History Index 
 IowaZ Sitemap 
Use the Fayette Index page to navigate to other pages. This page last uploaded:
Mill Photo Album on Sony ImageStation
For more graphics on the Lima Mill site. There are other Lima related albums available. You need to investigate and use ImageStation a little to find out its features. If you have a good internet connection, learn to open an entire album in thumbnail form and then you can enlarge various pics. Seeing the entire album series generally speeds up viewing the items of interest. Generally I do not have the time to add major captions to the pictures, so email me if you need more explanation of a specific item. I lost about 15,000 pics when photopoint.com went broke so have hesitated to spend vast amounts of time to uploading more photo albums, but now feel that Sony will remain stable for awhile. I rarely backtrack on web pages and albums so if you find broken links that is the reason. Should anyone visit my Lima and Albany pages with pictures we might use on the site, I would appreciate the assistance, not only with pictures, but with text and living history information, firstname.lastname@example.org
Old Mill Site
Taken from notes compiled by the late Elizabeth Oelberg
Dickinson, Fayette, Iowa and the late Merl Durfey.
…Originally called "Lightville," laid out as "Volga City" and the name changed to "Lima" by an act of the legislature, because there was already a Volga City. The first to settle was Erastus A. Light and Harvey Light, thus the name Lightville. The Lights built a saw mill on the Volga River in 1849-1850. A. J. Hensley built a flour mill with stone burrs at this same place in 1852 and soon sold it to P.H. Durfey and son. This structure was twenty six by forty feet, two stories high with a stone basement. The property was reverted to Mr. Hensley in 1878 and later sold to Oelbergs. In the early days quite a lot of wheat was raised on farms around Lima. This mill was equipped with a special stone burr and bolter to separate the flour from the bran or hulls of the wheat. The top burr is/was in West Union at Paul Oelberg's old home and the bottom burr is at the Lima Cemetery, put there by Russell Dickinson. The saw mill was also kept running. A lot of logs were sawed into lumber for farmers to use for buildings. There were several men who ran the mill. A.R. Oelberg, Bob Durfey, George Abbot, and Harry Stephens. The mill was located on the north bank, west of the bridge which spanned the river. It was abandoned in 1900, because there was not enough water to keep it running. An iron bridge originally spanned the Volga River at this point, but was swept away by the flood of June 1, 1875. The second structure was taken in the flood of 1947. The cement bridge there now was built in 1979.
EARLY SETTLERS around Lima.
...Earliest settlers at Lima were the Light brothers, Harvey and Eurastus, who came in the early 1840's.The town, first named Lightville, was later called Volga City. Then because there was another Volga City farther down the river, east in Clayton Co., the name was changed to Lima. The Lights built a saw mill and later added a set of burrs for grinding corn in 1849-50.
...A.J. Hensley built a flour mill in 1872. The saw mill was sold to P. H. Durfey and his son, Follett. In larter years Follet and sons, Robert and Merl Durfey, operated the mill. At that time the flour mill was owned by Albert R. Oelberg, who also owned and operated the general store. The mill was abandoned around 1900 (actually 1910+) when the river could no longer furnish power except for a short time in the spring and fall after heavy rains.
...The Henry window in the Lima Community Church is in memory of
the late Norman Henry's father, millwright of the early Lima water-power mill,
where the native lumber for the church was sawed. The Hensley window is in
memory of A.J. "Jack" Hensley, who gave the first one hundred dollars toward a
new church. The Stearns window is to commemorate Winslow Stearns,
carpenter-foreman of the church building work crew. Norman Henry and George
Kuhens, young men at the time, (1879, as we calculate it) helped haul the
saw-logs to the Henry mill.
...The Lima water-power mill was a short distance on the upstream side from the present Volga River bridge, south of the Lima Store. The dam was made of logs and stones. The mill pond was not so very deep (probably 6-10feet). Some of the year the water was too low to provide power for either the saw or the stone burrs. Some of the time the mill yard was flooded (the mill was on the Volga bottoms which flooded at ice out, during very heavy rains. And one local wit said, so the story goes, "when the river was right, the millwright had to file the saw and sharpen the burrs"
Lima and Albany, 1868 plat and 1970's topo maps.
The road south from the from the Lima store to the bridge and mill.
The Lima creek is on the left with the old Lima bridge still standing (early 2000's). The old road still shows but with one gap eroded out.
Crossing the old Lima bridge, the Lima mill would be 40 yards to the right, with the Lima country school in the area to the left of the picture. The old road curved immediately to the left after crossing the bridge with the school off to the left of the sweeping curve.
Below the old Lima bridge as viewed from the south end of the old mill dam.
From the south end of the old Lima bridge, the Lima creek is on the the right, the old mill site on the left. The old Lima store would be a about 600 yards straight ahead, to the north.
Looking off to the left of the old bridge to the west are the remnants of the old Lima mill dam and mill pond. The will sat in the present day indention into the back below the dam, with the open water on the right being the old mill race.
View to the east across the old mill site. The mill from this view would have block sight of the old bridge. The natural succession of shrubs and herbs seen today would not have been present as the area completely around Lima was rapidly cleared, farmed and pastured. The area in view and to the left would have been the old mill yards where farmers would bring their wagons with grain and logs would be hauled in on skids and sleds by ox or horse teams for sawing into rough cut timbers and boards. Winter time, at freeze up with snow would be a prime time for cutting and hauling logs. The Lima mill, like all mills on the Volga became very susceptible to water levels in the mill pond. With the nearly complete cutting of the timber and plowing of the fields on nearly all the Volga watershed, the water table and flow into the river dropped drastically in the latter decades of the 1800's and by the 1900's there was not enough water to successful run a milling operation. All of the mills on the Volga would have major down times due to water levels in the mill ponds.
My Strayer and Heckart great-great+ancesters were millwrights.
My personal interest in mills comes from studying the genealogy of my gggrandfather John Strayer and his brother-in-laws, my uncles, the sons of John Adam Heckart who migrated from the Susquehanna River Valley of Pennsylvania to Shelby County, Missouri, in 1838 to build the big Walkersville Mill and operate it until the late 1940’s. John Strayer and his wife’s brother, John Adam Jr. Heckart would remove to Freeport, Winneshiek Co, Iowa, in 1852, to make original entry to much of the good mill land on the Upper Iowa River up and down river from present day Decorah. They would build the first big mill at Freeport. John Strayer would remain in Freeport the rest of his life, while his life long partner, Adam Heckert would make his third trip in 1865 to Butte Co, California and the gold fields to establish a major ranching operation, and to use his PA, MO, IA millwright talents to build bridges, flumes and other early water structures around Butte Co, CA. Mills established many of the communities of personal interest to family genealogy, both mine and yours, on the Volga River.
