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The Water Wheel Album: Page Eight

The Campbell Water Wheels

Campbell Water Wheel Co. - Water Wheels, Dams, Hydro - Electric
Plants & Water Supply Systems, J.B. Campbell, catalog 1932.
The J.B. Campbell Water Wheel Company, 1920-1962.

The J.B. Campbell Water Wheel Company was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1920.
It headquarters was in the Lafayette Building in Philadelphia.

Photograph of the old-fashioned Gearing in Mr. Henry Ford's Grist Mill, Wayside Inn, South Sudbury, Massachusetts. The Gears are made in the old-time way, but of such fine material and with such excellent workmanship that they are very efficient. Some of the Gears have iron and some wooden teeth. Mr. John Blake Campbell is standing in the left of the photograph.

John Blake Campbell (1890-1987)

John Blake Campbell was born in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1890 and was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Growing up all around him was the moving power of water and the numerous rural mills. This inspiration led him to study hydraulic engineering at Cornell University. During 1915-1916 he returned to his mountain roots to study the old water-powered mills which survived near his home in Virginia. In 1916-1917 he was an engineering salesman for the Fitz Water Wheel Company of Hanover, Pennsylvania, a firm that specialized in small hydropower installations. He soon however began to lock heads with Mr. John Samuel Fitz of the Fitz Water Wheel Company about how they constructed with water wheels with its hundreds of drilled holes and rivets that held the pieces together. After his parting from Fitz, he served in the Army Engineers during 1917-1919. John Blake Campbell then moved to Philadelphia and founded his own company in 1920. During this time he designed overshot water wheels in welded steel, essentially applying modern production technology to a relatively primitive device. He also worked on turbine installations, municipal water systems and flood control, but he came to specialize in traditional water wheels and was particularly interested in them as esthetic elements in the landscape. Consequently, much of his work was for decorative power plants for private estates or for historic restorations. Mr. Campbell said that he wanted to work for the people who had the most money and could afford to pay him. His customers included Henry Ford, numerous Rockefellers and du Ponts, as well as the Hagley Museum and Batsto Furnace restorations.

In later years, after he closed his manufacturing company in 1962, Mr. Campbell traveled the countryside and worked out of his car. He traveled around the countryside working from one mill to another. At first John B. Campbell would have on the average of 7 jobs a month, but as the years passed on these numbers were reduced to perhaps only 3 jobs per month. When he would run out of his own catalog to pass out to potential customers, Mr. Campbell would apply his round orange Campbell Water Wheel stickers with its camel logo onto Fitz bulletins. In the later years of his life, he saw the world only through his pop bottle thick glasses repentingly saying at each mill he visited, "This is the finest example of a mill that I have ever seen." It became true for a lot of mills that he would visit as potential work was taken out from under for this aging hydraulic engineer and millwright. If you read his catalog, it reads in the same manor that he spoke. I remember him driving his old car and wearing a dark heavy coat and hat, and those wonderful glasses that could only see the world the way that Mr. Campbell saw it. I remember his ad in the early issues of Old Mill News, and our paths crossed on more than one occasion. The little man with a big heart.

Wayside Inn Grist Mill, Sudbury, Massachusetts. There had been a mill on the property since David How's time, that old mill deteriorated and was taken down completely shortly before the new mill was erected. The new mill ground its first corn on Thanksgiving Day, 1929. Today, it is a place for visitors to watch the grinding of corn and wheat for use in the Wayside Inn's bakery and for sale in
the gift shop.

The mill was built as a idealized grist mill with money from Henry Ford and his friends. Unfortunately they thought if they gave the Wayside Inn a grist mill they could quietly walk away with the one room school house that the schoolgirl wrote "Mary had a little lamb." Then they could remove it the school house to Ford's Dearborn village. Their plan did not work and in turn got their new grist mill and kept the one room school.

From 1926 to 1929 the Fitz Water Wheel Company and a former employee John B. Campbell began to construct this new mill. It is a replica of an old mill and was constructed from plans drawn by John Blake Campbell. It was built near an old mill site built by David Howe circa. 1744. The mill was built to produce flour and meal for the inn and also serve as a tourist attraction for visitors. Much of the interior wood was chestnut. Four fresh water quartz millstones, weighing a ton apiece, were shipped from La Ferte sous Jouarre, France, at a total cost of $238.00, and an 18 foot diameter overshot water wheel was purchased from the Fitz Water Wheel Company, although a wheel of Mr. Campbell's own design soon replaced it. All in all, this mill was built to be, according to Campbell who said".. it was the finest mill ever built."

