundreds of springs, branches, ponds, lakes and creeks from one end of the county to the other like the veins in a leaf.


Some 74 such sources of water have names, hundreds of others do not.

The county has a geological “fall line” running through the middle of it. This means land to the west of U.S. 220 (I-73/74) is in the Piedmont Region of the state, and water from that part of the county flows to the Pee Dee River. It is in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin.

Land to the east of the line is in the Sandhills or Coastal Region, and water from it flows to Drowning Creek at the headwaters of the Lumber River.  It is in the Lumber River Basin.

Many early settlers were attracted to this area because of abundant water sources. Early settlements in the south part of the county along the Pee Dee River included Haley's Ferry near Mark's Creek. In the middle was the Zion Community near Cartledge Creek, and in the north was Little's Mills at Little River.

At first, creeks were dammed to increase water pressure to turn waterwheels to operate grist and saw mills.

Falling Creek, which comes together in Rockingham from north and south flowing prongs, spills over the largest waterfall in this area of North Carolina.

This location was one of the early sites for a grist mill powered by an “overshot” waterwheel.

That same type of waterwheel was used for the Richmond Mill later near the same location. A wooden flume conveyed water from a pond behind the dam to the top of the overshot wheel, filling the buckets in the wheel, thereby causing it to revolve.

The diameter of the wheel was not less than 25 feet, and the width of wheel was approximately 12 feet. Through a system of gears from the turning of the wheel's axle, or central shaft, machinery was powered in the mill mechanically by turning belts to operate machines.

It was a simple but effective beginning of the Industrial Age in Richmond County, which brought prosperity to all involved, and changed many lives with greater convenience of having machine-spun yarn.

It was the beginning of the age of increased cotton production with a local cotton spinning mill, all because of the presence of abundant water. Water turbines later replaced waterwheels.

Later in the 1800s, Hitchcock Creek was dammed at several locations and powered many other cotton mills until electricity replaced water power in the early 1900s.

That electricity was provided when the Pee Dee River was dammed and water turned turbines to provide electric power to Richmond and Anson counties.

Today many local constituents, as well as out-of-county visitors, use Hitchcock Creek as a viable means for healthy recreation.

Most important to the people of Richmond and Anson Counties, the processed water of the Pee Dee River comes into local homes and industry daily to sustain life and business.

The waterways continue to be important to us today by providing clean water for healthy habitats for crops, animals and human life.

The importance of water is demonstrated through the office of the Richmond Soil and Water Conservation District, a main governmental function in our county life today.

It was created in 1935 because the need to protect our natural resources became necessary when farming increased and population grew and spread throughout the county.

In recent years, it was believed that chemicals used early on in peach orchards had leached into groundwater and contaminated it.

On August 7, 2000, Richmond County Board of Commissioners adopted the Strategic Land Use Plan for the county. Objective three said there needed to be a goal, “to protect the quality of Richmond County's water resources of the Blewett Falls Reservoir and watershed.”  Objective four added that there was a need, “to protect the integrity of all surface and ground water.” That continues to be the strategy of county officials for the concerns of our citizens in 2017.

The story of water in Richmond County is not past history. It is living history. All people living here today are responsible for preserving healthy water for themselves and future generations.