Principles for the Restoration of Old Mills
Old Mills are an irreplaceable of our national heritage. Mills
at one time were an important part of our traditional landscape,
and have an significant place in the history of America. Mills
are sources of the history of industry, engineering and technology.
Mills were important source of power to process a basic food product.
Each mill is unique, as different as individual fingerprints in
their structure, arrangement and collection of machinery which
represent a time of craftsmanship long past. Grain, flour and
grist mills hold a unique place in history, and deserve out protection,
restoration and to be continued as as living history museums.
Unfortunately, the majority of mills have already been lots,
due to changes in milling technology, commercial competition,
consumer consumption, federal and state laws, neglect and decay.
For years, when a mill would stop operating, its machinery at
times would have been removed, or their structures have been poorly
consider for conversion to other uses. Mills are found in different
regions of the country, and the have their individual characterizes
to that area, as to construction materials, structure and machinery.
Not all mills can be saved, and not all of them are worth saving.
Mills that represent the historical and technical development
of flour milling should be the main candidates for restoration
and preservation. The greatest limitation of mill restoration
has been the individual ownership to find restoration funding.
Other consideration must be applied such as non-profit foundations
and friends groups. However, the main aim of preservation out
national milling heritage should be in developing a federal agency
which would be a branch of the National Park Service which would
establish guidelines for conservation and repair standards which
would apply to period restoration which has never been put in
place, and followed on a large national scale. Too often, most
mill restorations are are planned out by individuals who have
no background in milling, millwrighting, milling technology and
its development. A mill restored incorrectly, a mill-wrong does
a disservice to history and to future generations. This branch
of the National Park Service would function in a similar manor
to the National Historical Trust which has a checks and balance
system between the owner and their responsibilities as to maintaining
There is no "old mills" car license plate, not even
in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia where the greatest number
of mills are found. There is no national milling day observance,
no postal stamps to commemorate developments in flour milling
such as bicentennial of the 200 anniversary of Oliver Evans automated
flour mill. No historical marker on Oliver Evans automated flour
mill on Red Clay Creek along the Faulkland Road in New Castle
County, Delaware. Milling societies are afraid that they would
loose their non-profit status if they pressure local, regional,
state and federal agencies and legislatures to develop mill awareness
and monies for restoration. There is no professional national
milling heritage museum, mills never became part of a national
heritage system of technology as originally planned by the National
Park Service to go along with coal, steam, steel, textiles, water
A mill is more than just a structure or building, it is a large
machine. The building outward appearance is integral to part of
that machine, the mill is n its entirety a building and a collection
of machinery which is important. The true nature of restoration
of any sort of machinery is to achieve its working order. There
are many degrees as to periods of restoration which a building
can represent to mills and their machinery. Multiple usage should
not be an option, along with alternative usage.
Mills are deserving of our protection, and should not be let
stand to abandonment and decay because of problems with ownership,
funding, and modern development. Holding repairs and lockout by
weatherproofing is as important as keeping vandals from harming
our heritage. Foundation repairs are also critical to maintain
a straight roof line and keeping all the various levels in place.
The main aim should be to seal as much of a mill structure
as possible to keep all existing structures, machinery, and artifacts
in place, and not to let individuals remove them for commercial
gains. If the artifacts and material culture have been sold and
auction off before restoration consideration becomes possible
a great deal of its historical and technical integrity have been
lost for that individual mill.
The original rule for mill restoration has long been to restore
it to "day-one." When the mill was first build or constructed.
We should try and avoid restoration because of popular fads of
our culture. Some mills should be restored from the day that they
stopped operating because that is how people living remember them.
The main reason for this is if you remove all of the changes,
additions and machinery from various time periods you loose the
history and the ability to compare and contrast. Some mills that
have stood and operated for several hundreds of years, there may
be no longer any of the original fabric which remains in the mill.
Which period of milling development does the mill most represent?
(1) Is the mill a pre-Oliver Evans mill, (2) is the mill an
Oliver Evans mill, (3) is the mill a "new process "
mill, or (4) is the mill a "gradual reduction" mill?
What milling operations or plants are found in the mill?
(1) Is the operation a flour mill, (2) is the operation a corn
mill, (3) is the operation a buckwheat mill, (4) is the operation
a feed or speciality feed milling operation? Several of these
operations can exist in one building or plant.
What type of milling operation is the mill?
(1) Is the mill a "custom mill," a "batch mill,"
or a "grist mill," (2) is the mill a "merchant
mill," (3) is the mill a plantation mill, (4) is the mill
a combination mill?
What is the main and secondary methods of grain milling?
(1) Traditional horizontal millstones, (2) ending stones, (3)
middling stones, (4) burr mills, (5) roller mills, (6) attrition
mills, (7) hammer mill, (8) combination of millstones and roller
What secondary industry operations may have taken place at
(1) Was there also a saw milling operation, (2) was there a
plaster mill, (3) was there a wool carding mill, (4) cider mill,
What is the source of power for the mill?
Horizontal water wheels: (1) Tub water wheel, (2) Johnson Water
Wheel, (3) water turbine.
