Historical Operation of Water Powered Mills in the State of Pennsylvania,
and the Middle Atlantic States.
Gissinger Mill which once stood off Union Hall Road, along a small stream known as Swigert's Run, circa 1900,
Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.
-DRAFT of DUOLOGY-
HISTORICAL OPERATION OF WATER POWERED MILLS IN THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND THE MIDDLE ATLANTIC STATES,
by Theodore R. Hazen,
For the Protecting Pennsylvania's Historic Resources Conference, as
part of the Environmental and Preservation of Old Mills and Low Head
Dams, Thursday, May 15th, 2008, from 8:30AM to 12:00PM.
1. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The first mill was in operation in
Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. The mill was described as "a fine grist
mill which grinds both coarse and fine flour, and trade is so great
that it must keep going early and late."
Flour was sifted by hand, either in the mill, taken to a boutling mill
or to a baker where another tool would be taken for the sifting
process. Waste not, want not. What ended up on the floor was not tossed
away. The floor was used in part of the milling and sifting process. No
one thought anything different about stomping or compressing flour into
barrels with boots covered in road mud.
The 1700's would bring a great deal of change to the milling industry.
While the Pilgrims were struggling to build Plymouth Plantation,
patents were being issued in Great Britain for the making of woven wire
cloth which was used in flour and meal. A century later a Scotsman
named John Milne invented a sifting reel which rotated instead of being
shaken. This was a big breakthrough over a shaken screen by hand or
mechanical means. This meant that the quality and quantity of the flour
greatly improved. The meal meant that finer mesh fabrics could be used
to sift the flour, and soon silken gauze was being used.
The next change happened with the Quaker millers where they abandoned
the traditional concept of the grist, custom, or batch mill which
operated on the barter system in favor of commercial or merchant
milling. This meant that the mills were expanded to several stories,
and then contained a multiple pairs of millstones.
What was this revolutionary change in the system of milling?
Traditionally when a person, craftsman, or tradesman made and sold
something, he could only sell it for its fair market value. Which
meant, the cost of making the item. Nothing extra, to accumulate money
for a new roof, new or better tools, or to build capital. it was just
your "DUE!" The Quakers developed this very radical idea of its day,
called, "profit" which today we take for granted. Today everything and
all business is ruled by "profit," but at one time there was no profit
in the milling industry or any other business. It was not the
craftsman's due to make a profit. This Quaker system of finance allowed
the creation of profit to accumulate capital to build bigger, larger,
and more flour milling machinery in mills.
You just might say, that Chaucer's dishonest miller was a head of his
time. In is stealing 400 percent more than his allowed due, he was just
accumulating profit for himself. However, "all that the law allowed,"
was established by local laws and custom. People and the law at the
time of Chaucer still would have hung the miller's apprentice if the
master was caught stealing more than his allowed toll.
Remember if a mill wanted to increase or double its production, they
had to double the water wheel, the millstones and the work force. The
mills the way they were constructed at the time could not increase
production without increasing the hours of production, or doubling the
What did the system of Quaker milling do? Basically at this time most
people engaged in the milling and grain trade were Quakers. They were
the mill owners, millwrights, millstone dressers, millers, flour
inspectors, grain dealers, etc. They abandoned grain grinding for local
farmers and individuals, and went to purchasing the grain outright or
directly from the farmers. This meant that the wheat was ground into
white flour, which was then packaged into flour barrels for export. The
Quaker millers and mill owners could make more money by selling their
flour abroad in barrels than to grind grain the old toll drive system.
So what was the consequence of this? The farmers who could not get
their grain ground by the millers any more so they forced the State
Legislatures of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, to pass laws
saying that the miller had to set aside one day a week to grind the
grain of the locals or farmers. So basically, the millers said, "Yes,
we can live with that." And since the law did not say which day of the
week we had to grind their grain......The millers said, "We will do it
on Sunday!" Damned if you do, and damned if you don't The farmers would
not be caught hauling out work on a Sunday, and the millers would only
grind their grain on a Sunday. If the millers worked on a Sunday, then
they rested on the following Monday. "Easter Monday," came into
existence because the millers would not stop grinding grain on a Sunday
even it was on Easter. So they would rest on "Easter Monday."
The next big changed happened with the Dutch weavers at the Haarlem
Mills to weave silken cloth. Bolting cloth was made from wool, linen,
wire, and even horsehair. Silk cloth woven at the Haarlem mills became
the standard of the industry until modern times with the introduction
of nylon woven fabric. Silk had its short comings. Moisture absorbed
from the air caused it to became slack, and lack of moisture caused it
go grow too taut.
The next changed happened after the American Revolution with the system
of flour milling developed by Oliver Evans. Evans developed 5 devices
(which is the term by which he called them): the elevator, the conveyor
(auger), the hopper-boy, the descender, and the drill, and an automated
system of flour milling. This system was geared for commercial or
merchant mills, and mills that ground wheat and produced white flour.