The mill was used by Pepperidge Farm for their Whole Wheat Breads and it was also used by the Wayside Inn Grist Mill in Sudbury, Massachusetts. When the family sold Pepperidge Farms the new owners could not bother getting flour from small milling operations. Afterwards the mill is where King Arthur's stone ground whole wheat flour was first milled. The success of King Arthur's stone ground whole wheat flour is statistically even more impressive. The company started selling whole wheat flour when it operated the Wayside Inn Grist Mill in Sudbury, Massachusetts. The big selling point was that the mill is a replica of an 18th century grist mill. The two pound bags milled in Sudbury and sold by King Arthur "but went nowhere," Frank E. Sands II recalled. "My wife, Brinna, convinced me that serious bakers interested in using whole wheat flour weren't about to bother with a small bag." So, in 1981, the company switched to five-pound bags. It took only several years for King Arthur to become the predominant seller of whole wheat flour in New England with a current share that exceeds 80%. Sands, Taylor & Wood Co. was founded in Boston in 1790, whose best-known product line is King Arthur Flour. They have never owned or operated a mill in the companies long history but have made their business from the resale of flour under their label that is actually made in small rural mills like the Wayside Inn Grist Mill. The Wayside Inn Grist Mill was constructed as a typical flour mill of early American and that meant producting white flour. The intrusion into the mill's original fabric by Pepperidge Farms and King Arthur mean the removal and destruction of a lot of white flour making machinery.

You can't tell the difference between a Fitz Water Wheel and a Campbell Water Wheel from a distance. You have to get close enough to see the raised letters on the hubs to know if it is a Campbell or a Fitz Water Wheel.

Much of the product line of the J.B. Campbell Water Wheel Campany was similar to that of the Fitz Water Wheel Company. Possibly some of Campbell's products were subcontracted by the Fitz Water Wheel Company. Mr. Campbell seemed to stretch the limits of hydraulic engineering and try and make his water wheels more efficient that the classic I-X-L Fitz Steel Overshoot Water Wheel.

A modern, electrically welded, Overshoot Water Wheel in the Campbell Shop.

Two 9 foot diameter by 8 foot wide Overshoot Water Wheels being delivered to the Borough of Media, Pennsylvania, for pumping water at their Municipal Water Works. The Wheels are installed side by side and drive one pump. Together with the Borough Engineer, Mr. Carolus M. Broomall, we planned and installed the complete equipment.

Overshoot Water Wheel 30 feet in diameter and 1 foot wide, planned and installed by the Campbell Water Wheel Company for Andora Nurseries, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Wheel is operated by a 1 1/2 inch pipe of water. The Water Wheel pumps water to a 20,000 gallon reservoir on top of a hill 250 feet above the Wheel, and from this point is distributed to all parts of the Nursery. The Wheel is mounted on ball bearings, which make it operate very efficiently. The bearings have to be greased only twice a year.

Overshoot Water Wheel 30 feet in diameter by 10 inches wide, planned and installed by the Campbell Water Wheel Company for the Estate of Mr. Louis R. Page, Conshohocken State Road, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. For seven years this Wheel has been used to pump water, not only to Mr. Page's Estate but also to the Estates of his two sons, Mr. L. Rodman Page and Mr. Edward C. Page which adjoin his Estate. The water to operate the Wheel is carried to the top of the Wheel in a 4 inch pipe. The pump inside the house draws its water from a Spring 12,00 feet away and forces it to a high tank on the hill, from which it is distributed to the three Estates. The Wheel is mounted on ball bearings, which materially increases its efficiency.

Our Overshoot Water Wheel, 11 feet in diameter and 1 1/2 feet wide, at the John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasston, North Carolina, solved the problem of pumping spring water to a high reservoir. A shaft further utilizes that power for a saw, lathe, and sander in the Wood-Working Shop.

Overshoot Water Wheel, 6 feet in diameter by 18 inches wide, which pumps water for the Henry Prices, Mountain Home, Monroe County, Pennsylvania. Before the Water Wheel was installed, The Henry Prices had tried hydraulic rams and gasoline engines, which had caused them no end of trouble and expense, and many times left them without water. The Water Wheel has not failed them in ten years and has been the greatest pleasure and comfort to them.

Water Wheel Pump Plant supplying spring water to "Runnymede," the Hunting Box of Mr. J. Stanley Reeve, Doe Run, Pennsylvania. A beautiful stream, flowing in front of the house, turns the Wheel, and the spring water is supplied to the pump from four fine springs which were located for Mr. Reeve farther up the Valley on his Estate. On top of the hill above the house the Campbell Water Wheel Company constructed a 15,000 gallon concrete reservoir. A continuous stream of fresh, pure water flows into the reservoir, and the overflow goes down the hill and back into the stream again.

Note: The photographs and their captions are taken from the 1932 Campbell Water Wheel Company Catalog.

For Primary Material for the J.B. Campbell Water Wheel Company (1920-1962) See: Hagley Museum and Library, Greenville, Delaware. Manuscripts & Archives are located in the Soda House, archival and manuscript material, description: 105 linear feet, 3,000 items.

This page is presented by Theodore R. Hazen & Pond Lily Mill Restorations

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