The Walkerville Mill built 1840 by the Heckart brothers and John Strayer 4 miles SxSW of Shelbyville, Shelby Co., Missouri, on the Salt River, was a an advanced third generation frontier grist/sawmill very similar to the mills constructed on the Volga River, Fayette Co., Iowa, to include the Lima Mill.
Of Water Mills on the Volga
Water Power on the upper Volga River flowage in Fayette Co, Iowa, 1849 >>1910.
Volga River mills
…Water was used to power several mills for sawing logs and making rough cut lumber for construction of buildings and structures, grinding grist for cattle feed and making or bolting flour for family consumption and a cash source, at the villages of Wadena, Lima, Albany(2) and Westfield (Fayette), with at least other water mill attempts (Cole’s Mill at Big Rocks, Waterbury tunnel at Big Rocks, Marvin’s first on Burn’s Creek at Lima, Talbot’s mill just south of Lima) along the Volga valley in Fayette Co, Iowa. Plus a woolen mill would operate at Fayette in old Westfield to ‘card’ or comb the wool into sheets where the fibers run in the same direction for yarn production, to be made into blankets and woolen cloth. Wool was the only source of really warm clothing in a very cold climate, plus wool became a cash crop with the coming of the rails in 1873. Hiram Marvin would move from his mill upstream of Albany into Fayette to build a unique windmill powered grist mill. Eventually and actually quit rapidly, most milling in Fayette County would be operated by either stationary or mobile steam engines. By the late 1800’s Fayette County mills were on their way to extinction because of the big merchant mills around Duluth and other cities, and rail transportation. The small custom mills could not compete with the ‘big-boys’ which is exactly the cause of the extinction of the small farms and villages of Fayette County starting and accelerating in decline about 1960.
…The source of power for the Volga mills was the waterwheel, generally the overshot type of wheel. Each wheel was connected to the Volga River by a channel of water called a raceway. The portion of the raceway above the wheel is called the headrace, while the portion that returns the water to the river is called the tailrace
…The vertical distance between the headrace and the tailrace, or the height of the water, is known as the head. The amount of power available at any site depends on the head (height of water column) and the rate of flow. A gate at the beginning of the headrace regulated the rate of flow. Dams completely across the Volga were built to increase the amount of head or height of water at the mill site. The millpond created by these dams also helped to provide a steady supply of water for the wheel.
…Power from the waterwheel was transferred to the machines through a series of gears and shafts called the power train. By going from larger to smaller gears ‘machines’ and wheels can be turned much faster than the waterwheel itself, or by going from smaller to larger gears, slower.
…This simple system could easily be expanded to power many machines from a single waterwheel. A system of leather belts could also be used to power various ‘machines’ in the mill. Earl’s and Marvin’s Mills at Albany were good examples of water power being used for other industries as they both supported a furniture manufacturing ‘cottage’ industry with the lathes, drills, and other woodworking machines being run from the power generated by the waterwheels. These furniture manufacturing endeavors were some of the very first ‘businesses’ in Fayette County, being in operation by the early 1860’s.
…Water power on the Volga flowage remained important to the local economy from the early 1850’s to into the 1880’s, but rapidly co-exited with power from steam engine both in sawmills and grist/floor mills.
The Lima grist/sawmill operated until about 1910, being the last operational mill on the Volga in Fayette Co. The water table had dropped severely from agricultural land use by this time, so there was not enough water available on a consistent basis to operate a mill. Also with the coming of the rail system running up the Volga valley to Lima and on to West Union, and the rails from Marion to Arlington, Fayette and on to Donnan and Calmar, the water mills rapidly declined as grain and lumber could readily be moved long distances.
…The mill stones for the mills were generally brought in by ox wagon with the millwrights when they migrated from the eastern woodland rivers system to build frontier mills. Later mill stones might be imported, coming by water to the Mississippi River ports of Dubuque and McGregor. They were of the type called Rotary Querns, with two stones that sat one upon the other, with bottom stone sitting stationary while the top stone rode on an axle that sat upon a small but important piece of wood called a 'Rynd', which could be adjusted to set the desired coarseness of your flour. The grain is placed by hand or fed from a hopper into a hole in the center of the top stone. As the grain is ground, the grist and/or flour runs out from the seam between the two stones. The stationary Lima mill stone sits under a big pine tree as one comes into the front of the Lima Cemetery from the Lima Church, in 2000. The stone was in the possession of Russell Dickinson until moved to the Cemetery. At that time the top stone was in West Union and in possession of Oelberg relatives(?).
What type of milling operation was
on the Volga?
...The mills of the Volga would be considered custom mills serving the local farm community.
…Most custom mills had one or perhaps two pairs of millstones. One millstone for corn and another for wheat. Custom mills would have one or two pairs of millstones but usually not more than two pairs of millstones. The machinery is very simple, usually the millstones and little or no other machinery. The grain was usually not cleaned and it was often not bolted. If it was bolted it was done by hand. Custom mills operated seasonally mainly at harvest time and the miller did something else most of the year, which on the Volga would be farming and/or lumbering. That is maybe why the mill also had a saw mill and a fulling mill. The miller may also have been a saw miller. Some times with the saw mills the miller also collected a toll for custom saw milling. The owner, builder and the miller usually may be the same person.
…Some mills had millstones that were used for reason other than milling grain. They had hulling stones for oats, buckwheat and barley. Some early mills used ending stones for cleaning grains, and some later used millstones in 'new process' milling to regrind middlings.
The first mill site attempt at Lima.
The picture below is immediately down river from the Lima Mill site as described in the above picture. Just below the relatively bare crown of the hill on the right third of the picture was the location of the first attempt in 1849/50 to build a mill in the "Lightville" Valley. The mill site was changed to the Lima Mill site above the old bridge within that first year. The original mill never being completed.
