McConnell’s Mill State Park, in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, encompasses 2,546 acres along the spectacular Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. The gorge, formed by glaciers eons ago, has steep sides and the riverbed is filled with massive rocks and boulders. Legend has it that many years ago colonial soldiers were bring chased across the creek by the Native Americans of the Seneca Tribe. The soldiers, with their heavy boots, crossed with ease but the Indians, with their leather moccasins, slipped on the slimy rocks in the creek bed. The Senecas subsequently named the creek Wechachochapohka or “Slippery Rock.” Other variations have the soldiers in pursuit and slipping on the rocks. Either way, Slippery Rock – the unusual name of a popular creek, college, village, and township – is known throughout the country.
A gristmill was built alongside the creek by Daniel Kennedy in 1852 to process corn, oats, and wheat for the local farmers. It was later destroyed by fire in 1867 and rebuilt in 1868. In 1874 a covered bridge, one of two still standing in Lawrence County, was erected across the creek and next to the mill. The mill, usually known as Forest Mills at the time, fell under different ownership groups for a while. U.S. Army veteran and experienced miller Thomas McConnell took over primary ownership in 1875 and made several modern upgrades. He soon operated the facility with his son James, under the firm of T. McConnell & Son.
Thomas McConnell, who brought the mill to the height of its production, was the son of James and Rachel (Lytell) McConnell, pioneering settlers in the region whose ancestors were from Ireland. Thomas worked his father’s mills along the Neshannock Creek, married Jane McComb in 1846 and fathered seven children, got involved in the oil industry in Titusville, and served in the Civil War as a captain. He was severely wounded in the neck by an artillery blast during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia and was discharged as a result in December 1862. He returned to working the mills in Lawrence County and served a three-year term as Lawrence County Sheriff beginning in 1864. He later purchased Forest Mills and operated it until he retired in the early 1900’s. Thomas died in New Castle at the age of eighty-two in August 1905 and was interred in Oak Park Cemetery in New Castle.
The aging mill, which soon adopted the primary name of McConnell’s Mill, was operated on a limited basis by the McConnell family until it was closed for good in 1928. The property, including the mill and covered bridge, was conveyed by local banker and civic leader Thomas H. Hartman (grandson of Thomas McConnell) to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1946. The Conservancy later transferred the property to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so that it could be preserved as part of a state-supported public park. McConnell’s Mill State Park, named for Thomas McConnell, was formally dedicated in October 1957 and included adjacent properties surrounding Slippery Rock Creek. The old mill was reconstructed and put back in working order by late 1964 to show visitors how it worked long ago.
A longtime fixture at the mill was an African-American man named Moses “Old Mose” Wharton. Under the care of Thomas McConnell he had come up from the south after the Civil War as a youngster with his mother. In the fall of 1880, when he was about age twenty, the likeable Moses started working for the McConnell family at the mill as a general handyman, caretaker, greeter, and groundskeeper. He was extremely popular with visitors and lived in a small cabin overlooking the mill area. He ended up working at the mill for a remarkable seventy-three years, until he went into a nursing home sometime in late 1953. He passed away in his early nineties on Saturday, December 11, 1954, in the Lawrence County Home in Shenango Township.
At the mill and bridge area the Slippery Rock Creek features a rugged shoreline and raging waters and is quite dangerous. Many people have died by drowning or falling from rocks over the years and there have been two recent fatalities. In May 2010, a 47-year-old man died after a fall while heroically rescuing a 17-year-old girl who had also fallen from rocks near the Kildoo Bridge. The deceased man and his two surviving companions were later honored by the Pennsylvania State Police for saving the young girl’s life. In late April 2011, a 38-year-old fisherman accidently slipped into the raging waters near the mill area and it was two weeks until his remains were finally located thirteen miles downstream. Use extreme caution if you ever roam off of the beaten paths in the park.
The old McConnell’s Mill (on right) on the Slippery Rock Creek. The mill was known by several names over the years to include Forest Mills. The present name is taken from Thomas McConnell, a U.S. Army veteran who took over the mill in 1875 and made several upgrades. The McConnell family operated the mill until it was closed in 1928. In 1946 the property was donated to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which in turn transferred the property to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so it could be preserved. The property became part of the picturesque McConnell’s Mill State Park, which was formally dedicated in October 1957. (c1925) Full Size
An old postcard showing the falls area beside the mill. Postmarked May 5, 1947.
This postcard is postmarked Oct 1907 and shows the area just below the mill and bridge area. Its not easy to see but several men are standing on the rocks to the right.
A scene at “the Narrows” just below the mill and covered bridge. (c1905) Full Size
Slippery Rock Creek. (c1905)
A whimsical postcard depicting how the creek was named. (c1912)
The covered bridge at the mill site was erected in 1874. It is still in use as one of the two remaining covered bridges in Lawrence County. (c1948)Full Size
Another view of McConnell’s Mill. (1908)
Slippery Rock Creek. (1909)
A girl and her dog perched in a precarious position on the Slippery Rock Creek. (1910) Full Size
A 1970’s view of the old mill on the Slippery Rock Creek. Full Size
The old covered bridge was built in 1874. (1977) Full Size
The street sign along Route 422. (Jul 2010)
An old photo showing the mill and the house that once sat just above it. (c1915)
The mill. (Jul 2010)
Inside the mill. (Jul 2010)
Another view of the inside of the mill. (Jul 2010)
The covered bridge and mill amid the fall foilage c1975. Full Size
Inside the old covered bridge. (Jul 2013) Full Size