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The Beginning of Van Winkle's Mill. The historical occupation of Van Winkle's Mill began sometime in the early years of the 1850s when Peter Marselis Van Winkle borrowed money from a local venture capitalist and purchased the land, equipment and enslaved labor for his Ozark mill. By 1851 he was paying taxes in Benton County on the land now known as Van Hollow..

 

Peter Van WinklePeter was born in 1814 in New York City, the fourth child of a large Manhattan family. As their Dutch name implies, the family were not newcomers to the continent. They were settlers of the New Amsterdam colony, New York's predecessor, and were ensconced there since 1625.

 

Any prosperity the family's early arrival accorded them had worn thin by the early nineteenth century and Peter's family moved westward in search of the opportunities commonly associated with newly opened portions of the west: landholdings and, no doubt, a way back up the social ladder.

 

Peter's father had moved the family to Illinois prior to 1820 and Peter grew up in Franklin and Fulton Counties in Illinois. There is disagreement in the few historical documents that exist about Peter's educational and finical background. The earliest reference to Peter's education claims that he "received but meager educational advantages in his early days" (Godspeed 1889:1032), but other sources mention a college education (Scott 1962:170). Most popular histories and newspaper accounts follow the former. Therefore Peter is remembered as a man who "had few advantages while a youth" (Black 1976; The Rogers Daily News July 1, 1950) or "having few advantages during his boyhood, he was a natural mechanic." (Rose 1953).

 

Peter himself first appeared in Northwest Arkansas in the mid-1830s at the age of twenty-one years old. After a brief return to Illinois, Peter and Temperance appeared in Northwest Arkansas records on a property map in 1845. Through the 1850s, he made a living farming, contracting to "break" prairie land, blacksmithing, and making wagons in Washington County.

 

By 1860, Peter built what has been described as a "plantation style" (or a "southern-type") home in Van Hollow where he lived with his wife, eight children, a tutor from Tennessee, and a young apprentice lathe operator named John Bell Steele. As early as 1861 he began to acquire a good deal of material wealth and the symbols of his newly acquired station: 1370 acres of land, one saw mill, 34 mules, one gold watch, one pleasure carriage, and 12 slaves over five years of age.

 

Van Winkle family ca. 1870.While the first evidence we have of Peter "owning" slaves was ten years earlier, coincident with his moving to Van Hollow, by the beginning of the Civil War he enslaved at least eighteen human beings-not an insubstantial number for Northwest Arkansas. Moreover, his sympathies during the war were not hidden in the slightest. Not only did Peter contract with the Confederate government to build barracks and stables for troops stationed in the area, he named two of his children after prominent Confederate figures: Jefferson Davis Van Winkle (born 1861) and Robert E. Lee Van Winkle (born 1863).

 

Thus, when the tide turned against the Confederate forces in Northwest Arkansas, Peter found no quarter. He fled with his family and slaves in 1862, to Bowie County, Texas. His home and mill in Van Hollow were burned to the ground sometime between 1862 and 1866, possibly near the time War Eagle Mill was burned by the Sixth Texas Cavalry Regiment on March 2, 1862.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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