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Another Look at F. A. Drake's Mill, near Cambridge Springs, Pa. 

F. A. Drake's Mill in the Community of Drake's Mills, Pa.

Another Look at F. A. Drake's Mill, near Cambridge Springs, Pa.,
Theodore R. Hazen.

Drake's Mills is located just north of Cambridge Springs in Cambridge Township, perhaps about half way between Edinboro and Cambridge Springs. In the early 1800's Simeon and Reubin Bishop dammed up the stream across the Conneautte Creek creating a hundred acre mill pond. The area was known as Slabtown because the first houses constructed around the mills were build from the slab wood from the saw mill before they cut it into boards. So they had the appearance of being constructed out of logs. Slabtown had the appearance of a shanty-town because it was constructed out of material that would otherwise be discarded waste from the sawmill. Eventually people could afford to construct better homes, but I still remember a few people would say that if they ripped off the outer coverings of their older homes you could still find the slab wood.

A number of mills and business would grow over the years in this small hamlet. The mills which were established was a sawmill, a grist mill or a flour mill, a shingle mill, a planing mill, and a carding mill. There was also a carriage shop, and a blacksmith shop, a grocery store, a church, and a school. Later there was also a furniture factory, a box and basket factory, a match factory, an ice cream creamery, and a cider mill.

In the 1820's John Marvin purchased the mill and the community was known as Marvin Mills. John Marvin also operated a store in the village. Then in 1854 Charles Drake purchased the mill. Mr. Drake had previously owned a mill on the Little Conneautte Creek North of McLallen Corners. The area where Mr. Drake's mill was located was known as Draketown. The area of Marvin Mills then became known as Drake's Mills. Charles Drake and his son Frank Andrew Drake operated the third flour or grist mill which was constructed about the year 1870. Contrary to popular belief the Drake's Mills and the previous Marvin Mills were always water turbine powered. The first mill of Bishop was the only mill to have been powered by a traditional water wheel.

During Frank Andrew (F. A. ) Drake's ownership of the mill he also built and operated a mill in Cambridgeboro, or what would become Cambridge Springs. One of his sons Elias operated one mill while Clarence operate the other, and a third son Andrew operated the family farm. When Drake's Mills would later become operated by the Moffat family, the mill and the community never became known as Moffat Mills because of the United States Post Office known as Drake's Mills.

The new Drake's Mills which replaced Marvin Mills which had burned down in a fire  like the mill before that was powered by water turbines. The new Drakes Mills had have its water turbines changed several times. The present water turbines were installed in the 1880's. One of the water turbines was made by the James Leffel Company of Springfield, Ohio, and the other made by S. Morgan Smith Company of York, Pennsylvania. During the 1950's the Leffel water turbine which they had always been constructed with a design flaw broke. The company never eliminated the design flaw because it was continuing source of income for them, but rather than pay 3 thousand dollars at the time to replace the broken parts they purchased a diesel engine to operate the mill. During the summer months when the mill pond would become covered with water lilies the water levels would become low. A used Skinner steam engine was purchased and installed in a simple block steam engine house on the other side of the millrace spillway. A turning line shaft ran outside of the boiler house building into the side of the sloping roof of the turbine pit.

The Lower Portion of a Case Roller Mill.

The upper wooden and metal housing with the feed system has been removed to expose the two pairs of rollers. The metal trammel is sitting on the front pair of rollers. The metal turn or twist handles are  on each outer side of the mill (on the front and on the back) which is used to adjust the coarseness or fineness of the grind. The mill is driven by two leather belts one on each side of the mill. The material to be ground is fed in from the top to the front pair and also to the back pair of rollers. After the material has been ground it falls down to the bottom of the mill where it is fed into two separate chutes. There are break rollers which have small tooth corrugations, and reduction and germ rollers which are smooth. A mill like this may have a pair of break rollers  in the front and a pair of reduction rollers in the back. The name "CASE"  is on an inspection door so the miller can inspect the material after it has passed through the rollers, and he can determine if the rollers need adjustment. About every three years of operation the break rollers need to be removed so a machine shop can re-groove or sharpen the rollers. A similar process to dressing the millstones, but in this case the miller does not have to do the job.

