A perfect day trip involves a walk through nature and an historic mill.
By Carol Siyahi Hicks
Many like a journey with a destination. My husband and I set out on one, walking along the Little Miami River on the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati Stagecoach Trail through John Bryan State Park, then into Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, ending up at the historic 1802 Clifton Mill for lunch.
The trail provided a peaceful trek filled with the smells and sounds of the woods and river, dappled light through tall trees, and the presence of grey rock everywhere.
In 45 minutes, our path joined the more challenging J. L. Rich – North Gorge Trail. We climbed it up into the Gorge—one of Ohio’s most spectacular dolomite and limestone gorges—with the high cliffs growing more scenic and the river, more alive with rapids.
Walking beneath these high cliffs, we saw markers telling the histories of the Robert Patterson Mill, of Steamboat Rock, and of a member of Daniel Boone’s party, who is said to have jumped across the Gorge to escape the Shawnee Indians.
Two hours and 2.6 miles after leaving our car, the trails ended and our history venture continued with a very short walk to Clifton Mill.
After a reviving buffalo burger and Reuben sandwich (breakfast is available all day) at the Mill’s restaurant—where we were able to view their 20-foot water wheel—we had the pleasure of meeting and touring the millhouse with owner Anthony Satariano, Jr. The Mill continues to grind wheat and corn for sale as flour and meal, and the millhouse is hung with scores of old, U.S. flour and grain bags.
Their milling is done by waterpower and uses grinding stones as it did in 1802. We could feel the old wood floor of the millhouse vibrate when the water turbine kicked in and Anthony fired up the 1910 wheat grinder while imparting mill history. Clifton Mill was one of many types of mills comprising one of the nation’s first major industries and was a social gathering place for farmers.
In the 1970s, Anthony’s father traveled here on business and fell in love with Clifton. Soon he moved his family from Boston and, in 1987, bought the Mill with his son. “My father always had a fascination with history and mills,” Anthony says, “and it provided me the opportunity to be a pure entrepreneur and caretaker of history.”
Noting that Clifton Mill was among the largest of some 50 remaining water-powered gristmills in the nation, he says that the Mill hosts 50,000 visitors a year, many to see its 3.6 million Christmas lights and displays.
Asked what Anthony loves most about the Mill, his answer is, unequivocally, the people.
“It’s when people have a good time…when someone taps me on the shoulder and says thank you for doing this, for preserving this. And when three generations of a family come here and enjoy themselves, when you become part of people’s memories, their family life—it strikes you. Here at the Mill, we’re sitting on the edge of Mother Nature and history. It’s a legacy, and it means a lot.”
Since 1970, Carol Siyahi Hicks has lived and worked in Greater Dayton as a journalist, national literary magazine editor, communications and marketing professional, author and most recently at The Dayton Foundation as the vice president of public relations and marketing. Her book, Gifts from the Garden, has a local setting and is a philosophical and joyful look at gardening, nature and life.