Footnotes on Living History Interpretation (part 3)
(1) Questions and their answers can lead to new programs. It is easy
to make your own list and if you do any interpretation in a mill, you will
soon develop a list of most common asked questions and answers. Some questions
that might easily develop into separate programs are as follows:
(7) Drawing #1 is similar to one in the children's book, "The
Gristmill," by Bobbie Kalman. It is part of the Historic Communities
Series. This drawing is based upon a very similar drawing in a Richard Scary
children's book, "How Things Work" (minus the little mouse in
the rowboat who is trying to overcome the flow of water down the flume to
the water wheel). I found this drawing being used on a mill's web site to
present how the mill operated. The actual mill is nothing like the drawing
which looks more like it belongs in the world of imagination being operated
by little animal creatures.
Drawing #2 is a colored drawing that is based upon a drawing from
one of Edwin Tunis' books. The process of milling was originally called,
"mealing," because you were producing "meal." Later
it was referred to as "millering," because it was process done
by the miller. It was then shortened to simply "milling." The
caption for this picture says, "A miller grinds grain into flour. He
use a water or wind powered mill that has a wheel & a millstone. The
water would move the wheel & the wheel would do the grinding. The townspeople
would use the flour for cooking."
Drawing #3 is an example of a post activity sheet. As part of
their unit of study on Colonial Williamsburg, fifth grade Social Studies
classes colored various scenes of life in Williamsburg. The caption says:
"At the Windmill, the miller grinds grain to make flour." Picture
by Lashonna Stafford.
Drawing #4 is another activity sheet entitled, "The Grist
Mill." Information provided with the sheet says, "A grist mill
is where wheat and other grains are ground or milled into flour. Bread was
important to the pioneers, so a grist mill was one of the first buildings
to be built. The following is the text that goes with the grist mill drawing:
The grist mill in this picture was built beside a small waterfall. Some
of the water was made to flow along a wooden trough and into the wheel-blades
of a large wooden wheel. The water turned the wheel, which also turned a
shaft attached to a millstone. A millstone is a heavy stone wheel about
one meter in diameter. This wheel turned on top of another millstone that
did not move. As grain was poured into a funnel or hopper, it fell along
the grooves between the millstones and was ground into flour. It took about
an hour to mill five bushels of 'stone ground' flour. Can you find a flail,
a rake, and a sickle hidden in the picture?"
Activity sheets can be used with pre and post educational packages sent
out to the schools. Some people at times have raised the issue do these
have any educational value? I have always found that the kids love them.
I have done programs that were simply called "Rainy Day Projects at
Peirce Mill," were I provided long tables with crayons, pencils, tape,
scissors, and glue. Then I passed out an assortment of various activity
sheets that I made. At times it may have appeared like we were in competition
with the Art Barn's (Carriage House) art class just across the parking lot.
I had 50 to 75 sheets for various educational levels. These sheets were
everything from fill in the blank, mazes, connect the dots, to color and
cut out a paper model of mill buildings and other related buildings. There
were information sheets on corn, wheat, and buckwheat to how millstones
work. There was a demonstration model made out of a pencil (that worked
at the millstone spindle), a round piece of mat board (that was the bed
millstone) and a round piece of plexiglass that was the runner millstone).
There is an an animated drawing that demonstrates this, "Scissors Actions
of a Pair of Millstones," on my web page, "The
Art of the Millstones, How They Work."
(8) The 1980 edition of the Service's Interpretation Guideline (NPS-6)
refined the standards for living history in a manner clearly reflecting
the critics' concerns. Excerpts from Chapter 7, pages 9-11:
And (a positive image rather than the negative images as found in the
book of) Cross Section of Gristmill. This drawing is based upon the
reconstructed water mill at Philipsburg Manor, Upper Mills. The following
is the text that explains the cross section of a gristmill drawing:
In the well written article, "Life in Early America: The Legacy
of Water Mills," by Patricia O. LaLand, Early American Life, vol.32,
no.1, February, 38-47, 2001, is the Eric Sloane 1970 painting October Mill.
The same painting appeared in his book, "I Remember America."
It is almost like the article was written by or directed to the large group
of individuals who think Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of
the finest examples of a grist mill in the United States. Mabry Mill is
interesting but there are many more better examples only if one would get
off the parkway of life and look at them. Mabry Mill was constructed in
the beginning of the 20th century using a 19th century style but it actually
had an operating lifetime of less than 30 years. It is a mill that is poor
maintained, operated and interpreted. It is being used to sell millions
of bags of flour and meal that is produced elsewhere because of its nostalgic
quaint rural architectural style in which a private individual is getting
rich using a government faculty to do so. It is politics plan and simple.