Vertical water wheels: (1) Undershot water wheel, (2) flutter
water wheel (3) low breast shot water wheel, (4) middle breast
shot water wheel, (5) high breast shot water wheel, (6) pitch-back
water wheel, (7) hybrid water wheel of breast shot, pitch-shot,
and overshot type, (8) Fitz Water Wheel, (9) Campbell Water Wheel.
Combination power source: (1) Two water wheels may be of different
types, for example pitch-back and overshot types, (2) water wheel
and steam engine, (3) water turbine and steam engine, diesel engine,
or gas engine, (4) water wheel and electric motor operation, (5)
modern source of power being either steam engine, diesel engine,
or gas engine, or electric motor operation.
What is the source of lighting in the mill?
(1) Natural lighting during daylight hours, (2) candles, (3)
oil or gas lighting, (4) kerosene lanterns.
Electrical lighting: (1) Generator for lights in mill powered
by water wheel, (2) Utility company electric lighting.
The main aim of repair should be to retain, and to maintain
as much as possible the existing structure and machinery in order
to preserve the historical, and unique qualities of each mill.
As a general rule, a mill should be repaired to the same appearance
as when it was last operated until decisions are made otherwise.
All auxiliary machinery, buildings, alternative power sources,
miller's house, granaries, shops, and other related building on
the property should be part of the history and development of
milling and community. Other than modern buildings all additional
structures were part of the community which the mill served. Modern
structures can be used as visitor centers, book and gift shops,
freezer storage for grain and flour products, and restrooms.
The mill should be documented along with the site before any
process occurs in its restoration. Any original features that
relate to the workings of the mill should be kept in their proper
context whether the mill is to function as an operation mill or
not, being a static exhibit. When the replacement of mill parts
is necessary, such part replacement should be done "in-kind"
This means that replacement should be carried out using the same
materials, and methods of manufacture as the originals. New parts
should be faithful copies of the originals as if they were period
replacement parts, and not modern made. If no original parts survive
to be used as a pattern, then the design of new parts should be
based upon all evidence found on the site or using traditional
methods and practice of construction of that time period. Any
old parts which are removed by replacement should be preserved
separately from the mill structure, as they may be of historical
and technical importance. Original mill parts may need to be stored
in climate control conditions which are not found in most mills,
restored and heritage operating mills.
When mills are restored to operate, it is important that the
machinery be set up to run in a smooth, efficient, and safe manor
as possible. A system of effective maintenance should be followed
as to repairs, with a regular working schedule of regular checks
and running adjustments, referable by the miller, millwright or
capable technician or custodian. Operation and maintenance manuals
should be created along with volunteer handbooks.
Removal of any items of mill machinery from the mill should
be avoided when new or modern machinery would replace it. It should
be done in-kind. Moving the mill to a new site is not advisable
unless the mill cannot remain in place and be restored when all
methods of protection have failed, and the building and its machinery
is threatened with certain destruction. For mills to function,
water (stream), wind, tidal, or boat mills they should have a
close relationship to their natural sources of power supply. Artificial
methods of energy generation to operate the mill would not work,
and are not cost effective. This means a stream powered mill cannot
be operated on electrical pumped water, or a tidal mill cannot
be operated on artificially generated tidal flow. Windmills need
to have their space around them, and be maintained to be clear
of buildings and trees to allow the free flow movement of the
wind. The water supply of a water wheel or water turbine should
not be interrupted with additional power to force it into operation,
you loose control of the milling process and a great deal of the
safety factors are lost, and out of control. Maintenance of mill
streams, dams, weirs, races, sluices, control and head gates,
and mill ponds should have provisions to allow for access for
their repair and management, along with visitor safety and interpretation.
Mills are primary machines, and proposals to convert them to
other uses should always be avoided. What happens is the contemporary
spoiling of history, craftsmanship and the true intended use is
lost. This makes for restoration is a distant future a greater
impossibility. All work on mills should be done and answered by
those who have adequate knowledge and practical experience. Advice
should be sought and considered before any action concerning the
mills future is taken. Proper repairs mean just that, this will
ensure that mills are truly representative examples that will
survive so future generation will study, learn, experience, and
enjoy them. We may not be able to find examples of different types
or examples of different period in technical development in one
part or region of the country, a countrywide collection of the
diversity should be preserved as an alternative. Regional mills,
mean just that, mills of New England for example were very different
than mills of the Middle Atlantic or Western States. The same
is true with technological development, mills of New England for
example were very different than mills of the Middle Atlantic
States or of Western States.
This document is a broad philosophy of the restoration and
preservation of old mills. More detailed and specific guidance
on the historical technical and practical aspects of mill protection,
and repair are found as source material on the various pages of
this web site. Mills is a very broad subject, much greater then
the average person would realize. This web site may never be complete.
I wish my late best friend Charlie Howell would have lived long
enough to see personal computers, and the internet to get his
impression of it. When he suddenly passed away in March of 1992,
he had just discovered video tape. The past was seen by some,
the present is viewed by all, and the future is left to those
* Today the modern story of the Old Mill, Nyack, New York,
is: It was also where the last witch trial in New York was held.
The witch was known as Naut Kanniff. The people weigher her against
the Bible but she was heavier. In those days if you were heavier
than the Bible you were not a witch. So she was not a witch.
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