of Historic Mills, Preservation in Brief
1. Historical Background
2. Traditional Mill Construction
3. Historic Mill Types
4. Historical Evaluation and Damage Assessment
5. Preservation of Historic Mills
7. Preserving Mill Buildings in Their Historic
8. The Public: A Special Concern
10. Examples of Restoration Planning
11. Examples of Work Schedule for Major Work
12. Selected Reading
Thomas Jefferson envisioned the new republic as a nation which would
be covered with grist and flour mills. From very early on in our history,
mills became a vital image in the American consciousness. Mills even before
the improvements of Oliver Evans were the first industrial process people
came into contact with that was powered by wind, water or tidal power. Mills
evoke a sense of tradition and security, a closeness to the land, and the
power of nature. They also represent a sense of stability and freedom, because
only in America the average person could build their own mill. They served
the community with the people who built them.
Eric Sloane in some of his writings tried to maintain the myth that the
first mills built in America was constructed after the Pilgrims came on
the Mayflower. Mr. Sloane also claimed that it was the New England scientists
who developed the overshot water wheel. The overshot water wheel had been
in limited use in Europe before the coming of the New World but really did
not come into popular usage until after the American Civil War. After the
Civil War they became like the twentieth century idea of buying a motorcycle,
if you are going to buy a bike you have to buy a chopper. If you are going
to build a mill, you are going to have to install an overshot water wheel.
Having an overshot water wheel became the ideal. There are some people who
maintain the ideal that if you are going to have a mill, it should have
both modern water turbine and an overshot water wheel. The only rationale
that I have ever been able to figure out is that the turbine is for modern
efficiency, and the overshot is used for nostalgic beauty. I have known
people who have spent years searching to purchase this ideal mill. It is
a "mind set" that some people have and they cannot explain the
reasons why they old hold this belief as an ideal without knowing why. If
you are going to read the books of anyone for academic study and research
then read the books of Marion Nicholl Rawson (1878-1956) and Harry Bischoff
The French built a water powered mill in Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia,
in 1599. The Spanish also built mills in the New world that were wind and
water powered. The first English mill built in the New World was constructed
at Flowerdew Hundred Plantation in 1621. The first French millstones were
imported to America for this English constructed windmill.
Historic mills are threatened by many factors. The first threat comes from
themselves with new more modern technology. The popularity of modern Minneapolis
style white flour has closed down many an old mill. The smaller rural mill
could not compete with the modern mills production, and the distribution
of products. Over the years the wheat growing and milling centers have shifted
because of new wheats being grown in the Midwest. The old mills were seen
as slow, obsolete and not able to compete with their larger cousins. The
introduction of modern health standards, and the annual per capital consumption
of flour has declined since World War Two. In today's modern world bread
is no longer classified as a staple of life. Flour is in more products today
than ever before, but at one time bread main course in any meal. When people
went hunting they did not always return with something, and at times of
the year fresh fruits and vegetables were not always available. The one
thing that you could count on for your meal was grains, and mills became
very important part of your life.
Mills are often seen only as obsolete and in decay, as land is removed from
active agricultural use, mills were no longer needed. Unlike barns which
is often dismantled for lumber, their beams and barn siding sold for reuse
in living rooms. Mills mainly have their machinery removed for other mills
operation and construction, even before the days of mill restoration this
was the norm. For many years the internal machinery of mills was removed,
rehabilitated and shipped off to third world countries for mills there.
In todays world, these once countries, considered part of the third world
have the money to purchase only the most modern technologically advanced
milling machinery, and no longer want our used junk. Mills suffered during
world wars for scrap metal drives with their roller mills, metal shafting
and gears removed for the war effort. Today these metal parts are no longer
worth the price of scrap metal. A Mill once the machinery is removed, they
remain for the most part, to return to nature rather than their wood and
timber being used in other buildings. For one reason their structure often
suffers from the decay from being close to the water. A second reason is
that they are much more inhabited with insects and rodents than barn structures.
Then finally, wood fabric of mills is often much more chopped up with holes
and openings for the machinery. Mills also suffer from the declining rural
populations with modern development, and the loss of their water shed and
hydraulic systems. Barns suffer mainly from snow collapsing the roofs while
mills suffer from the damages of flood waters. Many mills have had a series
of a half a dozen dams over their years of operation, but all it takes is
one devastating flood at the wrong economic time to end it all.
Traditional Mill Construction
Traditional mill construction at least in early America into the 1700's
was perhaps mainly like the mills found in Europe. Many early small mills
were constructed out of logs much like the other structures the first settlers
build. These mills were small and often very temporary. They often were
replaced by larger mills with more elaborate machinery. A common log mill
construction was that of the tub mill. Tub mills could only grind at a very
slow rate and only could supply the needs of an isolate population. When
more settlers moved into an area a standard or regular water mill had to
be constructed that could only supply the needs of a growing population.