Why white flour? White flour became a cultural or class thing. It was
not until the end of the 1700's did the milers have a system in place
for cleaning of grains. Evans mill plans included a dutch fanning mill
which had evolved into the smutter, and the an adaptation of the flour
sifting reel which became known as the rolling screen used for
cleaning. Without a means of cleaning grain, this meant that anything
that came to the mill mixed into the grain, all the miller's could do
is grind it. The material being dirt, dust, fungus, smut, straw,
sticks, stones, seeds, insect eggs, rodent droppings, manure, and tramp
metal. At the end of the 1700's the only system to automate the grain
harvesting process was that the wheat was threshed by horses hoofs.
Horses cannot trod on something without leaving thier presence behind.
So all the poor millers could do for centuries was to grind the grain,
and then afterwards sift out the brown from the white. After all if
something is clean then it is "white," because dirt is brown. This is
why the miller's have for centuries tended to dress in white clothing.
So if they could keep a clean and white appearance, then perhaps the
product they were producing was clean as well. And it is the brown
parts of the wheat that caused the wheat flour to spoil, mildew, mold,
or turn rancid. Bran was a flake that absorbed moisture, and caused it
to mildew. The wheat germ was naturally oily and it caused it to turn
rancid. If the miller applied too much pressure on the grain in milling
it he could release the oil of the germ into the flour which it would
quickly become rancid. It the millstones were dull or out of balance,
they could generate too much heat which would cause the flour to become
burnt, and burnt flour won't rise because the gluten is injured.
So what did the millers do with the stuff that they sifted from the
flour? The animal feed industry did not really develop until around
1860 (the American Civil War era), and afterwards. So they considered
this material "offals," offal to deal with, and offal to dispose of. So
most often they tossed it into the creek. The main method of disposing
of unwanted material in that day, was to toss it into the stream where
it would be carried away and become someone else's problem.
Pennsylvania became the grain belt of the North, while Virginia became
the grain belt of the South. There were more mills in Pennsylvania,
than any other state. Virginia is second, and Georgia is third. The
Fitz Water Wheel Company (1841-1967) installed over a thousand water
wheels in Pennsylvania, and over 900 in the state of Virginia, not to
mention ones built by millwrights, and from other water wheel and water
turbine makers. In 1900 there was 315 operating flour mills in
Lancaster County alone, not to mention the other types of mills. Today,
there are on average 80 mill buildings standing in each county of
Lancaster, Berks, and Bucks Counties.
Pennsylvania's oldest mill, photographed by Robert Newell, circa
1870. Bowman's Hill Mill, circa 1730.
This mill is a typical mill of Pennsylvania, not just because it
is constructed of stone.
Mills were constructed of local materials. Some places there is not a
good building stone common to the area. Where I grew up in Northwestern
Pennsylvania, the most common stone is shale which does not make a very
good building stone. So there are very few stone buildings my part of
Pennsylvania. The Eagle Hotel in Waterford, Pennsylvania. being perhaps
the only one. The above mill's water wheel is covered with a roof to
protect it from the snow and ice during the winter months. This was a
very common thing in mill design and construction from Northern
Virginia up through Pennsylvania, and into New York State was to place
the water wheel under roof or inside of the mill itself.
2. WHAT RULES THE MILLING INDUSTRY? I should mention that the word,
"industry," we often take for granted. It did not come into existence
until the year 1814. So before that there was no industry? So
then what was the industry word before 1814? The apprenticeship system?
One of the rules of modern business is that a business does not stay in
business unless it spends money. This means that a business needs to
keep up with modern technological changes, and improvements. One of the
problems with most people who own an old mill, have an interest in old
mills, or a knowledge of them. They don't have a computer or access to
The apprentice system, this has been a long standing argument with
living history parks, like Colonial Williamsburg, Philipsburg Manor,
Old Sturbridge Village, and others. They are demonstrating for the
public crafts or trades which was definitely not historically accurate
to the time period. That was not how things were done during the
historical time period.
The rules that governed the trade clearly state that anyone not part of
that trade shall not watch or observe it being practiced. This mean
that in a mill.....a miller saw someone coming to the mill. He (they)
turned off the mill, they (the customer) never saw the mill being
operated or could observe their grain being ground. The miller would
simply say, come back later, tomorrow, or make use of the temporary
fishing privileges I am giving you to fish, swim, ice skate, picnic
around the mills' stream and dam or pond. This is why most people today
have the misconceived notion that two stones (millstones) mash up the
grain into flour or meal. Technically, that is not how it is done. The
stones never touch each other, so there is never any mashing or
crushing of the grain into flour.
This way the farmers or individuals never saw the mill operating, never
saw the machinery apart, never saw the mill being maintained, or was
around when the miller collected his toll. The "Miller's mite" is the
flour or rain that is lost to though the system. Sometimes the miller
designed the system to trap more of the grain and flour besides his
regular toll which no one could be sure that the miller did not take
more than once. This is the old haw, haw funny about the miller
collecting his toll. He is a very forgetful man, and did he take his
toll or not? Take it again, and take it once more "just" to make sure.
