In May 1758 William Payne, Sr. leased from Henry Fitzhugh (Colonel) “six acres more or less” on Accotink Run for a mill. The 99-year lease required “the yearly rent of one peppercorn on every feast of the Nativity of our Lord Christ…,” a token fee common in that era for mill leases.

Map by George Washington

Detail from 1766 map drawn by George Washington shows locations of William Payne, Jr.’s residence and Payne’s Mill within Henry Fitzhugh (Colonel)’s Ravensworth quarters (Parcel 1.1).

About four years later in January 1762, the elder Payne “in consideration of the natural Love and affection…for their further advancement” transferred the lease to his two oldest sons, William Payne, Jr. and Sanford Payne.1

The mill appears on the 1792 deed plat that divided the north half of Ravensworth (Parcel 1.1). It is within the part of Ravensworth that by 1797 had passed to Giles Fitzhugh. That year William, Jr.’s son, Colonel William Payne, bought 25 acres including the mill (Parcel from Giles. Thus he became the first Ravensworth landowner outside the Fitzhugh family. Before or during Colonel Payne’s ownership, the property became known as Rock Hill.

Today’s view (in Google Maps)

Today the property is open parkland, part of Fairfax County’s Mill Creek and Accotink Creek Stream Valley Parks. The Cross County Trail runs through the former mill lot. The map below shows the locations of the 25-acre Parcel (larger outline) and the mill lot lease (smaller outline).

About Grist Mills

“In response to a shift from tobacco farming to the production of grain products there was a corresponding increase in milling in Fairfax County. The milling industry had been growing steadily with increases in population, diversified farming practices, and overseas trade. Milling reflects the heavy industry of the 18th and 19th centuries in Fairfax County.” (General Management Plan For Eakin Community /Eakin (Mantua) /Accotink Stream Valley, Fairfax County Park Authority, June 1995)

A Merchant Grist Mill

Payne’s Mill was a merchant grist mill for milling corn, wheat and perhaps other grains. Corn and especially wheat became increasingly important from the mid 1700s as tobacco production declined, and they eventually replaced tobacco as the principal agricultural crops2.

The mill site is one of three discussed in the cultural history section of the 1995 planning document for Accotink Stream Valley Park: “Driven by the water of Accotink Creek, raw materials were turned into semi-finished products, ready for transportation to coastal markets by road. Accotink Creek provided a perennial water source with a good water flow and was situated between two major transportation corridors providing access to the ports of Alexandria and Occoquan. Remnants of three water-powered mills have been found in the park.

  1. The first was operated by Daniel McCarty Chichester who applied for a mill seat in 1801. In 1820, he produced 4,500 bushels of flour. He died that same year and by 1839, the mill was no longer operational.
  2. The second mill ruin was depicted on a 1862 Civil War map as an “old mill.” It was located on the western boundary of the park on Accotink Creek, and is known today as Fairfax Circle Mill.
  3. A third mill [Payne’s Mill] was located on the eastern boundary of the park. Only traces of the millrace remain.”3

An 1878/79 map shows Rock Hill Grist Mill with access to Little River Turnpike and Gallows Road via a no longer existing road.4 In the 18th century, today’s Gallows Road was part of the Alexandria-Courthouse Road, a main route and commercial artery connecting Alexandria to the first county courthouse and settlements near today’s Tyson’s Corner (see Roads Circa 1800). By 1806, Little River Turnpike provided an improved route to Alexandria. With access via two main roads to the commercial center in Alexandria, the mill likely enjoyed business from a wide radius as well as from close neighbors.

Death and a Lawsuit

Colonel Payne died on September 23, 1813 without a will. His widow Elizabeth, as administratrix of the estate, advertised in the Alexandria Gazette to rent the property and mill. 5 Elizabeth died 16 years after her husband in 1829, but the estate still had not been settled. To force a settlement, Colonel Payne’s children sued the then administrator of the estate in Fairfax County Court. Depositions and other documents in the court record provide details of the layout and use of the property about the time of his death in 1813 and later.

  • Payne’s house was located about in the middle of the 25 acres and separated by a ravine from the mill in the southwest corner of the property. There was an orchard and much of the land was planted in crops.
  • The mill complex included a miller’s house and small garden in addition to the building that housed machinery, the mill dam, mill pond and raceway – all of which occupied a few acres.
  • During his last years and perhaps earlier, Colonel Payne maintained a blacksmith shop about 50 yards from the mill. The principal smith was one of his slaves, George – described by William Gooding, Jr. as very skilled though a cripple.
  • When Payne died, John Coward was the miller who operated the business, and Payne owed him $1072.44. To settle the debt, Coward stayed on renting the mill from the estate for $200 annually, to be applied to offset the debt until payed off. The rental agreement required “Coward to put in new Cog wheels & Bolting cloth…on the best terms he can and charge it to the Estate.” Coward remained operating and living at the mill until his death sometime between 1828 and 1830.6

After the Payne Family

The property changed hands several times in the ensuing years, often involving lawsuits and court decrees.

  1. The tract was sold at auction on April 20, 1831 at the Court’s direction. Edmund Payne, Colonel Payne’s son and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, bought it with his bid of $6007.
  2. Edmund Payne sold it to James Kidwell on 30 January 1839.8
  3. Twenty years later in March 1859, after Kidwell’s death and a suit between family members, it was sold by court decree to Julius R. Howell 9
  4. The Civil War ensued, with the property almost certainly suffering damage such as occurred throughout wartime Fairfax County’s “no man’s land.” After the war, Howell failed to pay the land taxes for the years 1861-64. In a court-ordered tax sale on June 19, 1866, William H. Gooding “became the purchaser of tract for $10.44, plus 25 cents for receipt.”10
  5. (additional owners pending further research)


  1. Fairfax County deeds D1:519 of 5/5/1758 and E1:116 of 1/20/1762. Rather than six acres, the metes and bounds stated in the lease deed map out at 2.9 acres.
  2. Debbie Robison, “Why Late 18th Century Tobacco Farmers Switched to Wheat Cultivation,” Northern Virginia History Notes, accessed March 30, 2015,
  3. General Management Plan For Eakin Community /Eakin (Mantua) /Accotink Stream Valley, Fairfax County Park Authority, June 1995, page 5. Numbered list formatting added for easier reading.
  4. “Falls Church District” in G. M. Hopkins’ Atlas of Fifteen Miles Around Washington, 1878-1879
  5. Advertisement, Alexandria Gazette, published as Alexandria Gazette Commercial and Political; Date: 09-13-1814; Volume: XIV; Issue: 4210; Page: 4; Location: Alexandria, Virginia, accessed March 29, 2015,
  6. Dist(s) of Col William Payne Etc. v. Admr of Elizabeth Payne Etc., Index #1845-003 in “Virginia Memory, Chancery Records Index”. For the information synopsized, see especially records: 94-95; 142-143; 145-147
  7. Fairfax County deed E3:117, 1/29/1839
  8. Fairfax County deed E3:120, 1/30/1839
  9. Fairfax County deed B4:15, 3/21/1859
  10. Beth Mitchell’s unpublished deed analysis documentation for Tax Map 59 supporting her “Fairfax County in 1860: Property Owners” maps and Fairfax County deeds G4:126, I4:421 and I4:426 – July to August 1866