In 1878 when the rails came to Lima, they crossed the Volga from the south side of the river to the north side at the same gap, the dark area on the right third, the same relative location for the first mill attempt. Then the rail came across the bottoms field toward the lower corner and into Lima.
Of early Water
Early mills can be better understood by studying a variety of internet notes on 1800’s water mills.
…Early settlers on the upper Volga River flowage had to make most of the items they consumed themselves. Mills in pioneer times were necessary for local settlers to survive. Sawmills would help cut lumber to build houses and barns. Grist or flourmills would grind wheat, rye, buckwheat, corn, to make bread and other food to eat, plus produce feed for livestock.
…A distillery or brewery could also be added near a gristmill where milled grains such as rye could be used to make rye whisky. Later, more elaborate carding and textile mills were introduced that helped prepare and weave wool in the manufacture of textiles. The big woolen mill at Westfield (Fayette) was an example.
…Mills used water power and later steam power to operate, making it necessary for mills to be situated near river systems. As a result, small communities were established near river systems, as Wadena, Lima, Albany, Westfield (Fayette). Mills became the center for development and growth. The demise of a mill could mean the end of a community. Initially river systems were a main factor in the settlement of pioneers in Fayette County, as with all areas of settlement. Mills would attract coopers (barrel makers), tanners (harness, belt & leather goods craftsman), shoemakers, blacksmiths, a general store and other kinds of trades and craftsmen. Together, these settlers with the area farmers would become the necessary components of a functional nearly self-sustaining village.
The Mill and the community
Basic elements of a mill.
…Primary machinery--- Water wheel, gear pit wheels, and the millstones.
…Secondary machinery--- Bolters (sifters), grain cleaners, sack hoist, etc., perhaps a hopper-boy in later years.
…A mill is a business, a factory, a place were grain is processed into flour, it produces a food stuff. It is part of a larger chain that begins with the farmer and his farm, and leads to the mill and possibly onto a bakery or some sort of store or export facility.
…How the mill was tied into the community was important. At one time almost everyone had to make a trip to the mill. You met your neighbors there and maybe a marriage partner with someone's daughter who happened to go to the mill with her father.
Mill was often the ‘center’ of a village.
…The mill sites before the rail systems were established to serve local farmers. Transportation of farm crops did not become feasible until the advent of the railroad in the mid 1870’s in Fayette Co, Iowa. Early mills were constructed by millwrights to establish a business to attract and take advantage of the local farming community. Until the 1850’s mills were established along the upper Volga the farmers had to take grain in ox wagons to the mills in Clayton, Dubuque and Delaware counties traveling forest trails. It was not unusual for farmers to travel a day or two to take their grains to the nearest mill, with complete trips often taking 6-10 days.
…The mill was generally the hub of the pioneer community. It was the place where the local farmers would meet and discuss current affairs and socialize. Millers were often recognized as a central figure in the community and their thoughts and ideas respected. Because the mill became the focal point of the pioneer communities and because the mill was always located on a river, access to the mill was of great importance. Even when the rivers were swollen, the farmers still needed to have their grains processed so one of the first things that the community would allocate tax money for was the construction of a bridge near the mill
…When the mill sites were initially developed there were no neighbors, schools or stores around. Once a started and functioning, the mill became the nucleus of a new farming community. Trading and barter would be done at the mill. News and stories were shared there. Eventually other trades would build shops and stores would open near the mill because the mill was central to the community.
Things that tied the mill into the
…The miller’s office was the first place a farmer would look for the miller. The office was a place with a warm fire to warm the miller and the farmer, a place for food and drink. It is where the business records were kept. Miller's log books and ledgers were a record of the farming community and business of the mill.
…Storage place for important tools and books. Some tools used in a mill would be used nowhere else in the community, and the mill may have the first books and writing material in the community. Schools may only have blackboards and slates and a book brought from home.
…The mill may have a work bench or work found somewhere else in the mill but the miller's office was a gathering place for the community. It is where you asked the miller questions about grain, farming, machinery. Local news was told. Cards and checkers played. Sometimes this also served as the first town bank, post office, power company, etc.
…The mill had the first and only scales for weighing things in a community.
…The mill might have been the first industry of a community. The miller and the blacksmith are early ‘town fathers’. To build a mill you need a millwright and a blacksmith, or you had to be all in one---millwright, blacksmith, carpenter.
…The mill may have been the best place in a community to find employment. Mills generally employed area farmers and/or their sons. A blacksmith shop is hot in the summer and if you grew up on a farm you already knew something about grain.
…You took grain to be ground at the mill and only then might the miller let you go fishing in the mill pond, mill race, mill stream, ice skating, and picnicking.
…In the 1850-1870’s there were five water mill locations and one wind mill location operating in the upper Volga River Valley with water and wooden waterwheels were used to turn the buhrstones. At least three other water locations were attempted. Although each mill used water to power their mills, the individual design for each mill had to reflect the position of the waterwheel relative to the stones. If the waterwheel's shaft was on the same level as the stones, there was no need to transfer the energy via gears, pinions, belts and pulleys to an elevated level. If, however, which was often the case, the waterwheel was positioned lower than the mill building itself, or if the waterwheel was located in the lower level, then the energy had to be transferred up to the level where the stones were located. This was the case with the larger second generation mills at all of the mill sites on the Volga.
….Usually the buhrstones were located on the entrance level of the mill solely because the weight of the stones prohibited the miller from carrying them up even one level. The stones could weigh a ton each and were hundreds of pounds minimum. The normal configuration of a mill would be where the wheel was located outside on the lowest level of the building or basement, and the stones would be located on the first level of the building, the entrance level.
…If the mill was designed as a flour mill, there would be at least two additional levels above the first floor. The flour mill would be filled with elevators and shafts that traveled from hoppers to scrubbers back to hoppers to elevators that accessed the stones.
…Once ground, the flour had to be carried or elevated to high levels so that it could go through various sifting stages and sorted by different grade levels.
…Many old mill buildings were precariously built on the edge of a river with the dam right at the mill sight. This was the case with the Lima and Albany mills. Other mills are located at an elevated level above the river to avoid spring floods.
…The mill site itself was often older then the more advanced second and third generation mills to follow. Early pioneers were skilled in identifying a successful location for mills.