There is no one around to speak up and say, you have already collected
A dishonest miller might have an extra chute hidden underneath the
millstone cover which lead to a secret bin, or they may be extra wide
spaces between the floorboards so more of the spilled grain or flour
would fall though and be lost to the system, or "fall between the
This is why later on when the apprentice system began to break down,
you see so many mills built in the modern era along pre-colonial
design. So many mills constructed using the pre-Oliver Evans technology
of grain falling down to a meal bin. The farm could see the grain being
poured in, and he could see it falling into a bin while standing on the
same floor. The millstones again were placed on high platforms just so
the farmer could see it come out. Many mills still had a second chute
which fed to an elevator which carried the ground material to an upper
floor where it was presumedly sifted in a large flour bolter or sifter.
This way any modern dishonest miller could say that alternative path of
the ground grain was shut off tight when in fact it could be carrying
away half of the farmer's ground grain. This is why Mabry Mill
constructed along colonial design when it was actually built in three
different dates. The saw mill built in 1910, the woodworking shop in
194, and the grist mill in 1928. Not everything is the way it seems.
Millers made up stories about spirits of the water who would protect
the mill at night from unwanted visitors by drowning the strangers in
the water around the mill. The class story is of the Fincastle Mill
which was told about someone who defied the miller, and got their just
desert in the end. Who was the bad fairy or brownie who protected the
mill from harm at night? Most often it was the miller, or millstone
dresser sharpening the millstones so the people would never see the
millstones apart, or being maintained so not any of the trade secrets
would re revealed. Many a child of a miller will tell you, "I was
around that old mill for years growing up, but I don't ever remember
seeing my Dad dress the millstones!" It is like the secret
government agent who would say, "It we tell you, then we will have to
kill you!' Same thing long ago, if you come down to the mill to learn
its secrets, then the secret agents of the mill will have to kill you!
Nothing new, the story has changed, but the message is still the same.
Because originally the water rights was something that was granted by
the King. This meant, that the miller controlled the fishing along the
stream. Only the customers of the mill were given the use of the stream
while their grain was being ground. So how ever they found it, either
for fishing, swimming, or ice skating, was a temporary license to use
the stream. So long before various States issued fishing licenses to
fish in the States waterways, the millers controlled who could fish on
the streams and for how long. So it was in the miller's best interest
to maintain the good fishing waters of a stream. How may farmers said,
"I know he is a dishonest miller, but the fish we catch while our grain
is being ground more than makes up for the amount of grain and or flour
he steals from us!"
An Unidentified Maryland Mill.
3. WHAT IS THE SYSTEM THAT KEPT THE MILLS IN OPERATION: The apprentice
system. This meant that there were the mill owners, millwrights (who
had their own apprentice system), millstone dressers (who also had
their own apprentice system), and the millers (who also had their own
You had the master who rule was law. The journeyman who could one day
go out and work for themselves, and the apprentice who was more of an
indentured servant who was under the rule and mercy of their master.
This basically meant that a master could use and abuse their apprentice
only sort of killing them. So for the first years of an apprentice's
life was spent doing all of the dirty work the master and the
journeyman thought they were above doing. This meant, sharpening tools
if you were a millwright or millstone dresser's apprentice. A miller's
apprentice or help would spend a lot of their time cleaning the mill or
milling system. This meant that they would be the ones who cleaned the
year once a year, and cleaned out the hydraulic system of the mill.
They were also the ones more likely to get hurt, injured, killed or
drown in a room size bin of grain. The master may say, "Fish him out"
we will send him home, or simply say, "Toss him into the creek he was
not worth the effort of digging a hole to bury him in!" So later if
someone found the apprentice floating in the stream, the miller would
simply say, "He must have slipped and fell in." I wondered what
happened to him because i have not seem him in days!"
Back in medieval or feudal Europe, it was the apprentice who was also
the one who suffered. It was not the dishonest miller who was caught
taking more than his fair toll or due, who was hanged on the gallows,
which was often conveniently located outside of the mill, or on a sail
arm of the windmill. It was not the journeyman, because there was still
hope for him, but it was the apprentice who suffered and was hanged
because of his bad master. Hopefully the master would one day learn his
lesson when he could no longer recruit new apprentices because he lost
too many of them to hanging.
Today the average mill restoration cost a million dollars more or less.
HISTORICALLY and TODAY in any new mill or restoration the largest cost
is to build the hydraulic system for the mill. This means if a mill
cost (TODAY) a million dollars to restore, then it may cost 3 million
dollars to restore the hydraulic system for the mill. This means the
water rights, legal fees, lawyers, dealing with the EPA, the Army
Engineers, the State Office of Dam Safety, the State Fish Commission,
and the federal Fish Migration laws. Not to mention construction of the
mill dam, creation of the mill pond (or system reservoir), head gates,
flash boards, washout gate, head race, overflow, tail race, sluice box,
water box, etc. So it could cost three times as much just to get the
water to turn the water wheel once again. Then on top of that, you have
to install a fish ladder which looks like a modern Soviet era public
works project and are death to the American teenager who want to use
them as a waterside, or a fish passage way around the mill dam which
works like a handicap ramp for fish.
