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Mills and Their Interpretation.

Master Miller, Millwright, and Millstone Dresser, Ted Hazen working at Perice Mill in Rock Creek Park Washington, D C., 1985.

Mills and Their Interpretation,
Theodore R. Hazen.

LECTURE NOTES: Mills and Their Interpretation.

Byways to the Past-Preservation Partnerships Conference.

INTRODUCTION: Joe Baker, Jonathan Crum, PennDOT Cultural Resources.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE:  Mils, milling, mill technology, and everything to do with mills is a very big subject. [slide one-the harvest]
We could talk about mills all week on various aspects about mills and not hit upon every topic concerning old mills.
So this is just an overview.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE:  Milling came to Pennsylvania rather late in the second half of the 1600's as compared to its neighbors. [slide two-norse mill]
Most other states around Pennsylvania had mills built before 1650.
The first mill was constructed in Pennsylvania in 1683.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE:  Everyone thinks of New England as having lots of mills. New England has lots of hydro-power. [slide three-horizontal mill]
Actually new England had a lot of other type of mills. It was home to the early textile industry. New England was not a wheat grown area. The soil, is rock and poor. New Englanders did not like wheat and most small mills ground corn and rye.

MOLIN BITS: When New Englanders made corn bread traditionally, they would make something called "rye & injin," which was a mixture of corn meal and rye flour. Wheat free.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE:  New England was where the first American water turbines were made. The modern water turbine was developed in France around 1840.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: Pennsylvania has more mills than any other state.
Virginia has the second most mills. [slide four-andrew grey mill drawing]
Georgina has the third most numbers of old mills.

Pennsylvania grew to be the bread basket of the North.
Virginia grew to be the bread basket of the South.

MOLIN BITS: Corn did not become an important Southern food until the American Civil War. Most of the battles in Virginia, were fought up and down the Shenandoah Valley. You break the back of the Southern grain growing and milling industry you break the back of the South.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: In New York the climate is too cold, damp, and wet to grow wheat. It effects the gluten levels in the wheat. So Virginia's wheat was superior for bread baking.

MOLIN BITS: In 1860 Richmond, Virginia, was the largest milling center in America.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: The Fitz Water Wheel Company (of Hanover, Pennsylvania, and Martinsburg, West Virginia, 1840-1967) installed over 1,000 water wheels in Pennsylvania, and over 900 in the State of Virginia. Added to these numbers were mills having water turbines and other types of water wheels.

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1900 had 315 operating flour mills besides the numbers of grist mills, and other types of mills.

Berks, Bucks, and Lancaster Counties each today have about 80 mill buidlings standing per county.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: "Grist mills." I hate the term! it is over used much like the English term "water mill." [slide five-a millstone dresser]

Not all grain mills were grist mills. Oliver Evans improvements or automated flour milling system was not designed to help the smaller grist mills. It was designed for the larger merchant or commercial mills.

MOLIN BITS: Grist Mill, Custom Mill or Batch Mill grinds for local farmers or individuals, and collects a "toll" for payment for grinding. They tend to only operate in the fall at harvest time.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE:  Merchant mills in the 1700's occurred a Quaker milling revolution. A very radical idea of its day- "PROFIT."  Profit was not the craftsman due!
When you made and sold something, you could not expect or ask for anything extra. Not for new tools or to put a new roof on your hobble.

The Quaker milling was for profit. To produce white flour for export.
Oliver Evans system and the importation of French millstones made this possible.

MEDIEVAL SYSTEM OF MILLING: The old system of milling depended upon the "Miller's Thumb." [slide six-a windmill]
The "Thumb of Gold." The "Miller's Touch," "Miller's Mite" the stuff that gets lost to cracks and lost in the system is part of the miller's toll.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Read: The Reeve's Tale.
Chaucer's miller name is Simpkin, which is short for Simpleton.

If you read it, you will think the miller goes around though life fat, drunk, and stupid. [slide seven-a windmill dawing]

It is all in the miller's thumb, the dishonest miller. The miller's thumb does work for its master without the miller having to think about it.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: The public viewed the miller with suspicion. [slide eight-a tidal mill drawing]
The miller view the public with contempt.
The miller often said, "Only I know the wheat!"