…Initially, the pioneer millwright would build a temporary mill where he would construct a sawmill. With the sawmill he would mill wood for the gristmill and the miller's house, and other early rough cut buildings and homes in the area. Once the gristmill was completed, the sawmill would often be discarded because it was built for the short term. This was the case at the mill sites in Westfield, Albany and Lima. The gristmill would be placed in the optimal location relative to water-power and out of the yearly flood plain, where possible. The old sawmill would sometimes be transferred to an exterior shed on the side of the new grist mill or discarded. The gristmills that were built in the early 1800's were small and only ground corn and wheat. By the time the second generation mills were built on the Volga River, the milling process had advanced far enough for better quality flour to be produced.
…Bolting or sifting flour in the mill was not accomplished until the population increased to the point where it was economically feasible for the miller to construct a multi-level building and invest in or making bolting equipment. Once the surrounding farming community grew large enough to support a flour mill, the second generation gristmill was renovated or dismantled and replaced with a new third generation multi-level flour mill.
…The process of cleaning wheat, grinding wheat, and sifting flour created a combustible dust. Although the millers would clean their equipment and constantly remove the buildup of dust, explosions would often occur, and the mill would burn to the ground. The dust would start to decompose and produce enough heat where it would burst into flames. The old mill buildings were built solely of dry wood and they would ignite, thus many old mills were destroyed by fire. Multi-level flour mills that were built in the 1840's and 1850's often burned within in the first decades of use, the rapidly rebuilt. This explains why most of the old flourmills left today, were built in the 1880's and 1890's. Many mills still burned in the late 1800's but the equipment that was installed in the latter 19th century was more refined so when adequately maintained the accumulation of flour dust was not as significant.
…Mill location is critical.
...The big mill wheel has to be located below the flow of water requiring a dam to be built across the Volga. The mill house is usually set up just below the dam. The pool of water above the dam was the mill pond. Water was directed from the mill pond down a channel or wooden trough, the mill race, where it directed over a water wheel. The flow and weight of the water turned the massive wooden wheel. The shaft of the water wheel extended horizontally beyond the wheel to a pulley or gear. From the pulleys flat leather belts or gears connected the main shaft to several other shafts which in turn powered several ‘machines.’
…To shut down operation of the entire mill a gate could be shut to control the flow of water through the mill race. The mill pond water would then just run over a top gap in the mill dam. To disengage individual machines, the flat belts are pushed onto freely rotating pulleys, so that the belts are no longer powered by the main shaft, or gears were pulled out of position and disengaged.
...Mills were located not only on streams but anywhere there was sufficient water flow to fill a mill pond or to directly push a water wheel. Most water mills in Fayette functioned on fast flowing small stream like the Volga and Turkey Rivers, but were also attempted on faster flowing creeks.
Mill dam at Lincoln's Historical Recreated Village at New Salem, ILL.
The Volga River dams were similar to the Lincoln Village dam in that they were generally a front and back lattice of hewn and round logs supported by vertical logs dug/driven downward to bedrock. Rocks and other debris were than dumped by hand into the lattice work. Dirt and silt would also 'bank-up on the front side of the same and during high water silt would deposit on the back side thus helping to support the interior of the dam.
Volga river dams would not have this sawed type of boards but in general were heavier rough or hand hewn heavy timbers. Some still survive in the rive bed today if one know where and what to look for. The Volga dams were generally several times wider and a bit taller than the Lincoln Village dam, which is just used to show the basics of dam and mill construction.
Below in center view is the grist mill structure of Lincoln's New Salem village mill. The sawmill part is the area at the left center of the picture. This would be an example of a first generation mill with very basic mechanics and construction. The very first mills at every water location on the Volga in Fayette County, were of this type. In fact the rough cut boards and split oak clapboard shingles were look very much like this actual mill.
Lima Mill Dam
The Lima Mill dam was/is located just upstream or west of the old Lima bridge which is still intact as of 2003. The center of the Lima mill dam is washed out, as well as the south side, however, the north end as seed above is intact enough that one can get a few of its height and width. The mill pond size and depth can also be visualized.
Above the north side of the Lima Mill dam. The was in the indention area. Part of a beaver dam sits on the old mill race. The mill dam was a stone and debris filled lattice of timbers and logs. Dam fill stones can still be seen on the north side, as below.
Below, looking across the Volga River from the north side of the Lima Mill dam the remains of the old trail to the early mill ford below the dam and to the dam itself can be seen running along the middle of the picture. The south side of the dam is just to the right of the picture below.
The south side of the dam can be seen as greenish, moss covered rocks in the middle left of the above picture. The relative height of the water is indicated by the bank height on the right middle of the picture. Below are the same moss covered limestone rock used in the dam which shows the type material used to fill in the timber lattice of the old Lima mill dam.
The Lima Mill structure would have been at the indention on the right of the picture. The remnants of the north side of the mill dam are in the middle with the mill pond on the left of the picture. One can see water would have been backed up much of the time to the height of the bank on the left. During ice-out and very heavy rains the mill yards to the north, where the brush is today, would flood. The Lima Mill dam and mill structure were under yearly 'attack' from high water and often in need of repair.
…Mills were generally constructed in flood plans and of course were powered by the streams. They provided them with power or life and they also took it away. Mills were affected by the streams, too much water and the mills could be carried away or the dams washed out, and too little water and mills added an alternative power source like a steam engine.
More general mill history.
…Before the Industrial Revolution and steam, mills traditionally derived their power from wind, tidal and water, to turn wheels. Inside the mill, the rotating main shaft turned the wooden gears which provided power to operate the grinding machinery of the millstones.
…Until the beginning of the 1700's, the sifting of ground flour was often done by hand. Either the baker or a separate milling facility, the boulting mill, would do this task. A change came with the addition of boulting (sifting) machines to mill operations. The gearing remained simple and not much extra power was available for these new machines. Water wheels were crudely designed, inefficient structures. To operate just a single pair of millstones might require 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of water per minute, depending upon the diameter of the millstones.
…Up to the late 1700's, most mills contained only the millstones and possibly a sack hoist to lift the sacks of grain from level to level within the mill. Typically eight to ten men and boys had to do all other tasks. With the process improvements and mechanical inventions of American Oliver Evans, milling became more automated. One or two men could produce three times the amount of grain and at a better quality and consistency.