So historically the miller or mill owner would protect and preserve the
hydraulic system of the mill. To preserve this fragile system, this
meant that the mills protect their dams from decay and washing
out. They did not want their dams to fail if a dam upstream broke, or
if their dames broke taking out a series of mill dams below or
downstream from theirs. This meant that the millers along a stream
would often help in the maintenance or cost of other mill dams on the
Once every few years or so they would drain down the mill dam, often
during the summer months when the water level was low, and less grain
was being ground because of the heat, and the problems with bugs. This
way they maintain their dams, and the locals and farms would go and
clean out the buildup behind the dams for their farmlands and gardens.
The buildup behind the dams prevented the efficient operation of the
mill by lessing the available water for the mill to use. This meant
that the average working mill which operated during the daylight hours,
and used the hours of night to recharge the mill pond. When the mill
pond became clogged with material a mill might only be able to operate
for several hours during the day light hours and were forced to shut
down until the next day when they could again be able to operate the
mill for a few more hours. Silt and debris put more weight and pressure
on the dam structure, and increased the amount of debris which would be
washed away down stream if the dam broke.
What broke down this system of cleaning out the mill dams was the mills
either stopped operating, the owners got older and could no long take
on the job, or the community grew and began to complain about the smell
while the ponds or lakes were drained. Another reason is commercial
fertilizers. Why should farmers and individuals go through all of the
trouble, work, and effort to help the miller if they could just go out
and purchase bags of fertilizers? After all, the buildup in the mill
pond is basically muck. It smell like muck, and fertilizer is dry so it
is easier to apply to the ground.
What prevented centuries of buildup behind mill dams? The mills kept
them clean while the mills were operating. They the average wooden
water wheel had an average working lifetime of 10, 20, or 30 years at
the most. The average lifetime of the standard log, or timber crib dam
was one of two water wheel's life time. This meant perhaps 60 to 100
years. So the average mill may have 6 or 8 dams located at various
points along the flood plain above the mill. Very few mils constructed
during the 1700' would survive today with their original mill dam
structures sill intact, unless the original dam was capped with stone,
concrete or cement.
Keystone Roller Mlls, from Edinboro, Pennsylvania, 1896. Published John J. O'Brien, Printer.
The Edinboro (Keystone or Culbertson) Mill had 6 dams at various points
above the mill, along with the structure being replaced with a new
building in 1856, and new machinery as technology changed. Drake"s
Mills in Drake's Mills is the second mill structure and it had a number
of mill dams as well. Edinboro Lake originally supplied water to
Culbertson Mill on one side of the stream, and a saw mill on the other
side. Down stream at Drake's Mill there was also a saw mill on the
other side of the mill dam, and a box factory operated from the
alternative steam power for Drake's Mill during low water events.
A mill is a business. It is not a craft. A craft you purchase the
materials to make an item, and you can go away from it with no lost in
value. It is still there the next time you come back to practice it
again. A mill you have to maintain it, spend money to keep it going,
and put away money for the future for newer machinery or in the event
that disaster happens. For that business to survive it has to change
and spend money. This means for new machinery, and upgrades to the
hydraulic system of the mills. After all, a mill built in the 1700's is
not going to have its original water wheel. In the literally word a it
is not considered that a mill has to change its water wheel every few
generations. The sounds of the old creaking mill wheel are just so many
word on a sheet of paper, but that is not reality. Other types and new
water wheels are going to have different requirements for water
(gallons per minute) and the amount of fall. Then there is the changes
in the stream flow over the years and changes to the watershed.
Mill dams are not something that was constructed from one abutment on
one side of the valley to another abutment on the other side. Many mill
dams were just wing dams. Some locations laws said that the dams had to
allow the movement of boats and barges up and down the stream. After
all if a mill was not located along a canal, then the stream could be
used to carry its flour to market
At Peirce Mill circa 1820, in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., this
is the third mill to stanyd on or near that site. Over the years it had
two different saw mills at various times, and a number of different
locations for mill dams. When Isaac Pearce built the mill which
replaced an earlier 1790 mill, he had to allow for the movement of
boats carrying flour down stream to Georgetown.
The book by James Leffel, "The Construction of Mill Dams," which was
reprinted a number of times was after a means of selling Leffel Water
Turbines. Mot millwrights who constructed mill dams relied upon their
knowledge of dam construction learning from their years of
experience. the problem with the Leffel book is that it is a
selling tool, and it lacks the instruction and means of conveying and
controlling the water to the mill.
This is the main problem with the interpretation of Oliver Evans' book,
"The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," 1795 on 15 editions to
1860. The book explains how to construct Oliver Evans devices, but
lacks the information on the transmission of power to get this
machinery operating. The book shows only three types of dams: the log
dam, the timber crib dam, and the bulkhead dam.
Not all mills in Pennsylvania, had Leffel Water Wheels, so most
millwrights did not have access to his book. During the 3 editions of
"The Miller's Guide," that was published during Oliver Evans lifetime,
you could not go out and purchase a copy. It was reserved for those who
subscribed to his system of automated flour milling or paid him the
patent users fee for installing his machinery in their mill based upon
the number of pairs of millstones the mill had.