Traditional materials used in mill construction depended upon the area in
which the mill was constructed. There are many regions of the country were
the typical mill is constructed out of some type of local quarried stone.
Spread out across the country are a number of mills constructed out of brick.
Other parts of the country timber framed mills were common, and then later
balloon framing was sometimes found in later mill construction. There are
some regions of the country around the Great Lakes because of the heavy
winter snows and generally wet climate at other times of the year wooden
structures do not survive. Were I grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania,
this was the case and the common stone in the area is shale. So stone buildings
are very uncommon in my part of the state while in other parts of Pennsylvania,
a stone building especially mills are the norm.
There is a reconstructed paper mill in New York State, the Gomez Mill, Marlboro,
Orange County, New York, which is made out of waddle and mud construction
with a thatch roof. The traditional mill construction was often dictated
by where the settlers lived. The first mills in many areas were often wind
mills and tidal powered mills. After all, the settlers were living along
the coastal areas. Windmills were often easier to construct because you
only had to construct the mill building, and because you did not have to
construct a mill dam and water system like that of a tidal mill or a mill
along a stream. The early wind and water mills along the tide water areas
were more practical and easier to move from place to place by water. Farmers
took their grain to the mill by boat because there was not a developed inland
road system. The grain came to the wind and the tidal mills and went back
home by the same means small boats. Because wind and tidal mills are built
along coastal areas they suffer from season storms and hurricanes.
As the settlers were able to push back into the interior then mills along
streams become popular. Many early stream powered mills were small Norse
or Greek Mills. The early settlers placed the horizontal wheel into an open
tub or barrel, that was open on the top and the bottom. Horizontal water
wheels of this type are terribly inefficient and wasteful of the water.
So in an effort to make them more efficient they were placed in open tubs
and became known as tub wheels or tub mills. In the early 1840's the French
picked up upon this this American improvement and developed the modern water
turbine. A tub mill could be constructed using a small log building often
no larger than 10 by 10 feet square, with several logs across a small stream
to create a dam, carrying water to the wheel in hollowed out logs for a
sluice box. You need a pair of millstones but for the most part everything
was constructed out of wood or logs. So when this type of milling operation
was no longer needed they would remove the pair of millstones and in time
no evidence would remain that a mill ever existed upon these sites.
Historic Mill Types
Wind mills: Windmills were found along coastal and tide water areas
of America. There were large concentrations of windmills on Cape Cod, Long
Island, and the tidewater areas of Maryland and Virginia. The Dutch had
windmills in New Amsterdam, and in other selected areas of the country.
Wind powered mills go back three thousand years and were invented by the
Persians. The Crusaders brought the idea of the windmill to Europe. Windmills
were constructed in American in the same types as those found in England
and Europe, being the post mill, tower mill and the smock mill. Windmills
in America installed the milling improvements of the late 1700's and early
1800's. Then at the time when they became more technologically advanced
they grew out of fashion.
Tidal Mills: There were some 200 tidal powered mills located from
Newfoundland to Georgia. Of this number some 28 tidal powered mills were
around the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay has a tidal range of any where
from six inches to two and one half feet. By English standards this would
not be enough to construct and operate a tidal powered mill, but there were
tidal mills that were specially designed to operate on low heads. These
mills were quite successful in their operation. Actually tidal powered mills
are better than stream or water powered mills. They operate with saline
water so they don't have the freezing problems with ice in the winter that
a stream powered mill has. They are not located along streams so they don't
have flooding events or low water periods where they have problems operating.
They are operated by the tides and you can make a tide chart, and then tell
someone that they can come back on a certain day and time, and the mill
should be operating. You cannot predict from day to day when a wind or water
mill could be operated. The only thing that prevents tide mills from operating
is a strong enough wind blowing out to sea long enough will prevent the
tide from coming back which rarely happens. The problems with tide mills
is, that tide time changes and you may be operating at four in the morning
because that is when the tides is working for you. There still are a number
of tidal powered mills operating in Portugal making commercial flour. I
have seen photographs of one mill that has eight pairs of millstones powered
by eight water wheels. Portugal is a member of the European Common Market,
and most of their flour is still made by using water power.