…Traditionally, the millwrights who built the mills learned from their fathers or through the apprentice system. Written technical information was unknown and one simply built what he had learned, adapting his knowledge to suit each mill site. If a millwright learned his craft in Europe and was taught only to build undershot water wheels, that is what he built when he came to America. So it was not uncommon to find an undershot water wheel being powered by a 40 foot fall of water. Not until much later did millwrights have available tables and studies telling that an overshot water wheel would make more efficient use of the fall. Little was known about the comparative efficiency of the various types of water wheels until 1829 when the Franklin Institute made studies of various water wheel types.
…Whether the milling operation was small or large, the process would be the same. Most small mills had only one pair of millstones. Perhaps in rare cases a mill might have two pairs of millstones. Because water wheels were simple and not very efficient, to operate an additional pair of millstones, another water wheel was usually required. The small mills with one pair of millstones often did custom grinding, where the miller ground each batch of grain individually for each person who brought it to the mill. In custom grinding generally the method of payment was for the miller to collect a toll or portion of the grain for his services.
…A skilled miller would look at a prospective mill site and determine what type of waterwheel would function best given the variables such as supply of water, rate of flow and physical location of the mill.
...If the water propelled the wheel too fast it would burn the stones and equipment in the mill and eventually wreck the wheel. This happened once in a while when the sluice gate broke and the flow of water to the penstock was not controlled. The penstock is the area where the water is held immediately prior to the waterwheel. When the waterwheel would spin out of control the entire mill would start to shake and rattle. The stones would start to smoke, spinning so fast the stone would scar and all of the machines that were connected to the shaft at the time of accident would be at risk. The miller would immediately disengage the gears so that the wheel could not propel the power shaft.
a grist mill, grain was fed or dribbled through an opening in the center
of the top mill stone and ground by a crushing plus a scissor action, to grist
or flour between the stones. The grist flowed outward from the grooves cut in
the stones to be collected below the rim of the bottom stone. The final product
used as feed for farmyard animals or flour for cooking.
…If the miller wanted to produce a high quality flour style of product, the best investment was a sifter. A sifter is designed for scalping, grading, bolting, and finishing ground or rolled grain products or ‘stock.’ The greater the number of reductions in the sifters, the larger degree to which the grist could be sorted to various levels of ‘fineness’. Sifters were generally shaking frame boards with cloth screens over the bottoms so that smaller particles fall through sieve openings.
…Containers to store or ship the finished product would include wooden barrels and kegs made by a local cooper, and later by cloth bags generally brought to the mill from an outside source.
…Generally the wheat or grain had a certain level of contamination from foreign dirt, smut spores, insect and rodent debris, etc. ‘Clean grain’ was always an issue in the early mills.
…Saw mills were equipped with the many machines that cut and process wood into all sorts of products. The early water mills used long single saw blade (mule blades). The early water mills generally produced only rough cut timbers and planks. Finished boards would come later or be produced by hand plaining.…Circular saw blades generally showed up with the steam powered mills. Mill machines cut long logs into shorter increments, or cut down a log so that several long, thin boards are made. From these boards, a plaining machine can produce lumber by plaining the boards to a desired width and at the same time make them smoother. These boards could then be used by builders in putting up houses and barns. There were basic power machines which could turn arms and legs for chairs, or make broom handles. Earl’s Mill and Marvin’s Mill at Albany would both have furniture craftsman locate close to the mills and use the water power to turn their woodworking machines. Other products of a typical early saw mill were milk crates, butter tub covers, tools, and lumber for homes, barns, stores and out-buildings.
Water wheel types.
…There are three types of vertical waterwheel mills described by the type of water wheels they use.
…The undershot wheel is the most simplistic type were the water flows beneath the wheel. The wheel paddles can be lowered into the flow of the river or simply mounted above a man-built millrace. The undershot wheel does not make use of the weight of falling water, but instead relies on the rapid natural flow stream. The Volga River was not fast enough for undershot wheels.
…The two other vertical mills are the breast shot and the overshot. Although more complicated to build and operate they are more efficient, making use of the forces of gravity or falling water. The flowing water strikes the upper part of the wheel and flows over the wheel. In an overshot mill, the water falls over the top of the wheel. In a breast shot mill, the water strikes high on the backside of the wheel and moves over the top, and requires more initial rapid flow of water. The Volga River mills would all have overshot wheels.
This old Marion County, Missouri mill would have been similar to the Lima mill. Stone foundation/basement which house the wheel and gears, with two upper floors and an attic area constructed from rough cut lumber and timbers. The wheel and sluice being typical of area mills.
efficiency of water wheels.
...Efficiency is the production with the minimum of wasted effort. Factors that lower the efficiency of a water wheel are: (1) Water not being properly directed into the buckets at the proper point. Too much water missing and not filling the buckets. The buckets being over filled for the rotation of the water wheel. (2) If water is directed upon the water wheel not in the direction the water wheel rotates a phenomenon will develop known as "shock" which will retard and in many cases stop the water wheel from turning. (3) The balance of the water wheel from the weight of water or ice, will greatly effect its ability to rotate properly. An out of balance water wheel will not rotate properly. (4) Lubrication of bearing surfaces and the condition of the bearing surfaces. Are they too tight or too loose? And condition of the bearing surface or are they in desperate need of lubrication. What type of bearing surface is there? The type of bearings effect the efficiency of the water wheel and the turning parts. (5) Shafting and alignment. Are the shafts, water wheel shaft, gears, and other shafts aligned? (6) The condition of the gear teeth. Are they worn out, not worn it, mismatched? (7) The belting, is it too loose? It is slipping or loose on the pulleys? (8) The condition of the millstones, are they in need of being dressed? (9) Are the millstones properly adjusted for the grind. Is the feed correct or too much or too little? Is the distance between the millstones too great or too small? What is the moisture content of the grain? Is it too great or too little? (10) The bolting. Is the speed of the mill and the amount being produced by the millstones the proper rate for the bolter is sift? Are the bolters screens clogged because of too much moisture in the grain. Is too much good stock being tailed out of the bolter that should not be?
…This relative efficiency of the various types of water wheels has long been a matter of speculation and heated controversy. The efficiency depends upon the head of the water available. The difference in the head water and that of the water leaving the water wheel in the tail water. The greater the head of water the larger the water wheel can be constructed. The more numerous the buckets can be. The overshot and the pitch-back need the greatest head to be the most efficient for the larger number of buckets to be filled at any given time. The high breast shot was more efficient than the middle and low breast shot water wheel. Finally the undershot was the least efficient. Water wheels were designed and built by highly skilled millwrights and often they were only trained to construct one type of water wheel because of the region that they learned their trade. They sometimes came to believe in the high efficiency of their particular type of water wheel they knew how to construct.
