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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.


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 mills themselves.

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 internet.

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 your toll.

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 cracks."

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 apprentice system).

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 same stream.

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 bad instructors.

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 structure.

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 out.

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 Mill.

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 clearity.

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 T.V.A.!"

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 storytelling.

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 that decision.

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 product.

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.

by Theodore R. Hazen.


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.

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Copyright 2008 by T. R. Hazen.