MOLIN BITS: The miller would say to his customers, "You got more last year because your wheat was better. This year you wheat is not as good, and therefore you got less."
Millers made up stories about why you should not go down to the mill at night. "Water spirits are nasty." And it was the miller doing his work at night so people would not learn his secrets.

Millers are so dishonest that they are going straight to Hell. No millers in Heaven.

MOLIN BITS: There is an old story about a deceased miller rising up to heaven. Along the way, he encounters Jesus who says, "Oh, No! you are going the wrong way. We have no Millers in Heaven."

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: George Washington was not above the tricks of a dishonest miller. [slide nine-george washington's mount vernon mill]

MOLIN BITS: When his mill ground wheat that was mildewed. He would have it shipped with a note to his agent in the West Indies, saying, "When you show the customer the flour, have a good barrel of flour to open and show them, but send them home with a barrel of mildewed flour. Then if they come back insist that the flour was good when I sold it to you. The mildewed flour must of happened because you improperly stored it."

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: What the millers did not steal from the public, he adulterated often with saw dust.

It was not until the end of the 1700's did millers have a way of cleaning grain. [slide ten-a drawing of a pre-oliver evans mill]
The dirt, seeds, fungus, smut, straw, stick, animal droppings and manure. In George Washington's time most common way of threshing wheat was to have horses stomp on it. However, they could not do it without leaving their presence behind. Then the millers did not have a means of cleaning manure from wheat.

Millers are free thinkers.
Millers don't like to be told what to do.

MOLIN BITS: Read a book called, The Cheese and the Worms." The book is about the chamois of a 16th century miller in Italy. He was the major of his town, he rented 3 mills, he was the father of 11 children, and he was a vivacious reader. The book gives you a lot of insight into the life of the miller.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: The basic problem for us today, and for the people of the past historically is interpretation of technology. Oliver Evans book, "The young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide." 1795.

MOLIN BITS: I have seen a number of expensive historical restorations where someone picked up a copy of Oliver Evans book and was attracted to the plate of a pre-Oliver Evans mill. So not having any understanding of the development of milling technology, they have interpreted that as being an Oliver Evans mill. i guess the fish weather vane on top of the mill is what attracted them to the drawing?

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: The apprentice system means that you do not see the miller working in his mill. The miller stopped the mill. You never see the mill operating, or taken apart. You are simply told to leave your grain, and come back later or tomorrow, and you will get your flour or meal. This is where I have had a long standing argument with places like Colonial Williamsburg. If you talk about doing living history, then you are not doing it right.

MOLIN BITS: People would not see the mill operating. They would be sent to use the stream for fishing, picnicking, swimming, ice skating, etc. The would not see the machinery apart, the miller or millstone dresser dressing his millstones. This way they would not learn about possible hidden chutes that would siphon extra flour away to the miller's secret bin. Some miller's had larger millstone covers or covers with multi-sides rather than round ones which would loose more of the customers flour to the system.

During the feudal system the miller was an agent of the King.

Millers collected land dues and controlled the water rights.

The miller controlled who could fish in the mill stream.

Fishing and use of the stream was the exclusive right or use by the customers of the mill for that day they took grain to the mill, and had it ground.

Mill's waste (offals: middlings, bran, germ, and shorts) was used to feed the fish.

MOLIN BITS: The miller's considered these offals., because they are offal to get rid of. The bran is a flake and it absorbs moisture and causes the flour to spoil or mildew. The germ is naturally oil and causes the flour to turn ranch. These parts of the wheat attract insects and rodents, Bugs are not stupid, they know where the best part is.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: Many mills have their waste chutes from the sifting or bolting process flowing directly into the mill stream just below or above the mill dam.

Fishing made up for what the miller sole. So perhaps if the fishing was good that day, it somehow made up for what the miller robbed from them in collecting his toll.

Many mills had an apprentice at the dam or stream to check the customers. It was in the miller's best interest to keep the hydraulic system clean to keep up the mill operation.