…The water that supplied the power to operate a water wheel could be troublesome. Floods create a problem for dams and mill races. For the maximum efficiency of the water wheel the tail race has to leave the area of the water wheel as swiftly as possible. The tail race should be laid in the direction of the stream with out any appreciable obstruction. The tail races were built like the head races of the local material closer at hand. Sometimes they were purely earthen and other times lined with wood or stone. Vegetation growth and down falls were always a problem long with muskrats that burrow into earthen banks.
… Millstones take about 60 percent of the mill's available power to operate and roller mills require about 40 percent. To calculate the needed horsepower to operate a mill you need to add up the grinding surface of the mill and plug that into a formula.
…The overshot water wheel, the most common in use, and the one used on the Volga river, were 55% to 70%.
...The mills on the upper Volga would have been constructed with overshot waterwheels since the river was medium sized, with a relatively constant medium fast flow.
...Generally 10-16 feet in height and 2 +/- feet wide, with the cross members forming the ‘buckets’. The wooden troughs in the wheel are the buckets. When the water fills the buckets, the water's weight moves the wheel. An overshot waterwheel receives its water above the wheel. An overshot waterwheel is the most efficient method of powering a mill when there is a limited amount of water supply because the overshot produces the greatest amount of head for the water to turn the wheel.
…Head is the force that the
water has when it drops vertically from the millrace onto the wheel to the
tailrace. The greater the distance is between the headrace and the tailrace, the
greater the head. The overshot waterwheel was used when there was a dependable
flow of water but when there wasn't a high rate of flow. The overshot waterwheel
maximized the amount of accessible water-power.
…The location of the mill determined whether a millrace was necessary. A millrace, also known as a headrace, was the channel that directed water from the stream to the waterwheel. The millrace was often quite long. The reason the race would have to be so long was to build up the head of water so that the drop would produce enough power to move the wheel. The millrace would begin upstream and if the drop was significant over a short distance, it was not necessary to have a long millrace. If the land was relatively flat, the miller had to dig a millrace that was very long. Often there was not an easy way to transfer the water from the millrace to the waterwheel and a wooden flume had to be built to make the final connection.
…Once the water flows into the buckets and moves the wheel, the water is spent and must then be channeled back to the stream. The channel that it flows back to the stream in is called a tailrace. Usually the tailrace is not very long and took the shortest route back to the stream.
Transferring power from the water
wheel to the millstone.
...Generally the heavy timber shaft supporting the water wheel was not one same level as the mill stones so the spinning energy had to be transferred up at least one level. The waterwheel has a shaft that extended from the center of the wheel out to another wheel that has numerous teeth, a wooden gear system. The wheel with the teeth is called a crown wheel. This crown wheel turns and the teeth mesh with a cylinder that has round gears in it. This cylinder is called a lantern pinion. It is turned by the teeth in the crown wheel and transfers the energy up through a power train that is comprised of additional wooden gears, shafts, pulleys and leather belts. The diameter of the lantern pinion was as an example, only one-fourth the diameter of the crown wheel. Subsequently, the lantern pinion moved four times faster. Through transferring energy from larger to smaller gears, the millstones might, turned over 100 times each minute. Consequently, when the waterwheel would make one revolution each minute, the millstones would spin100 times during that same minute.
Building a mill
...Each mill was different from any other mill. When the miller identified a location for his mill, he had to take into account the location of the stream relative to the prospective mill site. The miller had to design the millrace and how it would connect with the waterwheel. He had to account for the geology and terrain of the immediate area. The miller has to assess the distance and fall of the stream so that the head of water would be sufficient to turn the waterwheel. The design of each mill was dictated by the accessibility of water-power.
…Each mill was built of different materials. If stone was available and if there was someone who had the masonry skills to build the mills with stone, it was done. However, stone mills were an expensive method. Most often, the miller, the one who owned and operated the mill, was the person who constructed the mill. Consequently, the mill's construction represented the miller and he would take great pride when designing and building the mill. Whatever skills the miller possessed, whether it be masonry, crafting huge logs into hand-hewn timbers for trusses in the mills, or creating ornate trimming, housed his business for many decades.
The Lima mill foundation was built of native limestone blocks hand cut from a quarry to the south of the river and would have looked much like the above limestone used to built a trail culvert just to the north of the old mill site, still visible in 2000+.
…There were no rules on how to build a mill. Being a miller was a trade. Young boys and men would apprentice to a miller for as many as 10 years before they would learn all of the skills necessary to function as a miller. He would not only have to know how to build the physical mill building itself, but he would have to know how to build and maintain all of the machinery that would fill the structure. As there were no rules on how to build a mill, there were also no "official rules" on how to construct the machinery within the mill.
…There were some constants that each miller had to anticipate. The miller had to know how to find and identify a site that would be acceptable to powering a mill. The miller had to be able to construct a sound building that would be able to access the harnessed water-power. The miller had to be mechanically inclined and a very skilled person. He had to intuitively understand mechanical geometry, tooling, and be gifted with an instinct so that just by listening to his mill operate he could tell if any of the gears, pulleys, or shafts was malfunctioning. A talented, skilled professional, the miller would design his mill to meet the demand of the community to accommodate their needs for grinding and storing their grain. He would have to design his mill for the site requirements (water-power, floods, and access). And finally he would design his mill to reflect him personally and it was this variable that makes each mill singularly unique.
Lima mill pond viewed
from the old iron bridge.
The mill dam remnants can be seen on the right (north) side of the Volga River bank jutting out into the river. The mill would have been sitting on a stone foundation at the indention covered with ice at the right side of the picture, about a third of the way up. There is a beaver dam across the river that would have been just downriver from the mill. The old mill raceway is at the lower right hand corner. The old village of Lima was half a mile to the north or right of the picture.