 The new mill originally had 4 pairs of millstones. Later three pairs of millstones were replaced by rollers made by J. M. Case of Columbus, Ohio. Case advocated a short roller milling system of no fewer than 18 items including 8 pairs of rollers (in 4 roller stands), which was at the heart of his milling system which could have no less than 9 machines total. One pair of millstones was kept in the mill to grind buckwheat flour which had been hulled on a Wolf roller mill that came from the August Wolf Company of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Any miller would tell you that the best roller mills were made by the Case Company and the Wolf Company. Corn was cracked on an upstairs corn cracker and then could be milled on one of the pairs of rollers in the Wolf Mill or by the pair of millstones. The smaller Case roller mills had two handle roller adjustments (like a wing nut) rather than most roller mills which had hand wheels. The Wolf roller mill was larger in size, and both types of roller mills had wooden tops which kept the flour cooler while it was being milled. During the change over to roller milling the millers at the mill continued to dress their own millstones until the pair of millstones was removed in the 1930's.

Then eventually the Moffats had to chose between making flour or feed, and which at the time was the better business. In the State of Pennsylvania, had passed a law saying that flour mill cannot produce animal feed with in the same facility that the flour in produced. This was an absurd law because the animals would never come to the mill to eat they feed next to the human flour being produced.

Drake's Mill had produced unbleached (soft) white flour, cake and pasty flour, bolted and unbolted corn meal, buckwheat flour, and buckwheat pancake flour or mix. After World War Two the demand for flour had declined, and the mill had been selling General Mills flour which they purchased in large 100 pound sacks and often would repackage into smaller family size bags. So with the business of dairy farms in the area, and the number of cheese factories around the Moffat family decided upon animal feed business. Still at times for themselves and people they knew they would continue to make flour and pancake mix upon special request. Drake's Mill pancake mix contained 50 percent buckwheat flour, 25 percent whole wheat flour, 25 percent corn meal, and powdered eggs, milk and leavening agents to make it so all you had to do is add water, but some people would had mill and an additional egg to it. They had a hammer mill with had extra fine screens which could grind corn meal, whole wheat flour, or buckwheat flour as fine as the roller mills or millstones could produce. No one could tell the difference with out a microscope. A national brand of so-called natural or good flours, meals, and mixes was actually ground on a hammer mill, and no one ever knew the difference.

The roller mills were removed in the late 1950's for scrap, and the last pair of millstones had gone into the Northwest corner of the new mill dam constructed Works Progress Administration (WPA) project which replaced an earlier dam which had been washed out. The mill has been silently sitting, waiting, and hoping that one day someone would come along who had the money and the interest to restore the mill to its former glory. Duplicate machinery could be found in other mills to replace the machinery that was once in the mill. So the mill would once again smell like an operating mill, and its machinery would sing its song like it did for so many years. Then once again the joy of the miller who make people happy with the flour they purchased and took home.

Drake's Mills was one of the few mills in the area or in general that was heated in the winter. The mill was heated with a coal furnace in the basement with hot water radiator heat which was fueled by coal and whose fire was started with corn cobs because there was never a shortage of corn cobs around the mill. The new mill was painted red like the Keystone Mills farther up the Big Conneautte at the Conneautte Lake which would later become known as Edinboro lake. Then later in life the Drake's Mill was painted white. The mill always made a good living for the millers or the people who operated the mill. One sign of that was that they always drove brand new cars. and they lead a happy life. The Moffat's of Drake's Mills and Charlie Zortman jr. of Zortman's Flour & Feed became sister mills. They would oder grain together from the suppliers in Lineville, Fredonia, or by boxcar on a siding near Turner's Mill. If one mill was broken down they would take their operation and grain to the other mill to have their grain ground, and in today's world what would be unheard of. As a small child Drake's Mill is where my father took us to get buckwheat flour. It was the first water powered flour mill that saw in operation, and one of the first cider mills operate. it is part of my history, my families history, and your history. So please want to preserve it as much as I do! Thank you.