Millers drained the pond regularly to clean it out. It was the apprentice job to organize the cleaning of the water, and the mill.

The average mill had 6 to 8 dams, often at different locations in their operating lifetime.

MOLIN BITS: Some mills stationed an apprentice at the dam with a ledger book, basically take a number system. Some mills had the apprentice is a small building like a school bus stop to keep him sheltered from the weather.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: Today the average mill restoration cost a million dollars more or less.
Historically and today....If it cost 3 times as much to construct, restore, or rebuilt the hydraulic system just to get the water to turn the water wheel.

MOLIN BITS: The hydraulic system consists of the mill dam;  mill pond; head gates; mill race, sluice box; water box; overflow system, flash boards; wash-out value, spillway, and tail race. Some mills can have a mill race a quarter to half mile in length or the same distance for the tail race. So it takes a lot of regular cleaning to keep the water moving. Some mill races are earthen, and some are either stone lined or lined with boards.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: The apprentice system of the miller, millwright, and millstone dresser- each have their own system. They do not share information. The art of the miller is the secrets of the craft.

MOLIN BITS: Why should the millwright say anything to the miller about keeping the gears aligned, and properly lubricated. If the miller did not learn during his apprenticeship, then it means more work for the millwright selling him cogs and gear teeth.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: How do you interpret Oliver Evans' book?
It is the first technical manual for any trade. [slide eleven-evans mill on red clay creek]
For the millwright you need prior knowledge which was learned in apprenticeship.
For the miller you need prior knowledge which was learned in apprenticeship.
For the millstone dresser you need prior knowledge which was learned in apprenticeship.

How do you get that? You learn it though the apprenticeship system. [slide twelve-oliver evans automated flour mill]
When schools of milling science came into existence after the American Civil War the apprenticeship system gradually broke down.

MOLIN BITS: You can't pick up a copy of Oliver Evans' book and suddenly become a miller, millwright or millstone dresser.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: How do you interpret a mill site or find a mill site.
What types of dams do you build for that site? [slide thirteen-hydraulic system]
Oliver Evans shows only 3 types of dams in his book. The bulkhead dam, the log dam, and the timber crib dam.

MOLIN BITS: A millwright was more skilled in working with wood. A stone mason was more qualified to construct a stone masonry dam.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: The amount of fall, and water measured in gallons per minute. Horse power of a mill stream at that  point. [slide fourteen-a drawing of a mill system]

Types of water wheels.

Falls over 10 feet are for overshot water wheels. [slide fifteen-overshot water wheel]
[slide sixteen-a drawing of a mill system-repeat]
Falls over 6 feet are for breast shot water wheels. [slide seventeen-breast shot water wheel]
[slide eightteen-a drawing of a mill system-repeat]
Falls less than 6  feet are for undershot water wheels. [slide nineteen-undershot water wheel

You construct what you were trained to do. If a millwright was trained in Europe, then he came to America, and constructed what he learned to build there. So a millwright may never have constructed a water wheel of an overshot, breast shot or undershot water wheel, if his area had the terrain  to just make use of one type. [slide twenty-mills with different types of water wheels on a stream profile]

So it was not uncommon to find a 40 foot falls in early America operating an undershot water wheel because that is all the millwright knew how to construct.
The master millwright teaches his apprentice just how to build mills in the the area of their work.

A millwright may never learn to build a windmill, tide mill, boat or floating mills, or even an  overshot water wheel.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: The most common water wheel found in early America up until 1830 was the breast shot water wheels of the high, medium, and low breast shot type.

The Paradox of more than one apprentice. It a master has several apprentices, then you teach each one of them different parts of the trade so they cannot interconnect their knowledge. So it would take them years to make sense of what they are slowly learning.

No two mills were ever constructed alike.
They are as different as human fingerprints.
Mill sites are different in the amount of fall and the amount of water.
Then the mill owner may want the mill to produce certain products, and be able to produce a set amount of product each day.
So the numbers of millstones, cleaning stones, hulling stones, and other machinery may be different.

MOLIN BITS: Once a mill is gone it is gone for good. Often to reconstruct a mill it is like trying to recreate a dead person's fingerprints who were never fingerprinted in their living lifetime.