Millponds in general:
…Millponds were created by damming up a stream. Dams on the Volga were generally a lattice or a crib of timbers filled with limestone slabs from the adjoining hills, glacial rocks from the stream beds plus soil debris. Once the dam was constructed, the back of the dam would often be filled with brush or rubble and silt would eventually fill in the back of the dam giving it support and securing the dam's construction. When the dam would become eroded and a break would occur, the miller would lose business until the dam could be restored. When the dam broke it generally was a serious situation financially for the miller and a hardship for the community. Volga River dams would be breached during extreme floods and also at ice-out in the spring.
…Behind the dam the waters could rise and often flood acres of land immediate upstream. In the early pioneer days, farmers were grateful for the presence of the mill to grind their grains and didn't complain too much when the rising water consumed some of their land. Town governments usually favored the mill because the community's need for the flour mill and grist mill far exceeded flooding and other land use issues. Water rights became an important issue to owners of mills and to the prospective buyers of established mills.
…The water pool that formed above the dam is called the millpond. It is this supply of water that allows the mill to continue functioning during periods of low rainfall. The millponds of the upper Volga generally ran about a quarter to half or more mile upstream to the next riffle or beyond and were 2+ times wider than the normal pool width, with a water height of 6-10 feet. The upper Volga in the un-glaciated hills is a series of riffles and pools.
…A millrace is dug channeling the water from the millpond to the waterwheel. If a millrace is not acceptable, a wooden water flume is constructed to carry the water over valleys or areas where the height of the land is not able to sustain the head of water necessary to power the waterwheel. On the Volga, generally a short millrace could be constructed right at the dam.
…Headgates were constructed where the water from the pond enters into the millrace. These gates are opened and closed according to the demand of water needed by the miller. Often there are gates built in the millrace just before the water spills onto the waterwheel. These gates are also called sluice gates and this area is often referred to as the penstock. In the penstock area it is possible for the miller to divert the water from the flowing millrace past the waterwheel back to the stream. The miller redirects the water flow with gates in the penstock and the water simply enters the tailrace without passing over or under the waterwheel. The gates in the penstock are used by the miller when he does not need the water supply because he does not have any grain to process and he does not want to run up and close the head-gates at the millpond only to have to go back and open them when the water supply is needed.
…Millponds in general were pleasant places and often used for fishing, swimming, skating, etc.
Top: The Lima mill pond as seen from the north side remnants of the old mill dam.
Bottom: The Lima mill pond as seen from south side bank of the old mill dam.
Note the bank height as that gives a feeling of the mill pond depth when 'filled.'
Lima Mill Stone
The bottom stationary buhr sits under a conifer tree at the front church entrance to the Lima Cemetery. The Lima mill was equipped with a special stone burr and bolter to separate the flour from the bran or hulls of the wheat. The top burr is/was in West Union at Paul Oelberg's old home and the bottom burr is at the Lima Cemetery, put there by Russell Dickinson (deceased Dec/2002).
Millstones, some history.
…The first millstones used in the United States were generally from the granite quarries in France and used in the first windmills and gristmills on the eastern seaboard. Immigrant millers brought the stones with them from Europe. These stones were often from France and that is where the term French buhr came from. It was a granite quarry in La Ferte-sous-Fauarre in France that the finest millstones were quarried as the granite was extremely hard and was whitish in color. During the late 1700's and the early 1800's the French buhr stones were imported to the United States from France, carried in ships holds as ballast. The French quarries were depleted by the middle 1800's, the good stones became more rare, more expensive. Millers were jack of all trades, blacksmithing being one. They learned to hew and shape broken stones into wedges and other shapes to form a circular stone and then band the pieces tightly with an iron band. Once this banding method became known in France, the quarry started shipping just the fragments over in the ships as ship ballast since there had been large quantities of granite fragments initially discarded. These fragments and the banding method allowed millers who could not afford the true French buhrs the ability to buy stones that still offered the superior quality of the granite from France. Millers would often ox cart stones for hundreds of miles to their mill. As the land to the west of the eastern timber started to be settled in the 1800’s there was a high demand for millstones and a number of quarries opened in Pennsylvania and a few in Ohio
…Millstones made of granite were the superior stone to mill wheat and corn and the only kind of stone that should have been used for the milling of grains for human consumption. Sandstone or hard limestone millstones in theory were used to grind grains for animal feed. The sandstone could not be used for human consumption because during the grinding process the sandstone would disintegrate and be ground into the grain. Because the sandstone stones were ground away during the process, there are few examples of these old millstones left today.|
…Since milling was a craft that was learned through the apprenticeship method, the millers and the millwrights guarded their knowledge and secrets. Often when a farmer brought his grain to the mill, he would never see the mill operating. The miller, upon seeing someone coming, would turn off the mill and ask the person to leave their grain and come back later to pick up the ground flour. A dishonest miller could easily steal a portion of the ground grain, sometimes replacing the loss with sawdust. So hundreds of years ago people got away from brown flour. Because it was more expensive to adulterate white flour than to adulterate brown flour, customers requested white flour to make it less likely that the miller would cheat them.
…In Europe millers had been looked upon with great suspicion and distrust. Millers were considered so dishonest that harsh laws were passed to regulate them. They were forbidden to own mills. The miller's tolls were set by law. Millers could not form guilds or determine what they would grind, nor could they sell their products in open air markets like their compeers the bakers. The millers were forced to rent their mills from the Lord of the land. If the Lord thought the peasants were not paying him his just due, he would make the miller steal from the peasants.
…In American things were different, free of the restraints imposed by European feudalism. The farmers were free to go to whatever mill they wished. The word of a dishonest miller would spread and soon he would lose all of his business. Commercial milling operations were still few and they were simply larger sized carbon copies of smaller mills. Early mills relied upon the miller and his helpers to hoist sacks of grain and move ground flour within the mill. The milling process was very labor intensive. The majority of mills did not have a means of cleaning grain. The farmer brought his grain to the mill and the mixture of grain, dirt, seeds, chaff and filth were all together. The miller simply sifted out the flour after it was ground, sifting the brown from the white, and hopefully with the brown parts of the wheat also went the brown dirt.
The Lima mill would have been grinding grist and producing a finer, white level flour with a standard custom mill set up as depicted in the diagram. The picture from a 'reconditioned' mill shows grain being emptied by hand into he hopper, with the product coming out into a trough. This give one a little 'feel' for what was actually going on inside the mill.
