Pioneer Village

Pioneer Village History


Gaston Mill

The local grist mill provided an essential service to farmers. The water powered mill stones ground the farmer's recently harvested crops of corn, oats and wheat into flour. Gaston Mill is the last of six water powered grist mills which once operated along Beaver Creek, between Elkton and Fredericktown.

Samuel Conkle started construction of the mill about 1830, on land that was then part of the Conkle family farm. On May 6, 1843, Jacob Conkle's will deeded the mill property to his son Samuel. In 1849 Samuel sold the land, water privileges and mill to James Gaston, the first of several owners.

Philander Gaston owned and operated the mill longer than any of the other owners, thus, the mill still bears his name. The mill was operated by water power until Mr. Gaston sold it in 1886. Then it was converted to steam power and eventually to a gasoline engine. The mill operated until World War I. Restoration work was begun in January, 1964 by the Columbiana County Forest and Parks Council under an agreement with the Columbiana County Historical Association. The building was straightened and beams replaced in the basement; part of the stone wall and chimney were rebuilt. The siding and part of the floors have been replaced and a new roof installed. The shingles for the roof were made locally in 1964 by an old shingle machine built in 1857 in Salem, Ohio. Most of the timbers and posts are original. Several new gears, wood teeth and a new log shaft for the water wheel were installed. Every effort has been made to exactly duplicate the original structure and machinery. Gaston's Mill is the only working water powered grist mill remaining in Columbiana County.

In 2003, the oak water wheel shaft rotted and broke. It was replaced with a steel shaft covered with wood planks to resemble the original construction. About that same time, the mill's shingled roof was replaced with a steel roof.

In June, 1974 the National Park Service recognized Gaston's Mill - Lock No. 36, Sandy and Beaver Canal District as an historic place and entered it into National Register of Historic Places.


Sandy & Beaver Canal Lock #36

On August 17, 1991, after ten years of planning and fundraising the restored Sandy & Beaver Canal Lock #36 was dedicated. The project had been made possible by the combined efforts of The Columbiana County Historical Society, Forest and Parks Council and Sandy Beaver Canal Association.

Floyd Lower was the first chairman of the restoration project, followed by Jack Lanam and John Wattenbarger. Pioneer Craft Days, held each October at Beaver Creek State Park was the main fund raiser for the project. Some of the wood used was provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and was cut in a sawmill at Malabar Farm State Park. Canal stones were brought in from Fredericktown that were originally part of Lock #47 of the canal. Hardware for the gates was recovered from Lost Lock (Lock #50) and some were made in the Pioneer Village's Blacksmith Shop by blacksmith Woody Harman.

The gates were fabricated and assembled at Beaver Creek State Park by Christian & Son Timber framers during a workshop in early May of 1991. Dressed in clothing of the, 1800's, the timber framers constructed the gates utilizing hand tools of that era. The finished gates were hung on May 19, 1991.Each gate weighs and estimated 3 1/ 2 tons.

The canal era in Ohio began with the construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal in 1825. It connected the Ohio River at Portsmouth with Lake Erie at Cleveland. Several "feeder" canals were later built connecting with this important waterway to access the larger markets and promote the economic development along the waterway. The Sandy & Beaver Canal was one of these "feeder" canals, but unlike the others that received state funds, was privately financed through the sale of stock.

A lawyer and community leader of New Lisbon, Ohio, named Elderkin Potter, originated the idea of connecting the Ohio River at Glasgow, Pennsylvania with the Ohio-Erie Canal at Bolivar, Ohio by means of a canal using the watersheds of the Sandy and Little Beaver Creeks. He had the support of many local businessmen, including Benjamin Hanna, Dr. George McCook, C. Hostetter and David Beggs. The Sandy & Beaver Canal Company was incorporated in 1828 and construction began in November 1834. Financial problems prevented its completion until January, 1848 by which time the railroads had already begun to have an impact on transportation needs. The canal was operated with moderate success for approximately four years.

The end came in the spring of 1852 when the Cold Run Dam broke just outside of New Lisbon causing extensive property damage, as well as ruining a large section of the canal. The canal company went broke trying to settle the resulting lawsuits.

Some notable engineering feats were accomplished during the canal con­struction of two tunnels near Dungannon, Ohio. The Big Tunnel, 1060 yards long, was blasted out of rock and is the longest of all canal tunnels in America. The smaller tunnel, 300 yards long, was excavated through hard shale and a vein of coal. West Fork Canal Reservoir (Guilford Lake) was built to supply water for the canal.

Some of the finest masonry in canal lock construction can be seen in Beaver Creek State Park at Lusk Lock and between Gaston's Mill and Sprucevale.

Canal Statistics:


Thomas J. Malone Covered Bridge

The Malone covered bridge originally stood, in the 1870s over Middle Run in Elkrun Township, on State Route No. 154, between Lisbon and Elkton.

About 1912, the Elkrun Township Trustees moved it to the Wade Huffman farm , to be used as a storage shed. In 1922, it was again relocated to Pine Hollow Road.

Mr. Malone, who did extensive covered bridge research work, found the structure and recognized it as originally a covered bridge.

With the co-operation of the Elkrun Township Trustees, Bert Dawson Jr., County Engineer, the Columbiana County Historical Association and the Columbiana County Forests and Parks Council, the bridge was relocated to Pioneer Village. Restoration was completed in 1971.