Map of Drake's Mills, Pennsylvania,
 from the Atlas of Crawford County, Pennsylvania (PA), originally published in 1876 by Everts, Ensign & Everts.

The saw mill is on the West side of the mill dam which gave the long time name to the town - Slabtown because most of the early homes were constructed out of the outside cuts of logs or slab-wood. Along the head race of the the Drake's Flouring Mill is a Carriage Shop, and a Blacksmith Shop. The blacksmith Shop and the Carriage Shop to cool hot metal parts, and to shrink wagon and carriage metal tires on the wooden wheels by opening trap doors in the floors of the buildings. there was also a later furniture factory, box and basket factory, a match factory, and an ice cream factory built in town. There was also a cider mill later constructed next to Drake's Mill in the small barn like structure.

  William L. Dow who residence was on Main Street over looking the 100 acre lily pond of Drakes Mills is the William L. Dow. A millwright, (who lived in) Drake's Mills, was born in Springfield, Mass., June 8, 1818; son of Asa and Anna (Little) Dow, all of whom located in Cambridge Township, this county, in 1838. Mr. Dow learned the trade of millwright after coming here and has followed that business ever since. He was married, January 8, 1844, to Betsy, daughter of Jonathan and Lydia (Pressy) Reynolds, early settlers of Erie County. By this union there are two daughters: Lydia, wife of Alton Thompson (have three children: Clyde, William and Earl), and Lina, wife of William Nason (have two children: Edgar G. and Maud). Both daughters reside in Cambridge Township, and Mr. Dow has lived in the vicinity of Drake's Mills ever since he settled in the county. From The "History of Crawford County, Pennsylvania : containing a history of the county; its townships, towns, villages, schools, churches, industries, etc.; portraits of early settlers and prominent men; biographies; history of Pennsylvania; statistical and miscellaneous matter, etc., etc," by Bates, Samuel P. (Samuel Penniman),1827-1902; Brown, R. C. (Robert C.); Mansfield, John Brandt, Chicago, Warner, Beers & Co. (1885)


The 1930's, the Drake's Mill Dam which was rebuilt by a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.

Erie, Pennsylvania long-time mayor Louis J. Tullio's father was the foreman in charge of the construction project, and Mr. Drake gave a thousand dollars towards the building of the mill dam. oject, and Mr. Drake gave a thousand dollars towards the building of the mill dam.  The design problem with the new mill dam was that both halves of the dam were not the same height. This created freezing problems on the West sloping site which caused it develop a sink hole from the center were water flowed though the opening and out down below the base of the dam.  My father also worked on this mill dam construction project - See: The Milling Experiences of My Life.

F. A. Drake's Sons Mill.

Tell the Story of Milling on the Big and Little Conneauttee Creeks, and of Edinboro and Cambridge Springs.

The Old Edinboro Mill, Edinboro, Pennsylvania.

Early mills were either operated by wind, tidal, or stream power. So many mills required  a dam to control the flow of water. The current dam was located next to the mill as seen in the upper photograph. Such dams required constant upkeep from weather related damage. On the years that this mill operated and the original mill constructed by William Culbertson there were a series of dams located at different locations back up the Edinboro lagoon. The first dam was located in direct line to the front of the old Robinson House Carriage House which was at one time located next to Zprtman's Flour & Feed Mill on Mill Street. in fact Mill Street originally instead of turning left toward the center of town once went down the hill and across in front of the original log mill dam. William Culbertson built the third grist mill in Erie County. The old Edinboro mill replaced that one and was constructed of black walnut beams in the mid-1850's. The structure was later purchased by the Borough and was demolished in October of 1959.

The Old Edinboro Mill, or Keystone (Roller) Mill,
by Theodore R. Hazen.

The Old Culberton - Keystone Mill, Edinboro.

