In about 1812 a grist mill was built on the banks of the Neshannock Creek in an area that later became known as the borough of Volant in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. The mill, located downstream from another similar mill built in 1806, was popular place for the local farmers to grind their wheat into flour. The mill changed ownership several times over the years and was purchased by J. P. Locke in April 1868. Locke made a host of changes to the grist mill, renamed as Locke Mill, and upgraded its operation.
Locke also purchased a local saw mill and 100 acres of land. In 1872, seeing the potential for development, he laid out a small settlement (with thirty lots) centered around the mill and called it Lockeville. His plan was greatly aided by the coming of the New Castle & Franklin Railroad (NC&F), which was built through the town the following year, and the construction of a covered bridge across the Neshannock Creek in 1875.
In 1874, at the time an outlying post office was moved into town, the name of settlement was changed to Volant. Exactly where the name Volant came from is anybody’s guess, but a local legend say a man on a bird hunting excursion yelled, “Volant,” which means “they fly” in Latin. The town’s thriving business district continued to grow as mills, restaurants, shops, hotels, a doctor’s office, a bank, and a church sprung up. A center of higher learning, Volant College, was even established in 1890. All the while the grist mill continued in operation and in 1879 was purchased by the Simison family, well-known as some of the most skilled millers in the region.
The mill’s operations slowly declined in the early 1900’s as lumber and other industries came to the forefront. During the 1930’s as the Great Depression began its’ stranglehold on the nation and many of the businesses in Volant closed their doors. The centerpiece of the town, the old grist mill, survived but finally closed in the early 1960’s and Volant gradually returned to its sleepy roots.
In 1984 a revival took root in rural Volant. That year the old mill, which had sat abandoned for two decades, was saved when a local businessman purchased it. The mill was reopened as an antique and gift shop and before long a host of other such shops opened along Main Street. In 2006 the mill was purchased by a non-profit organization known as the Volant Community Development Corporation (VCDC) and major renovations got underway that still continue. Today the mill, known as Volant Mills and complete with antiques, gifts, food items, and a historical section, is once again the centerpiece of a revived tourist district – complete with a Old Order Amish presence – that is downtown Volant.
A view of Volant Mills with the small covered bridge over the millrace visible at right. (c1907)
A group of ladies fish off the dam on the Neshannock Creek used to help power the mill at Volant. (c1908) Full Size
Volant Mills, which sat abandoned for two decades, was saved by a restoration effort beginning in the mid-1980’s. (c1988) Full Size
Various crafts are available for sale within the mill. (Jul 2011)
Another view inside the mill. (Jul 2011)
A view of the old Volant Dam, which helped power the mill during its heyday. (Jul 2011)
The remnants of the crumbling dam on the Neshannock Creek. (Jul 2011)