Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

John Watson

November 21, 2011

John Watson: A sticky wicket

A trip to Dublin begins on a sour note but ends in a sweet discovery

— As most of you know, things do not always go as planned. We recently met two of our grandsons in Stephenville to visit the Chicken House Flea Market together. We went on Sunday afternoon so they would both be off work. After arriving at the flea market we realized we had gone on the wrong weekend, as no one was there.

What do we do now? We had already made plans to spend the afternoon with the grandsons. Jonathon, the oldest grandson who has an interest in horses, said; “There is a cowboy museum in Dublin we could visit.” So we headed to Dublin.

In Dublin we turned off U.S. 67 onto Texas 6 to go to the museum. Our luck was the same here; the museum was closed. We turned the corner to circle the block to get back to U.S. 67 and then I saw it, an old-time syrup mill. We had to stop here and look around a bit. A nearby sign showed this to be the W.M. Wright Historical Park.

The syrup mill I spotted was an early, one-horse model. There was a long bar bolted to the top of the upright shaft in the syrup mill. There was a single tree on the long end of the bar where a horse or mule could be hitched. A smaller bar was attached to the side of the large one and extended out the same distance as the large bar. The horse/mule would have a short piece of rope or chain connected to their halter with a snap on the end that would snap into the ring on the end of the small bar. With this set-up the horse would lead itself around the syrup mill.

The sugar cane would be hand-fed into the cog wheels on the front of the mill one stalk at a time.

The person feeding the cane into the mill would be sitting on a stool, however, he would have to keep one eye on the horse and be ready to duck each time the horse pulled the bar around his side. As the cane was fed into the cog wheels they would crush the cane stalk and squeeze out the juice which ran down into a bucket beneath the mill. Each time the bucket filled it was taken and poured into a vat over a nearby fire pit.

The vat is approximately eight-feet long, two-and-a-half-feet wide and four-inches deep set over a rock fire pit. Here the juice is cooked down to make the syrup. The juice goes into the vat a clear liquid and as it cooks down it turns a deep dark brown. I have been told that it takes approximately eight gallons of cane juice to boil down to make one gallon of syrup.  

Near the syrup mill was a small restored log cabin and “wishing well.” A plaque on the cabin describes it as the Pioneer Turnbow-Barbee log cabin. The cabin was built in 1855 by Chesley Turnbow and was located four miles southeast of Dublin.

The cabin was later home of the Barbee family. The cabin was torn down and the logs moved to this site in 1974 by Don Stone and W.T. Culpepper.

The cabin was restored in 1977-78 with a Lincoln-style fireplace and an old well out beside the cabin. The restoration was done by Lee Meek with the assistance of H.G. Barbee, Bill Boy Bryant, Sammy Taylor, Danny Meek and others.        

As with most early log cabins, this one had wooden shutters over the windows. Many of the early log cabins only had an opening for a window, no glass. The shutters could be closed at night to keep critters out, during bad weather to keep the wind and rain out and kept closed in the winter to keep the cold wind out.

On the other side of the park was a large two-story rock building. A sign on the front of the building listed it as the William T. Miller Grist Mill. Most early grist mills were built near streams to have water available to turn a water wheel. This building was nowhere near a stream of water. This got my curiosity up.

I then read the historical marker on the house. Stonemasons Joe E. Bishop, “Rocky” Davis, and “Old Frank” Hamilton built this two-story mill of native stone for William T. Miller in 1882. The mill was originally powered by steam and used to grind grain. Later a crude oil engine was installed in 1918.

After W.M. Wright and his son-in-law, Ted C. Robbins, purchased the mill in 1926, it was converted to livestock-feed production. Robbins and his wife gave the structure to the Dublin Historical Society in 1974 as a museum for the W.M. Wright Historical Park.

The outside of the building is in real nice condition, the metal roof appears to be fairly new. However, looking through the window, the inside is in disarray. Researching further, I found that in 1999 the local historical society received some money from the state for restoration of the building.

After several delays, the restoration finally got started and so far restoration on the outside walls and roof has been completed. The next goal is to complete the interior restoration so the mill can be opened to the public. This will really be an interesting place to visit when the restoration is completed.

There is a large, covered pavilion at the site but there were no picnic tables the day we visited the park. However, if you do get hungry while here, there is a pizza place across the street. This would be a nice place to visit and relax some sunny weekend afternoon. The autumn colors are showing good about now to make for an interesting drive.

John Watson is a

Cleburne resident

who can be reached at


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John Watson
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