After the 1860's there developed schools of milling science and
hydraulic engineering. So if one wanted to become a miller or a
hydraulic engineer all one had to do was go to school or college. Then
you were no longer at the mercy of a bad master, but at the mercy of
The oldest known image of Pearce
(Peirce, Pierce) Mill, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., that I have
been able to locate. The painting was authenticated by the Corcoran
Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., as having been painted in 1830 by an
anonymous artist who was trained in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
From the original painting you can see that the top of the water wheel
is at the bottom level of the first floor windows. This would make the
original water wheel 16 to 18 feet in diameter and more than likely a
breast shot water wheel. The saw mill would have been located to the
right out of view of the painting. Note: To the left of the mill, the
Miller's House was originally a log cabin before it became a framed
4. WHAT KEPT THE MILLS OPERATING YEAR AFTER YEAR: Grist mills operated
seasonally at harvest time or in the fall. Some mills operated in the
fall and in the spring after the winter freeze melted free the water
wheel that had been locked in ice the winter months.
The machinery of the mill had to be maintained. Often the miller had
agreements with a "sister mill." A mil nearby or just up or down
stream. These agreements were often not between other family members,
but created out of bonds of friendship built up over many years or
generations. So if one mill was broken down because of its machinery or
hydraulic system, they could take all of their grain and grind it at
their sister mill, and vice versa. This mean they could order larger
quantities of grain from grain dealers and their suppliers, and split
the shipping costs, etc.
The miller's helper's job was to keep the mill races, and trash racks
clean. So it wa often his job to alert the head miller that the mill
pond needed to be drained down, and the buildup behind the dams cleaned
It was the miller or the miller who instructed the helper to lift up a
flood gate, or sluice gate just enough at the bottom, and place it back
down on a large rock. So during the month of April when migrating fish
would be swimming upstream they could pass around the mill dams.
Captain Frank Langrell who was the old miller at the Linchester Mill
circa 1680, outside of Preston, Maryland, told me on one of my visits
that it was what he did with one of the gates on the mill pond, was to
place it on a rock so the fish could swim upstream. Arthur (Art) Henry
who had worked at the Edinboro (Keystone) Mill, and later at the mill
which I worked in Edinboro, said that is what he used to do is lift up
the double break wall at night (just like Frank Langrell) to allow for
the movement of fish.
I have walked all over the approximately 50 acre dry mill pond of the
Linchester Mill, a.k.a. Upper Hunting Creek Mill, Murrary's Mill, which
was constructed in 1680, and the pond was washed out (not the original
dam) but the head gates which held the water in the pond in 1972, and
there was no evidence of any silt on the pond bottom, just nice clean
sand. The mill stream is just not that big to have washed it away
under normal circumstances. It was kept clean.
Keystone Mills, Edinboro, Pennsylvania, circa 1920.
This images is on a 17 x 17 cm landscape photograph of the Keystone
Mills (1856-1958) in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. In the upper right corner
of the photo is an inset photograph of Pearly Harned who owned the mill
at this time. The mill was located at the foot of Erie Street, next to
the outlet mill dam.
Art Henery who worked at the Edinboro Mill, a.k.a. Keystone Mill,
Culbertson's Mill, Grange League Federation - G.L.F., said, that he
learned it from the miller who taught him, and so he passed it on to
me. Frank Langrell said, "That is just the way it should be done, and
is what he did working at Potter Mill before purchasing the Linchester
Scouller Mill on Sunset Drive, North East, Pennsylvania, from North
East, Erie County, Pennsylvania, 1896. Drawn by T. M. Fowler.
At the ruins of Scouller's Mill in North East, Pennsylvania, which was
the largest water powered mill in Erie County, Pennsylvania., which
operated from 1844 until it was struck by lighting in 1919, there was
no evidence of any siltation in the area behind the old mill dam, or
the mill race which head to the water wheel. The mill upstream
above that was the North East Cider and Vinegar Works which dam was
washed out sometime after the mill burned down. There is no evidence of
any silt and the mill above that, the Green Sash and Blind Factory mill
pond there is also no evidence of silt deposits. These mills were
powered by a small stream which fed into Sixteen Mile Creek by a small
water falls next to the Scouller Mill site.
Drake's Mills 100 acre mill pond and the Edinboro Mill 250 acre lake
did not start filling in until after the mills stopped operating using
the water for power. The Washington Township Planning Mill, and
Skelton's Saw Mill which were located between these two mills also had
no sediment in the old washed out mill dams. The Washington Township
Planning Mill, a.k.a. Hobb's Lumber Mill, in recent years has
accumulations of sewage along the edges of the stream above it which
were coming from the Edinboro Sewage Plant located just above it on the
West bank of the Big Conneauttee Creek.
Eutrophication is especially a problem with the Edinboro Lake. If you
fly over Edinboro Lake you can still see the old stream bed channel
which flows in its original stream bed before it was dammed up in 1801
creating a lake which was used for mill power and natural ice. There
was a small pond or lake just North of Edinboro Cemetery just West of
Route 99. This lake is where the Native American lived around the area
before the coming of the white man. Before development covered up
Vonk's Point (with the Edinboro Mall) you could walk around and fill
your pockets with arrowheads.
Originally built into Edinboro Lake (mill pond or reservoir) was a
natural overflow which acts as a fish passageway around the mill dam,
and the town of Edinboro. This channel left Edinboor Lake between the
two cemeteries, passing underneath Route 99, heading towards Route 6N,
and past what was originally the back side of Edinboro Normal School
a.k.a. Edinboro State College, now Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.
