A Journey Through Time: The Mackoys and Downings of Dover’s Grist Mill

The Local History and Genealogy Department received a generous donation of material from Mason County, pertaining to the grist mill there and the people involved with it. A gristmill was used to grind corn, wheat, and other grains into flour and meal. They were usually hydro powered. This collection was donated to Kenton County Public Library on March 28, 2022 by Elizabeth Wilkinson Mariette. I spent several months scanning, indexing, and getting deeply involved research-wise with the entirety of the collection. 

Ownership changed hands several times since the mill was built. The two family owners featured in the collection are the Mackoys and the Downings. Not only are the families chronicled, but we are also introduced to many in the community.  Little tidbits are offered up on their daily lives and the musings of the writer at the time. There are daybooks (interactions between the owner and the customers that frequented the mill, as well as sale of other goods) that were maintained by both James Mackoy and Thomas Downing, and a household account book (Downing). There are two diaries that were written by Thomas’ daughter, Cornelia Frances Downing. 

In the early day books, there are lists of things that people have bought, or brought in to have milled. Occasionally, there would be a comment regarding the customer such as “by the amiable Miss Mary Line of Dover one of the fairest of the fair” (James Mackoy was a smooth talker!), or that their belongings are being put up for sale to either pay taxes or settle an estate. 

(TEXT: ‘Cash rec’d for 50 lbs. shorts 50 E by the amiable Miss Mary Line of Dover one of the fairest of the fair’

(TEXT: ‘Pair of Gum Boots by McKoy, Pair of Pants’

I found this one amusing, regarding animal husbandry.  

(TEXT: ‘Calvin Holton CR By cash 10$ for 3 cows to my bull Renzi if they should not prove with Calfe post on untill they are with Calfe’

One ledger had been partially repurposed as a scrapbook. There are articles that have been cut and then pasted onto pages, covering over sales records. This featured pertinent news all the way up through the 1940s. There is commentary on the times, such as this warning about the dangers of whisky, as well as deaths, marriages, births, etc. 


Thomas Downing kept it as not only a ledger for sales and what he bought himself, but for daily life as well. He mentions loaning someone money to go hunt for their missing son in Michigan, and sending donations for the camp that the Confederate prisoners were kept in. Sprinkled among the business, he shared home recipes, his poetry, a random Hamlet soliloquy, and many other historical gems. There are notes of the passing of loved ones. I’m sure he didn’t know that one day others would find his musings to be significant. 

(TEXT: ‘Loaned Jno. Reeves money for his Father to go after his lost son in Michigan’

Hair Restoration 
1 Drachm sugar of lead 
1 Drachm of lack. Sulphur 
2 Ounces of Glaysing 
2 Ounces of Bay Rum 
4 times this amount 
Cure for Scarlet Fever 
Take 2 ounces of Salammonide dissolve in a pint of strong vinegar wet a cloth of 6 or 7 thicknesses apply it to the throat – renew as often as it gets dry. 2 ounces of Gum Myrrh dissolve it in water gargle with it frequently (every hour). 1 ounce of sweet Spirits of Nitre give half teaspoonful 3 times a day. ½ ounce of Peruvian bark throw a little of it frequently into the back of the mouth. Give a light dose of Rheubarb every morning.) 

There are several locks of hair and even a Confederate ten-dollar bill, which just add even more to the historical journey the collection takes you on.

(TEXT: 1865 Dec Notes to Saml. McLaughlin taken up and new one given. Mar 1866 Paid 2 yrs interest. I took up note & gave a new one


There are loose pages of a daybook from 1769, in London. I will admit to being in awe of holding something that had been written before the United States as we know it had even come into being! As the family were merchants, I learned a whole new vocabulary regarding dry goods, clothes, and types of coins. For instance, a pipe referred to a large cask of varying capacity used especially for wine and oil; any of various units of liquid capacity based on the size of a pipe especially: a unit equal to two hogsheads. A hogshead is a large cask, generally filled with spirits.  

(TEXT: London March 23D 1769. Cash, Dr. to bills receivable 141£ 13 S. 4D. Henry Sidney 
Received of in full of Jacob Preston bills 
April 1st 
Sundries Drs. To John keil, 271£. 10 s. 
Cash, received in full for kerseys - 270 00 
Kerseys, for the sum abated him – 1..10 
Cash Dr to George Young, 280£ 
Received, of him in full for broad clothe -) 

The diaries almost read like a Jane Austen novel. These spanned from 1881-1886 and 1892-1898. There is mention of watching a solar eclipse, and upon researching this, I found out that it did happen on that date. We are allowed to read about the relationship between her and Mr. Mackoy blooming (or Mr. M, as she refers to him), as well as the comings and goings of her many friends and relatives in the community. Visiting, chores, sewing and decorating for parties, and her time as a schoolteacher. I found her to be a highly intelligent young woman, who didn’t always keep the status quo. There is a story of getting signatures for a petition for prohibition of liquor sales, and she names those who didn’t sign. She tells of the Rice Circus coming to town (Dan Rice was not only an entertainer, but he also ran for President of the U.S. in 1868). John L. Sullivan, the prize fighter, appeared at the opera house. There are winters where temperatures dropped to -24F. Sleigh riding and a harrowing accident. Even the tale of a young woman who was stood up at her own wedding where Cornelia was a guest.
In 1893, her aunt, Mary Downing, stepped on a nail sticking out of a shingle in the cellar. They cleaned and medicated it. The hole closed, and all seemed fine. Days later, Mary began to grow ill, developing lockjaw, suffering horrible spasms and pain, at a time when all they could do was dose them with the strongest opiate they had. She died exactly two weeks after the accident. The first tetanus vaccine was not developed until 1921, and the more effective one in 1938. Having just gotten my tetanus shot a few weeks ago, this caused me to really think about how certain things meant death back then, but now are easily treatable if caught in time. Cornelia’s diary ends at the onset of the smallpox epidemic of 1898.  

For those interested, Cornelia married William Henry Mackoy, the grandson of Capt. James, who would become sheriff. James Mackoy was the brother of John Mackoy, whose family has its’ own family collection in GeNKY.  

 Written by Jessica Johnson, Library Associate in Local History and Genealogy Department at Covington.