Basic concepts of a more advanced
second generation flour mill
…The grain is cleaned by shaking it over a screen that is only large enough to let the kernels pass through. The next step was to scrub the grain or wheat. The wheat is transferred by hand or elevators into a smut machine that scrubs off the fuzzy exterior of the grain. The remaining dust and dirt is removed from the wheat in a winnowing machine that pulls out the waste residue. Once the wheat is cleaned, it is stored in a hopper until the miller is ready to grind it.
…When the miller is ready to grind the wheat it is transferred to the millstones via a series of elevators and shafts. Once the wheat is run through the stones the powdered flour is lifted to upper floors where it is sifted through bolting cloths often made of silk. Flour that is bolted or sifted through the finest silk cloths was the best quality produced. Before sifters were available in mills, pioneers would take the flour immediately after it had been ground and sift it at home. It was necessary to sift the flour in order to remove the bran for better cooking, however many of the early pioneers simply used coarse ground meal.
…If a mill was to solely grind corn for cornmeal then there was no need to have more than one level in the mill. If, however, the mill was to be a multi-purpose mill, which most mills were, then it was necessary for the mill to have at least three levels. Cleaning, scrubbing, storing grain, grinding, sifting and storing the bagged/barreled flour required a multi-level complex to accomplish the various stages of processing wheat into flour. Each mill would be built according the millers abilities and resources, and of course the demands of the location. Storage was a major consideration. If the farmers needed the mill to hold large quantities of grain, the miller may have to accommodate that demand by building storage bins and hoppers. For the pioneer mills on the Volga, the farmers simply removed the product to their farms for storage, while the miller might retain his share within the mill site. Most millers also were farmers and maintained significant live stock for the times.
…The bedstone, the fixed, immovable bottom stone. The capstone turns on top of the immobile bedstone.
…Belts, usually made of leather, the belts are attached to drive shafts and transfer energy from its source to the other milling equipment.
...Bolting, is a process used to sift flour through a silk screen, or other cloth types.
...Buhrstone, has its origin from the French-buhrstone. Buhr or burr is used to refer to a millstone.
...Capstone, the top stone that turns on the immobile bedstone.
...Carding mill, is a mill used to comb the fibers of wool to make them straight and create woolen batting with can then be spun into yarn and woven or knitted into clothing.
...Dam, is a wooden and stone structure used to divert the supply of water for the mill's power and to store the water for use in the future.
...Elevator, a series of cups on a belt inside a shaft that carries the grain around the mill before, during and after it is processed. The cups were wooden, the belts leather. Hemp rope was also used when available.
...Flume, is an artificial channel built out of wood, stone or earth that carries the water to the mill either from a stream or pond, directly to the water wheel.
...French buhrstone, a high quality white granite was quarried in La Ferte-sous-Fauarre, France, in the late 1700's and early 1800's. When the quarry became depleted, chunks of the stone were banded together to make a millstone. These high quality stones were known as the French buhr.
...Gristmill a mill that grinds grain into meal.
...Head of water, the distance the water falls, just before it hits the wheel, to the channel where it returns to the stream.
...Head gate, a gate that is located at the dam that controls the quantity of water to enter the millrace.
...Log dam, a dam constructed out of logs that was built in a crib fashion which allows debris to be caught in the openings which solidified the structure.
...Mill pick, a tool used to dress and shape millstones.
...Millpond, is the water storage area in an existing stream that has swollen due to the construction of a dam or a pond built specifically to hold a water supply for the mill. There can be a channel built from the stream to the pond and another channel built from the pond to the mill. The quantity of water is controlled by wooden gates at the head of each channel.
...Millwright a miller who can run all phases of a mill and can maintain all the mill's machinery. Millwright built mills.
...Overshot waterwheel was the most popular waterwheel design because it can be used when there is a limited supply of water. The water is directed at the top of the wheel which takes advantage of all the head or height of water, or power available.
...Penstock is a place or channel where the water is held before it is released onto the waterwheel.
...Planing mill is a woodworking mill where planks of wood are made smooth.
...Raceway a channel dug into the ground to carry water to or from the mill.
...Sawmill is a mill where logs are cut into beams and boards. There are two kinds. One is a circular saw and the other is an up-and-down saw. Water mills generally has straight blades, with steam power bringing in circular blades.
...Shaft is the wooden connector or timber between the waterwheel and gears that change the direction of the energy.
...Sluice is any channel that carries water to the mill, thus the mill race.
...Sluice gate or race gate is the gate that controls the amount of water that enters the sluice, or mill race.|
...Steam engine an invention used in the late 1800's and early 1900's that used steam to channel power to the drive shaft to turn the stones.
...Steam-power was utilized as an alternative power source in the late 1800's and early 1900's to supplement the water supply when there was no head or when the mill had no water supply.
...Tailrace the channel that carries the spent water from the mill back to the stream.
...Waterwheel is a circular wooden wheel whose face has paddles protruding in such a manner as to act as troughs to hold the water. The weight of the water in the troughs make the wheel turn.
...Wheel pits utilized in some mills were designed such that the wheel had to be built into the ground. The hole dug for the wheel was called the wheel pit and was generally encased in stone.
...Windmill millstones that were powered by the wind. A large mast set on top of a cone shaped roof and was covered with sails. The wind catches the sails and spins the mast which is attached to a shaft that is geared to another shaft that turns the millstones.
...Woolen mill a mill that processed wool.
The Volga River towns of Lightville (Lima), (West) Albany, Westfield (Fayette) in Westfield Township, Fayette County, Iowa, were a direct result of the first mills located at these sites in 1849-1851, just as the land was completely "taken" from the native American's and opened to the 'white tide.'
Lima Mill Photo Album on Sony ImageStation
History Index  IowaZ Sitemap 
Send Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (always works)
USE STATEMENT: All scenery graphics,
layout, and context throughout IowaZ web pages are the copyright of the Webmaster unless
otherwise credited for other than personal or educational institution use is prohibited.
Pictures were taken
with a Sony Mavica FD91.
Any reproduction of this site or it's contents requires express written consent.
All of my direct surnames were
very early pioneers into Fayette Co, generally in the mid 1850's. Growing
up in Fayette and trekking the hills, prairies, streams throughout the county
when the small villages and farms were so active and functional before the
1960's, the now lost history and memories of the pioneer generations and
lifestyles from 1840-1960 continue to hold my interests.
625 N. Section
Hannibal, MO 63401