The passage or waterway headed South where it joined a small stream in
the area of Mallory or Fake Lake which then flowed into the Big
Conneautte Creek in the same general area as Skelton Saw Mill. This
stream was never damed up to use it to create mill power because it was
designed as the lake's overflow and fish passageway. This channel
became blocked when they too out the bridges on Routes 99 and 6N, and
the later growth of the college constructed a road which also blocked
off the flow of this small stream or waterway. The stream in these two
blocked areas became a swamp wetland. When the Route 99 bridge was
removed they filled in the area East of the road with the Edinboro Mill
and all of its machinery when it was torn down peg by peg in October of
1958. When i began attending Edinboro State College you could see the
fish swimming up the overflow stream, but they were blocked by the
college development and the closed passageway which once led into the
lake. AFter this passageway was closed there was an increase in the
sediment into the Edinboro Lake besides after the Edinboro Mill stopped
using the lake for water power. Everyone who was alive in the beginning
of the 20th century in Edinboro was aware of this.
The offals of the mill, the waste from the grinding and the cleaning
process were tossed into the mill streams. Basically the old system of
dumping it into the water so it became someone else's problem, but it
also fed the fish of the mill stream. After all, before the states
issued fishing licenses, the millers controlled who could fish on their
streams. So with streams lined with mills from the head waters the
mllers had the fishing rights locked up and under their control.
The millers wanted to keep the silt build up cleaned out so they could
continue to operate the mill. The more silt that collected in the miil
pond, the less outs a day the mill could operate and during that time
they could operate less machinery than they once did. The millers
wanted the farmers to keep coming to the mill to have their rain
ground, and it was in their best interest to maintain the fishing
around their mills and their mill dams.
What happened, after World War Two, the individual consumption of flour
decrease even though flour is in more products today that it ever was.
Most mills in the State stopped operating from the late 1970's through
the 1960's because of changes to the laws, and other factors.
The mechanism of a county "colonial" gristmill, driven by an overshot
water wheel. The hopper platform would normally stand on the
"stone'floor" inside the mill instead of floating in the air over the
mill race, as it does here. It is just where it is for compactness and
5. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN" The pendulum needs to swing the other way.
Dams like anything goes in cycles. We at times need dams for industry,
power, recreation, floor control, etc. In the passage of time it seems
like dams for flood control was a bad idea to begin with. So some
years mill dams are seen as a good thing, and other times they are seen
as a liability, a problem for public safety, or a impediment to the
movement of fish.
Water rights, just because you own a piece of property, does not mean
that you have the right to use the water. Each state's laws are
different, and it would take an environmental lawyer a long time to
discover the laws for that state because they are buried, and not out
in the open.
When I lived in Virginia, you have to turn the water wheel over once
every three years or you loose the right to use the water. Here in
Pennsylvania, you have to show a history of continuous use. That
means if a mill was built in 1735, it has to have been operating every
year and continuously since its date of construction. If the mill was
down because of lack of operation, dam washout, owners not interested
in operating the mill, or absent ownership, then the right to use the
water may have been lost.
In Virginia, the power companies have forced the State to make it
impossible for the average person to join the good-olde boy's club of
power generation. It costs 50 thousand dollars annually (each and every
year) just to have the license to sell power into the grid. In the land
of the T.V.A., there is a saying, "Not even god could sell power to the
The problem with the average or small mill site, is the amount of power
or the size of the stream. The average mill can only generate about
enough electricity to see about 12 thousand dollars annually into the
grid. I remember when you could drive around the Pennsylvania Dutch
Country, and see old mills that look abandoned which the Amish have
bought who have been converted to make electricity to see to us
English, but now that seems like a thing of the past with the removal
of old mill dams.
The problem with mills is there was so man of them. They were too
common place. We took them for granted. Most often with a mill stopped
operating beside the liability problems with the mill buildings and the
dams, the abandoned mills became places for teenagers to drink, do
drugs, and have sex. In may communities if the old mill was standing
into modern times, then most often it is the oldest building in town,
and often the first industrial building the town ever had. Not all
mills are worth saving, and not all of them can be saved. But turning a
mill into a home, apartment building, or alternative function is only
preserving the shell. It is not preserving what the mill was about.
Food production, movement of machinery, the romance of milling, the art
of the milling, down by the old mill stream, commerce, folklore, and
You have to remember that Molinology is not rocket science. I am always
surprised by something different or unusual. You can't say there are
rules that apply to everything, because technology does not work that
way. It is not like the theory of Continental Drift. It does not always
move in one direction, it does not always move in two directions, and
sometimes it does not move at all. No two mills were ever constructed
alike. they are as different as human fingerprints, even constructed by
the same millwright because the mill sites are different and what the
mills were originally constructed to produce and the amounts may be
different. Trying to recreate a mill once it is gone, is like trying to
recreate someone's fingerprints who was never fingerprinted in their
living life time. Remember we are the caretakers of the mill and its
technology, and the caretakers of history. The song of the mill may be
silenced, the sound of the water wheel, gears and the millstones
operating. So it is up to us to tell others and our children
about its music.
