History students digging for answers about old mill

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published September 14, 1994 in The Suburban Life, added September 14, 2015.

Matt Ohr (left) and Rob Reckers, along with Rob's little sister Ella, check out the old structure the boys are researching for a summer history project. The building, believed to be an old mill, sits on the bank of the creek that intersects Blome Road.

Matt Ohr (left) and Rob Reckers, along with Rob’s little sister Ella, check out the old structure the boys are researching for a summer history project. The building, believed to be an old mill, sits on the bank of the creek that intersects Blome Road.

     If you tend to think of delinquency and teenagers in the same breath and you wonder what in the name of McGuffey’s Readers teachers are teaching these kids anyway, then you should hear about Rob Reckers and Matt Ohr.

Rob and Matt spent part of their summer researching and extra assignment for an advanced placement class in American history they would be taking this fall at Madeira High School.

The boys, who are now beginning their junior year, received an advance assignment from their teacher, Jay Hanson, just a little something extra to keep their brains from turning to chocolate ice cream over the summer.

Rob and Matt were to explore and try to find out the history of an old concrete structure on the little creek that intersects Blome Road up from the one-lane bridge in Indian Hill.

They were to find out as much as they could learn about it – what it had been, what it was used for.  Then they were to report back when school started in the fall.

Jay Hanson is a veteran teacher who has taught at Madeira for some time, but he has never been known as “easy.”  Kids know his reputation, and most know they’ll have to work in his classes.

Those who think they can sit in the back row, leaning back with their far away looks in their eyes, but still escaping with so-so grades, are in for rude shocks.  Hanson doesn’t believe in so-so grades.

He believes in challenging kids and keeping them interested in learning by expanding their lives.  He teaches them government by having them get hands-on experience at a local level.  He teaches them history by starting out to learn the history of their own locale.

He gives his students extra assignments – projects that turn out to be fun.  But the kids learn along the way.

In the summer, he has his history students visit historical sites.  He gives them a list of places within a 100-mile radius of home.  They are to choose one or more to visit during the summer, and they keep journals about it.

He threw out the project Rob and Matt did as a challenge, asking who’d like to solve a mystery.  The boys volunteered as a team.  He told them to use whatever means they chose.  They could do research, make phone calls, write letters, or just talk to people.

I came in on the project when Rob wrote me a letter, asking if I knew what it was.  He wrote a well-written, detailed letter, which showed me he was practicing and learning another skill, as well as learning history.

He told me it was a two-story, concrete structure on the bank of the creek that intersects Blome Road, about 150 yards up the creek from the one-lane bridge.

The lower level has no doors or openings and is inaccessible.  On the upper level, there are three holes going down to the lower level.  The Upper level has window openings and a door.  The lower level has a large drainage hole next to the creek.

I was intrigued, and “story” flashed through my brain.  I called Rob immediately and made plans to go with the boys to explore their find and to take pictures.

By then, they had checked with the Indian Hill Historical Society, the Indian Hill Rangers, and the Metropolitan Sewer District.  They had made phone calls and written letters, all to no avail.

Shortly after I talked to them but before we hiked up to see it- they hit pay dirt.

They located and talked to Curt Gamble, who lives in Madeira but grew up in Concord Hills.  As a kid, he knew about the old structure, he told them, and was always told it was an old mill with a dam running across the creek.

By the time I went exploring with the boys, they had researched mills and eagerly explained to me how old water mills worked.

From the extra knowledge they had learned and from our inspection, we were convinced that it had indeed been a mill.  And the broken structure still standing across the creek appeared to have been a dam.

Rob and Matt explained every detail of the project to me, and it was easy to see that their learning from it and their enthusiasm were expanding in all directions.

Also, since the boys do not yet drive, Rob’s mother had volunteered to drive us there.  Her presence and interest showed that the boys have parental support in their school projects, and important ingredient in learning.

Rob’s little sister Ella, a fifth grader, also went along and was gaining learning experience and a thirst for knowledge and history.

So, like a pebble tossed in a pond, Jay Hanson’s assignment has rippled out and taught something to many people- Rob and Matt, their families, me the many people we have talked to, Curt Gamble, Robert Terwillegar, a retired Indian Hill teacher who’s now helping us, and you, the readers.

The story is not dead or finished.  Though we feel that it was a mill, we want to know for sure.  What kind was it? What did it do?  Who owned it?  And when?  We want to know its story.

If you have knowledge of this old structure or any clues whatsoever about it, write or call me here at the newspaper.  We want to write another chapter to this story.  We need your help.

Rob and Matt are not ready to let go of it. Nor am I.  We want to know.  Help us out and become a part of history.

In helping us to learn, maybe you’ll learn something yourself along the way.

In doing this story, I’ve already learned something important:  There are neat kids out there, learning and becoming good citizens.  And there are good teachers teaching them.

Rob Reckers and Matt Ohr

Rob Reckers and Matt Ohr