Years ago, many people referred to State Route 134 North as “Port William Pike”, the gentle winding highway that meanders from Wilmington to Port William.
The highway is bisected by Interstate 71, flanked by soybean fields and lavish stands of corn, and looking pretty much the same today as it did in the 1950s, with the exception of the interstate.
The construction of the bridge on State Route 134 across Interstate 71 was of great curiosity to the people of Port William at the time. Farmers, townsfolk, and kids often drove to the site to watch the large earthmoving machines dig and haul dirt away from the Ellis farm, placing the rich soil, scoop by scoop, into waiting dump trucks.
The road workers carefully placed round, smoking smudge pots at the construction site as a warning for motorists, much as traffic cones are used today. This was at a time there was no such thing as a reflective device, and the wick-lit kerosene smudge pots were the warning illuminations for drivers.
One summer evening, our family was headed to bed when the phone rang. My mother picked up the handset and answered, “Haleys.”
As the voice on the other end began to speak, Mom could hear the various phones of our neighbors begin to pick up to eavesdrop on the conversation. Everyone was on a party line back then, and, as a result, there were few secrets in Port William.
An officer from the Ohio State Highway Patrol informed my mother that a man had driven his car over a smudge pot, onto the unfinished bridge, hit a wooden barricade and landed in the cornfield.
“Mrs. Haley, I’m sorry, but we believe the man is your brother. He is unhurt, but you need to come and take him home. He has been drinking,” the kindly officer said.
My dad, who had to get up early for work the next morning, was less than pleased, but he got in our old Plymouth and headed toward the interstate bridge. He picked up my uncle and drove him home.
The drive from Wilmington to Port William is a pleasant one, just a short eight miles across beautiful farmland.
As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I highly recommend a trip to Port William if you have never been there. There is a piece of history there like no other in Clinton County – the Beam Mill.
The mill sits on the right side of the road adorned by a large painted sign that motorists see when they first enter the smallest village in Clinton County.
The sign reads, “Joe Beam and Sons, make this place your feed headquarters, proper grinding, tested Purina Supplements, approved formulas, and accurate mixing.”
The mill is still owned by the Beam family, which originally ground corn, wheat, and produced cornmeal. Although inactive today, the feed mill is still impressive, and is used solely for family farming purposes.
But I must confess, that ever since I began to write this story I have found myself thinking not so much about the mill, but of the Beam family themselves.
Before I began grade school, which was a long time ago, I knew the Beams. Maynard (“Babe” as he is commonly known), Malcolm, or Marvin would always honk the loud air horn of the massive feed truck when they saw me walking along the sidewalk in Port William.
The men’s father, Joe Beam, was a cordial man who served on village council when my mother was clerk of the village. He would rub my head, and was always friendly to a young boy who tagged along with his mom.
Everyday when I walked to the ball diamond to play baseball, Joe’s wife, Betty, never failed to wave from the side porch of their large, block home, which still sits beside where the old school used to be. After each game I would hear Betty shout, “Pat, get over here and get a drink of water,” as she pumped a tin cup full of pure well water from their pump.
In the winter, particularly at Christmastime, the Beams allowed everyone in town to come to the milldam and ice skate. A big truck tire was thrown on the ice, and kids and adults alike formed a circle around the huge bonfire, warming themselves between skates.
The Beams are a wonderful family. Bruce and David are good friends of ours. Maynard, Malcolm, and their families, honor us every year by inviting us to join them in celebrating the harvest on their farms. People gather to eat, tell stories, to give thanks for the good crops and safe harvest, and offer a prayer of thanksgiving and celebrate the goodness of life.
Garrison Keillor once wrote, “When you die, it all goes with you — your stories, so vivid, the scenes of your colorful life, the people you loved. “Since I’m a writer I can’t help believing I can keep all that alive.”
The Beam story and the old mill are good ones to keep alive.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner and former Clinton County Sheriff.