Keystone Mill, Edinboro, Pennsylvania, built as a "new process" flour mill. William Culbertson in 1801 had John Campbell construct a log grist mill a distance upstream from the present mill dam. In 1802 William Culbertson built a saw mill across from the grist mill. Shortly afterwards another saw mill was built at the dam on the west bank. The Culbertson Mill was a small crude log structure, operating using the low milling system. The Culbertson Grist Mill was the third grist mill built in the county. In 1856 William Culbertson's son who operated the mill, sold the Culbertson Mill to James Reeder and Isaac Taylor. In the same year they replaced the first mill with a new mill, installing modern merchant milling machinery of that day. The modern machinery incorporated the Oliver Evans automated flour milling system along with the "new process" flour milling technology. The new mill was built on the same site by Mr. Skelton using Greek Revival Architecture.

Reeder and Taylor operated Keystone Mills for many years. The mill was very prosperous until the turn of the century when they sold the mill. From then on Keystone Mill saw a great number of owners. The last miller to dress and use the millstones of Keystone Mills was George Brookhouser. Mr. Brookhouser came from a milling family, it was his father who was one of the owners and operators of the Venango Roller Mill. George Brookhouser operated the Keystone Mills while in town his wife ran a store. Keystone Mills had roller mills when Mr. Brookhouser ran the mill but he was the last active miller to use the millstones there.

The last miller to operate the mill as a flour mill was Pearly C. Harned (who was pictured in the front photo of the mill, above standing alone to the right of the front drive though). Mr. Harned gave the mill its red coat of paint with white trim. In large white letters was painted "Keystone Mills, Edinboro, Pa." Painted above the drive through of the loading dock. Mr. Harned ground wheat flour, but by far his buckwheat flour was the most popular. Mr. Harned added a steam engine to the south side of the mill for when the water level was low during the summer months, it had a tall metal smoke stack which stood above the mill from a small shed added to the building. When Mr. Harned sold the mill, the new owner converted the mill to a feed mill.

The mill was rebuilt in 1856 by Reed and Taylor who constructed this Greek Revival structure which was powered by water turbines. The mill originally had two pairs of millstones with a roller milling system added later. During the depression the G.L.F. - Grange League Federation took over the ownership and operation of the mill when Pearly Harned lost ownership of the mill. Grange League Federation abandoned operating the mill with the waters of the lake, and installed a tractor to run the mil. One of the water turbines was removed from the mill and was installed in a small building behind the mill to be a back up electrical generation plant for the town of Edinboro. Sometime during the ownership of the mill by Pearly Harned

People had complained about the old mill being a fire trap for years. Finally the local Boy Scouts had a newspaper collection drive, and they needed a place to store the newspapers temporarly. So the boro said that they could be stored in the old mill, and this made people complain all the more. The sound structure was demolished in October of 1959. People thought they could push the mill down, but the quickly learned they had to dismantle it peg by peg. The old mill went to a sad grave to become land fill between the two Edinboro Cemeteries filing in the old over flow for Conneautte or Edinboro Lake after they took out the bridge on Route 99. In the mill were "Black Cherry" beams 18 inches square, some of them up to 50 feet in length, all going into the land fill along with any remaining machinery that was inside of the mill.


The Downstream Side of the Old Edinboro or Keystone Mill, Edinboro, Pennsylvania. 

The downstream side of the mill's foundation shows two double arches. In side was the mill's three water wheels which operated the mill. At times during the summer months only a trickle of water would occasionally flow over the mill dam, and a steam powered engine was installed on the back side of the mill for additional power to operate the mill. On the gable end of the mill is attached to the outside structure or wall of the mill an outhouse. The Washington Planning Mill (which later became Hobbs Lumber Company) down stream had one attached to the outside of the mill as well over the water edge. Drake's Mill as a toilet box also. It was located in the turbine building over the tailrace and was attached to the corner of the building. The toilet box was attached there for many years even after the wooden flooring around it had collapsed into the tailrace. This is generally an item which is left out or forgotten about in most mill restorations, but it was an important fact of life, or the comfort of the miler.

A History of  F. A. Drake's Mill & The Community of Drake's Mills (long version of history).

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Copyright 2009 by T. R. Hazen.