There needs to be more research done on old mills in Pennsylvania.
Perry County is unique in that, it had a number of mills that wee
constructed prior to Oliver Evans inventions, and missed their update,
and only were later updated with metal water wheels and roller mills.
This seemed to happen no where else. There is enough mills in
Pennsylvania to classify a type of mill architecture as being uniquely
a "Pennsylvania mill design." There is the Pennsylvania Bank
Barn, but why is there no books or scholarly material about the
Pennsylvania Mill. I would think that since Pennsylvania has more
mills than any other state, they would issue an "old mill" license
plate to raise public awareness. There must be states that have covered
bridge license plates and since Pennsylvania has more covered bridges
than any other state, why not an "old mill" license plate?
Another thing which is unique about Pennsylvania mills is in Central
and Eastern Pennsylvania, is that they roast the corn before it is
milled. So roasted corn meal is something which is found only in this
area. It has a very unique nutty aromatic flavor and taste to it.
Roasted corn meal started when corn was first used to eat, people
roasted each ear over an open flame. Then after a while they began
taking them to a mill to have the kernels milled. So in time, the
millers started roasting the corn for the people so roasted corn meal
became a mill product in this area. None of these mills which
produce this in Pennsylvania today, have web sites which sell it or
their other products on the internet. Why are we not doing m ore to
preserve this Pennsylvania Dutch heritage which goes back to when the
Germans roasted corn before it was taken to the mill roasted corn meal
is the perfect product, it never gets buggy.
The main flour, meal and mix product sold at farmers markets all around
the Pennsylvania Dutch County is actually produced in the Finger Lakes
Region of New York State. So how Pennsylvania Dutch is that? I would
think that they would want to promote products produced in the
Pennsylvania Dutch Region of Pennsylvania. I know, if you would ask
someone about it. They would say, "We sell it for the tourists who
don't know any different!"
The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission's Architecture and
Landscapes of Pennsylvania's Agriculture: A Field Guide needs to have a
separate listing for "Mill Types." They listings for House Types, Barn
Types, Outbuildings, Landscape Features, and Archaeological Features,
but only a brief mention of mills on one of the site's web pages,
Construction Features, under the heading of Industrial Complexes. The
mill is only used as a example of an industrial complex saying, "For
example, a grist mill complex would feature a mill race, a mill
building with a water wheel, interior milling equipment such as a
grinding wheel, and perhaps a miller's residence." That is it? For the
State that has more mills than any other state. The mill is as common
or even more common than covered bridges in Pennsylvania. There are
more mills still standing in Pennsylvania than covered bridges. And I
love covered bridges, my brother constructed a new one several years
ago on his property in North East, Pennsylvania. What is going on?
Every day we loose more and more of our history. The main problem with
mills is that there are very few, and almost none which have been
restored or reconstructed to accurately reflect any actual period in
their historical operation. This happens because of lack of enough
funding, they ran out of time and or money, or the project was simply
taken down the wrong direction by people who were not properly informed
as to the history of the mill, or the development of technology.
When I was the miller at Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, in Washington,
D. C., for 11 years, my main argument for the funding restoration was
this is a mill in our National's Capital, it is a National Treasure. We
get visitors from every state, and country in the world. We should have
one of the nicest restored mills in the country, but that ideas just
did not wash. Money is up to the whims of Congress which makes the
National PArk Service bad keeps of our heritage. In some cases, I have
seen restored living history structures go to the preservation of
ruins. They said, it keeps people working writing new guidelines for
the interpretation of ruins which were once whole buildings. I have
seen a number of cases were park artifacts were being sold on online
internet auctions, and no body cared to do anything about it. I am
afraid that one day the National Park Service will be doing the same
because of lack of funding.
Raymond Watt who was the miller at the mill from 1942 until he retired
in December of 1958. He was originally from Latrobe,
Pennsylvania, where he had worked as a young man in a flour mill.
Robert Little who worked at the mill after the Fitz restoration had
worked for Washington Flour in Georgetown until he retired from there.
In the spring time when the fish would be swimming upstream to spawn,
he would open the bottom of the overflow gate on the mill race. this
would bypass the trash rack and the part of the race that allowed water
to flow to the water wheel. He would open the bottom of the gate enough
to let water ou, and let enough water flow down the overflow that fed
water into the stream which was located between the tail race and the
teahouse period water falls. This way the fish could swim up the
overflow, and into the mill race to the head upstream around the fake
water falls. This was something he would do in the several weeks in the
spring, a.k.a. April to allow the fish to spawn upstream. This was
something that was told to me by a number of visitors who had asked him
why fish are swimming up the tail race?
I mentioned this to the people who were thinking of installing a fish
ladder (that is now in place) on the water falls when I worked there.
They were dead set against using any part of the water system of the
mill for a fish passageway. I told them that visitors saw the fish
swimming up the overflow, and into the mill race heading upstream. The
trash rack was located just below it to prevent them from going down
towards the water wheel. They were bound and determined at the time to
spend 400 thousand dollars on a fish ladder to fit onto a water falls
structure whose foundation had at the time been undermined by over 20
feet at the base of the falls. The people who dove underwater to
inspect it said the whole thing could wash down stream in the next
flood or high water event.