Someone is so politically entrenched that even the federal government is
afraid to move him out. The National Park Service claims it does not have
the money or interest to restore an old mill to operating condition, and
staff it with its own employees. "It is not a priority item,"
the federal government will say over and over again. The same story has
happened at Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. The National
Park Service and the federal government are playing politics with out national
treasures, just go down to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and
find out what ever happened to the pounding mill. It was the only example
of a complete and "original" pounding mill in the United States
that could be restored and made to operate once again. Because there was
not the interest or the money it was allowed to sit out in the weather and
now is no more, but there are several photos of it in the Historical American
Building Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER).
There is this mind set, that some people have, that says when people come
to an old mill they expect to see a turning water wheel. Even if it is a
turbine powered mill or may never have had a water wheel, they will go out
and find an old water wheel and tack in on. It may look phony and stupid
but it attracts more visitors, sells more sacks of flour and souvenirs,
and people enjoy sitting down in a restaurant and looking out and seeing
a turning water wheel. The Old Mill at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and the
Old Red Mill in Clinton, Hunterdon County, New Jersey are two of the most
well known examples. A little less well known is the Volant Mills in Volant,
Pennsylvania, and I could make a list of a number of others. The line from
the interpretation at the Old Mill at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, says to visitors
that the mill is actually powered by a tub wheel rather than saying it is
really water turbine perhaps because that sounds more "old timey."
If you look through the record files of the Historical American Building
Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), you will
find gross mistakes in the use of mill terminology. A good example of one
of their classic errors is found in Mingus Mill near the Oconaluffee Visitors
Center, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina
side. Besides the fact that the say the mill is located in Tennessee, they
referrer to the ball turbine water wheel (at the bottom of a vertical penstock)
as being an undershot water wheel. Perhaps because the water under shoots
the building and does not go over an overshot water wheel? Who knows who
they consulted or even if they cared to find out the correct words at this
point. I thought the idea was they were suppose to consult authorities in
that field for correct technical information. You would think that since
they have standards for photos and measured drawings that they would have
developed correct standards for the use of technical terminology.
(30) Mountain Industry Trail, Mabry Mill Visitor Center and Complex,
elevation 2,855, Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 176.2, craft shop, gift shop,
restaurant, water-powered combination sawmill, carpenter shop, and working
grist mill. E.B. Mabry operated Mabry Mill from 1910 to 1935. A self-guiding
trail gives a glimpse at pioneer industry including blacksmith, wheelwright
shop, mint still, and whiskey still. There are molasses and apple butter-making
exhibits in season. Exhibits all along the self guided trail.
(31) What I know about Mabry Mill I learned for site folders and
National Park Service documents and not from interpreters, park rangers,
guides, or the miller. One of the problems with Mabry Mill, the John P.
Cable Mill and Mingus Mill, is that the miller is there to do non-interpretation.
The miller is only there for color, costume or being a living prop, and
they will tell you, this is why we have the park rangers whose function
is interpretation. Long ago in another time when the mill still ground what
it sold the old miller was for forthcoming with information about the mill.
The was some sort of mill on the site in the 1890's, but what is standing
to day date from after 1910. The saw mill portion was constructed in 1910,
the woodworking shop built in 1914, and the center grist mill section built
in 1928. Information about the Mabry's and mill from "The Mabry
Story," by Brenda Casper, "Mabry Mill: Today and Yesterday,"
Eastern National Park & Monument Association, Blue Ride Parkway, United
States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1977, and National
Park Service reports on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
(32) At Peirce Mill since the mill was first restored and open to
the public they have always had flow diagrams in the site folder and a drawing
posted inside of the mill on the second floor steps wall. This drawing was
changed several times over the years and the latest drawing is an watercolor
painting. Some mills that have the best drawings that explain the milling
process are the Historical American Building Survey (HABS) and the Historic
American Engineering Record (HAER) drawings. The ones that I think are the
best mill drawings are as follows:
for Old Mills (part 1)
to the Interpretation of Old Mills (part 2)
to the Interpretation of Old Mills (part 3)
Footnotes on Living History Interpretation (part 4)
Two: Selected Readings on Living History Interpretation (part 5)
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Copyright 2001 by T. R. Hazen