The Cement Mill complex is on the south bank of the upper Potomac River in Jefferson County, West Virginia, approximately one mile below Shepherdstown. The 18-acre property adjoins the river flood plain and limestone hills.
In 1826 Shepherdstown physician Henry Boteler and businessman George Reynolds partnered to build a water-powered grist mill on the Potomac River. By January 1828 Boteler realized that limestone on the property could make hydraulic cement, the preferred mortar for masonry structures. Late in 1828 construction had begun on the C&O Canal on the Maryland side of the Potomac; the Canal became a major customer for the mill’s cement.
Boteler and Reynolds built a small experimental kiln, then a larger kiln, to burn or “calcine” the stone. The mill then ground the calcined stone to cement to ship to construction sites. This system would yield production and wealth for the Mill partners for generations to come.
In 1829 and 1830 Boteler and Reynolds built a bank of six kilns. Look for them. Also in 1829 the owners built a dam of rubble-stone-filled wooden cribs across the Potomac, upstream from the mill, to create a pool for the mill-race to provide water power. Opposite, across River Road, the building now in ruins was first a warehouse, then a residence.
By 1834 the C&O Canal ran to about 15 miles above the mill to a dam, and by 1835 builders completed the C&O Canal river lock. The river lock, about a mile above the dam, raised and lowered boats between the pool behind the dam and the canal. Subsequently boats could be loaded at a mill wharf on the southern shore, and then cross the pool behind the dam to enter the canal via the river lock.
In 1835 Boteler sold his interest to Reynolds who defaulted on his mortgage. In 1846 Alexander Boteler, son of Henry Boteler, acquired it.
War Comes to the Mill
Virginia’s secession from the Union drew a line of division along the banks of the Potomac River. The river served as a natural barrier between Union North and Confederate South. However, though most bridges were burned early in the war, several river fords above Great Falls served both sides in their forays into enemy territory. By August 1861, various Union regiments guarded the river fords on the Maryland side.
By the start of the Civil War, Alexander Boteler, Henry’s son, owned the mill. He was a colonel in the Confederate army and a representative in the Confederate legislature. For this, a Union raid on August 18, 1861 burned his home and mill.
The Battle at the Mill
The mill’s proximity to Pack Horse Ford also placed it in the War’s path. On September 17, 1862, Confederate and Union forces clashed at the Battle of Antietam, four miles away, the bloodiest single day in American history. What followed would place the mill directly in the path of savage fighting.
On September 19-20, 1862, the Battle of Shepherdstown, also known as the Battle of Boteler’s Ford, took place around the cement mill and a river ford just downstream. After Antietam, Union Gen. George McClellan hesitated a day, then ordered his forces to pursue the Confederate army across the Potomac into Virginia, now West Virginia. When Union forces captured four Confederate cannon the Confederates retreated and regrouped. On the morning of September 20, Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill counterattacked. This time Union forces retreated back across the Potomac to Maryland. Union forces sustained 361 casualties, Confederate forces, 291.
Two outcomes: the battles of Antietam and Shepherdstown ended Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign, and President Lincoln replaced a timid General George McClellan.
Viewing the Ruins
The site is can be viewed daily from dawn to dusk and from the paved road (River Road.) For your safety and to protect the historic resources of the site, please do not climb on any ruins. Also, the 18-acre property is part of the Shepherdstown Battlefield. Men fought and died here. Please respect their memories.
In 1867 a group of trustees rebuilt the mill. It continued to grind calcined lime to cement until about 1901. In 2011, with funding from the Civil War Trust and the American Battlefield Protection Act, the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission bought the property to donate to the National Park Service, they to preserve it forever. Current projects are underway for future visitor services.
For more information, please contact us at HLCinfo@jeffersoncountywv.org.