I mentioned this to them, because that is what they said, "Wattie,"
used to do it, and it would combine the water system for the mill and a
fish passageway without adding anything that wuld become a deathtrap to
teenagers, and destroy the visual quality of the area. These
environmentalist become very hostile with the very idea that you could
combine this to effectively with one system. "This is how it was
historically done, I said." So now the water falls has something that
looks like a Soviet era public works project! And it would have save
the Park Service and the tax payers a lot of money. At the time this
money was a one time grant which would go to one project in the
National Capital Region. So there must have been some politics behind
Since the field of mill restoration began in th e1930's therw have been
more mills which have been restored wrong rather than mills which have
been restored right (or correctly). We can't just restore the mills and
not their water systems. Then expect to pump water to make the thing
work. Pumping water is like trying to defeat the laws of energy. You
can't do it, and you can never make it cost effective as naturally
flowing stream water. Water going over the water wheel is enriched with
oxygen which helps aquatic life. For 35 years the Park Service paid for
city chlorinated water to be poured into Rock Creek, not to mention the
annual cost of city water and electricity for the pumps. Size wise, you
really need the type of pumps found on a battleship, and not the
average hardware store. They don't seem to realize that, because their
mindset is that pumps are pumps.
The most photographed mill in the United States is Mabry Mill along the
Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia. There was some sort
of mill structure standing there in 1890, but no evidence remains of it
today. The saw mill portion was constructed in 1910, the woodworking
shop was built in 1914, and the center grist mill section built in
1928. The second most photographed mill in the United States is the
Glade Creek Mill in Babcock State Park, near Clifftop, West Virginia.
This mill was constructed as a commemorative mill from cannibalized
parts of three grist mills for the American Bicentennial in 1976. The
next on the list is the grist mill at the Wasyside Inn that was built
by the Fitz Water Wheel Company in 1926 with money from Henry Ford, and
his friends. I knew people who worked on that mill. I knew the late
Donald C. Wisensale who worked form the Fiz Water Wheel Company and the
late John Blake Campbell who worked for both himself and Mr. Fitz. My
grandfather was a millwright. These three (above mentioned) mills were
built within my fathers and my own lifetime. So what does this tell
you? Perhaps we have short memories when it comes to things old or what
is really should be termed Nostalgic? The Wayside Inn Grist Mill first
ground grain on Thanksgiving Day of 1929, and there postcard of the
mill being sold at the time which referred to the mill as being "old."
For some unknown reasons we are more and more willing to settle for the
old mill to be stored with the quality and characteristics of an
amusement park mill, rather than something which is historically
accurate. Mills cross over into many more fields of study than
lets say the barn. Because mills were so much more a part of our
everyday lives, they are part of our folklore, culture, and served the
community for many reasons than just to grind grain and produce a
CLOSING STATEMENT: Mils are very expensive to construct and maintain.
Their water system is 3 times as expensive to construct and to maintain
as the mill. Mills were not like fly-by-night saw mills which cut the
trees and moved on. For a business to survive they have to spend money
to maintain themselves, modernize, and expand. Mills were dependent
ipon maintaining their water rights, they controlled the fishing on
their streams, and were dependent up the local communities to help keep
the water free flowing. Their milling waste was tossed into the streams
to feed the fish, and fishing in the streams satisfied the unhappy
customers who thought the millers were dishonest and cheating them.
Mills for the most part have come and gone. There are only a few sad
reminders and examples of just how numerous they once were, and how
important they were to our every day lives. The author has learned the
milling trade the old fashioned way by being an apprentice miller, and
learning from those who came before him, who were well into their 80's
at the time 35 years ago. He has worked in a number of operating and
historical water powered mills, and knows first hand that mills were
not demons, were friendly to the environment because they relied upon
that renewable source of energy for power.
So if you find a mill which was constructed in the 1700's that is still
in the same state today as when it was first constructed. I want to
know about it. I would be wonderful like opening undisturbed tomb of
the Pharaohs. I want to study it, but I also want to learn why it has
not changed in all of that time.
OUTLINE - HISTORICAL OPERATION OF WATER POWERED MILLS IN THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND THE MIDDLE ATLANTIC STATES,
by Theodore R. Hazen.
1. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND.
2. WHAT RULES THE MILLING INDUSTRY?
3. WHAT IS THE SYSTEM THAT KEEP THE MILLS IN OPERATION?
4. WJAT KEPT THE MILLS OPERATING YEAR AFTER YEAR?
5. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN?
6. CLOSING STATEMENT.
Water Turbine Powered Henderson's Mill.
Henderson's Mill on the Letort Creek, today on the grounds of Carlisle
Barracks, along Route 11 (Harrisburg Pike), North of Carlisle,
Pennsylvania, circa 1900.
Note: This page dedicated in memory of
the late Charles L. Zortman Jr., Edward Zessinger, Art Henry, Sr. Harry
and Clarence Moffat, and Lloyd A. Wiley. They would have been proud to
see where I have come after Zortman's Flour & Feed Company and F.
A. Drake's Mill.