The bridge is 42 feet long, constructed using multiple or altered kingsport trusses. It rested on stone cut abutments, the sides and portals are vertical boards stained dark brown, the deck consist of lengthwise planking and the roof has wood shingles. It is no longer an active bridge supporting vehicle traffic, but rather is on display. The bridge has been the site of many wedding over the years.


Theodore G. Appleby Blacksmith Shop

Blacksmiths were essential to frontier life. They were not only farriers (doctor of horses) but also the local hardware store. They made everyday necessities like nails, hooks, hinges, cooking utensils, tools and highly decorative ironwork. Today area blacksmiths ply their craft and give demonstrations during Pioneer Days and the first Saturday of each month.

Major building repairs and equipment upgrades were completed in 2004 by volunteers from the Pittsburgh Area Artist Blacksmith Association, Horseman’s Association and Columbiana County Forests and Parks Council. The repairs included; installing roof tie rods, new roof shingles, replacing rotted wall logs, installing drainage and chimney repairs. The forge and bellows were rebuilt. An anvil and vise were donated. Log rails replaced the chicken wire visitor’s observation fence. Bob Rupert and Lester Six, members of the Pittsburgh Area Artist Blacksmith Association, coordinated the repairs and upgrades.

The blacksmith shop is dedicated to Theodore G. Appleby, a past president of the Columbiana County Forests and Parks Council.


Floyd Lower Log Cabin

The Lower Cabin is typical of the first dwelling that Ohio pioneers would have built. Constructed from locally harvest timber and hand cut into building logs. The one room cabin served as a living, cooking, dining area and adult bedroom, while the children slept in the loft. A single fireplace provided heat for cooking and the cabin.

The cabin was constructed from log structures that were originally on county property, near the Sell Covered Bridge on Trinity Church Road in Center Township. They were dismantled, the logs tagged and moved to the Pioneer Village.

In 1991, the cabin was dedicated to the memory of Floyd Lower, a local historian, who for many years devoted his time to the history of Columbiana County. He was a major advocate for the restoration of Gaston’s Mill, Lock no. 36, and the construction of Pioneer Village.


Vodrey Chapel

Early residents often had church services outside or in a private home. Ministers traveled by foot, horseback or canoe from one settlement to another facing hardships and enduring inclement weather. Church was not only a spiritual occasion it was also a social event. The first church in the county with a permanent pastor was built in 1806 near Lisbon.

The chapel was constructed from several log structures that were originally on county property, near the Sell Covered Bridge on Trinity Church Road in Center Township. They were dismantled, the logs tagged and moved to the Pioneer Village.

The chapel is dedicated to lawyer, historian, conservationist and benefactor, William H. Vodrey III.  The chapel can be rented for weddings.


Paul Dailey School House

Schools were an important part of Ohio's past. A one room schoolhouse was often the first structure built by a community.

Our schoolhouse was constructed from logs donated by the Arter family from their log barn. The barn was dismantled, the logs tagged, moved and assembled into the schoolhouse.

In 1991, the schoolhouse was dedicated in the honor of Paul Dailey for his many years of service to the Beaver Local School Board and his continued devoted involvement with Gaston’s Mill, Pioneer Village and Beaver Creek State Park.


Williams Homestead

The house and barn were built in 1875. In 1894, Levi Hickman bought the farm and mill. In 1898, Blanche Hickman married Denver Williams and the house became their wedding gift. In 1949, Blanche Hickman Williams sold the homestead, including house, barn and mill to the State of Ohio to become the first purchase for the Beaver Creek State Park. As part of the sale agreement, she was allowed to live there until her death, at the age of 99, in 1977. Since then, the house has been known as the Williams House.


The barn framing beams are rough hand-hewn native timbers assembled using a mixture of mortise, tendon and pegged post and beam construction. The siding is tongue and groove white pine. The foundation is cut sandstone, with a metal standing seam roof.

A fire, of unknown origins, destroyed the Blanche Williams homestead the evening of July 23, 2013.  The area had been blanketed with thunderstorms overnight, including lightning, and there has been some speculation that the metal roof of the home may have taken a lightning strike.

The entire red metal roof had turned a yellowish-white color during the fire except for one small round spot that retained its red color, which was surrounded by black charring.


Beaver Creek Trading Company

An important institution of the early pioneer village was the trading post or general store. Here the pioneers could purchase the items they needed and couldn't make for themselves. Items such as white sugar, black tea or coffee, linen dress goods and penny candy were displayed on shelves around the store. Early pioneers could also trade or sell their excess produce for things they needed.

The store was constructed from log structures that were originally on county property, near the Sell Covered Bridge on Trinity Church Road in Center Township. They were dismantled, the logs tagged and moved to the Pioneer Village.

The store is a living museum having many antiques and reproductions of items the early pioneers would have used in everyday life. Today the store is operated by the Friends of Beaver Creek State Park, selling craft items, cold drinks, and snacks for hungry and thirsty hikers, as well as flour and souvenirs from the mill, park and other park volunteer groups.

Income from the store sales are used to pay for the upkeep of Pioneer Village.



The origin of many photographs can not be documented. It believed that Foster Shattuck, a past Columbiana County Forest and Parks Council volunteer, is the source for many of the older photographs that were used in press releases, park brochures and educational materials. The "PARK TOUR" photographs were taken by Penn State Beaver Campus students as part of a website class project. Dennis Smith, an FOBCSP volunteer took several of the recent photographs.

Images and content displayed on this web site are part of the Friends of Beaver Creek State Park (FOBCSP), Pioneer Village Collection.

While complying with the "fair use" doctrine, reasonable efforts has been taken to observe any known copyright interests.