BASIC MILLING KNOWLEDGE: Not all mills can be restored. Not all mills are worth restoring.

Not all mills should be restored to an alternative or multi-use facility.

We need to keep some mills as mills for educational and to produce flour as a cottage industry or for local use.

Visitors to old mills, people like to see motion, a product being produced. They don't learn about smells from old photographs and history books. A mill is a basic food source industry.

A mill is often the first building in a town. Many mills may be the oldest building or industrial building in a town.

CLOSING STATEMENT: The Song of the Mill. The Mill Story. The water wheel turning, making a creaking sound, the gears going clicky clack. The leather belts stretching moving over wooden pulleys. The sounds and the smell of the millstones grinding grain into flour or meal which is coming out of the chute into the meal bin or elevator. The movement and dragging sound of the elevator cups moving up through the floors in the mill. Then the whoosh sound of the sifter reels turning around and round with the ground meal tossing gently inside.

A mill should be alive. They were alive to the people who spent their lives working in them. History should be alive, and not dead or static. A exhibit panel is better where there was none. A museum exhibit educates, with photos, models, dioramas, and various education activities, but it does not replace the real motion found in an operating mill.

An old mill saved to be an antique or a tourist souvenir shop has no educational value. It is a lot less trouble to make a new building look like an old mill. Don't rob future generations of knowing what a real mill is like.

Thank you! Clapping-applase by presenter: Ted Hazen.


Annapolis Royal first grist mill in North America in 1599. First use of French millstones in America.

Virginia 1620 first windmill in North America at Flowerdew Hundred Plantation. First use of English importing French millstones to America which was built for Governor Yeardley.

Maryland first windmill in 1634 from a kit ordered from England. The millwright died before he could construct a windmill at St. Mary's City.

Pennsylvania first mill Chester Mills built in 1683, Cobbs Creek. At the  Bluebell Tavern the Caleb Pusey built Pennsylvania's second mill in 1690.

Delaware's first mill was built in 1645 Kingsessing Mill, the first grist mill on Cobbs Creek,

New Amsterdam in the 1640's found windmills operating. The Gerritson tidal powered mill was built in 1635 in what is now known as Flatbush, which was then call Midwout which stood into the 20th century.

Massachusetts saw the first windmill in 1631 at Watertown. Then a water mill at Dorchester in 1633, and another in 1635 at Ipswich. Massausetts had a fulling mill at Rowley in 1643.

The Governor John Winthrop 1651 water mill at New London, Connecticut is still standing.

In 1645 there were 5 water mills, 4 windmills, and numerous horse powered mills in Virginia.

New Hampshire had at Mason's settlement a saw mill in 1631 with the first use of woman factory workers in America, 34 women and 8 danes.


Little Old Mills, by MArion Nichol Rawson.

Mils of the Tsatsawassa, by Philip Lord.

Grist Mils of Perry County, by Eugene Eby.

Flour Milling, by Peter A. Kozmin.

Flour Miller and Milling Engineer, by Charles E. Oliver.

Practical American Millwright, by David Craick.

Early Grist and Flouring Mills of New Jersey, by Harry B. Weiss and Robert Sims.

Water Power: A History of Industrial Power in the United States 1780-1930, Volume One, by Louis C. Hunter

The Mill: At Philipsburg Manor Upper Mills and A Brief History of Milling, by Charles Howell and Allen Keller.

MOLIN BITS: Additional information to add into program if time allows.

Grist Mill Sequence (1939 - Silent Film)

The exterior shot of the water wheel beginning to turn was more than likely shot at a mill in Virginia. The interior shots of the operating mill were filmed at Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. The first New Deal Miller was white haired Robert Little, who looked very much like my grandfather on my mother's side. He had been a miller before coming to work at Peirce Mill in 1936. Peirce Mill during this time from 1936 to 1958 was operated by a breast shot water wheel constructed by the Fitz Water Wheel Company, Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Miller Robert Little

Miller Robert Little, Peirce Mill, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D. C., photographed 5 January 1937.

Copyright 2008 by T. R. Hazen.