Plantation or Estate Mills: This type of mill usually is a mixture
of both a custom mill and a merchant mill. They are operated as a custom
or feudal milling operation for those living on or working on the plantation
or estate. These mills collect a toll for the grinding of grain for those
living on the plantation and like the feudal system the owner receives a
portion of that income. They also operate a merchant trade flour milling
business and the barrels may be produced by individuals living on the estate
or plantation. If they use cloth flour sacks they are woven also by people
living on the estate or plantation. These mills also usually does a merchant
milling operation for the export of white wheat flour. These mills grind
grain grown on the estate or plantations and from others neighboring estates
that may not have a milling facility. Since they are operated on the old
feudal system of milling the mill owner is not the builder and he employs
a miller or millers to operate the mill. Housing, livestock and a food allowance
is often provided. The mills usually have two pairs of millstones. A domestic
pair of millstones for grinding grain for those individuals living and working
on the estate or plantation. Another pair of millstones is usually a French
millstones used for grinding wheat and producing white flour, and only flour
making machinery. These mills were often build in the tidewater areas or
close to transportation. In size and character they more closely resemble
feudal mills of Europe but may be larger buildings depending how important
the exporting of flour is to the owner occupation.
Custom Mills: The man who builds the mill usually operates the mill
and makes repairs to it himself. The mill owner's house is also the miller's
house. The miller does not have a costume or clothing separate from his
normal clothing. The clothes he wears to work the farm or his other trade
is also the same that he wears working in the mill without changing them
in between. The mill operates seasonally usually only at harvest time. The
miller-mill owner has another trade or several of them that he practices
other times of the year. The miller also usually dresses his own millstones.
Usually the miller's apprentices or helpers are his children. What the miller
knows about his trade he learned form others and has little time to read
about his trade from books or trade journals. The miller may or may not
keep a record of his business operation and customers. Often the miller
uses the fabric of the mill to record his tally or customers. A custom mill
usually has only one or two pair of millstones, usually never more than
two. The mill if they have two pairs of millstones has one for corn and
one for wheat. Usually these millstones are domestic and not imported French
millstones. The mill usually does not have complicated machinery. Often
it does not have the machinery to clean before it is ground or sift the
grain after it is ground. The corn and wheat leave the mill most of the
time unbolted. The farmer brings the grain to the mill in a sack and once
it is ground the miller places it back into other same sack. The mill is
operated on a barter system of the miller collecting a toll for payment
of grinding grain. The mill does batch grinding for farmers and local individuals
on a first come, first serve basis. The mill does not clean up in between
each batch of grinding grain. Sometimes the mill only grinds corn, but may
also grind animal feeds. In lowlands and tidal areas they produce grits
and in the mountain area they produce buckwheat or pancake flour. The Piedmont
they may produce both, or one or the other. Often it only cleans and dresses
the millstones when it is seasonally closed.The mill grains grain relatively
slowly and has a small output. Custom mills are usually small and are not
permanent buildings made out of stone or brick. The miller may have a horse
and wagon but depends upon his customers for transportation of the raw grain
and final product. The mills are build in rural and isolated areas.
Merchant Mills: The man who builds the mill for the owner is a millwright.
The owner is not usually the same person who constructed mill. The mill
owner employs millers to operate the mill and at times housing is provided
for in a "miller's house." The mill operates years round, it is
larger and has more complicated machinery. The mill has a complicated system
of storing grain, cleaning it and sifting it once if is ground. The mill
usually has three or more pairs of millstones. The mill has a hires or employees
millstone dressers who job it is dress millstones. Usually every week one
of the pairs of millstones need to be dressed, so usually once a month every
pair of millstones is dressed. If the mill has apprentices or helpers they
often live with the miller in the miller's house as if they were his own
children. The mill employs specialized labor force, millers, millwrights,
millstone dressers, cleaners and oilers, warehouse and packers. The miller
wears a costume (which is often white) and clothing separate than his street
clothes. Usually in the late 19th century the miller would go to school
to learn his trade and read milling books and trade journals, rather than
solely learning his trade though apprenticeship. The mill keeps complete
records of grain purchased, grains ground, products made, waste and lost,
and other business records. Some times in larger merchant mills the miller's
office is in a separate building and employs secretaries and office personal.
The mill uses imported French millstones for the production of white flour.
The mill only grinds white flour for profit and export. The mill operates
on a system of profit or loss. The mill buys grain from farmers and grain
dealers. The mill packages its products in commercially manufactured barrels
and sacks often with its own logo or brand name on it. The mill operates
on or close to a 24 hour a day, 6 day a week basis. The mill has a large
daily output and is measured in how many barrels or sacks it can produce
in a 24 hour period. The mill building are larger often built of stone or
brick often with separate additional grain storage units. The mill often
has separate warehouse and granary buildings. The mill has its own system
of transportation (wagons, dock, canal, trucks, or rail siding) for bringing
raw grain to the mill and delivery of the final product to the market. The
mills are build close to the grain supply areas and export markets.
Combination Mill: This type of mill usually is a mixture of both
a custom mill and a merchant mill. This type of mill often began its operation
as a traditional custom mill, but for various reason has taken on also the
merchant milling operation. One reason is that it may be trying to compete
with the modern white flour industry in Minneapolis. Another reason is that
is may be just outside of large centers of urban population, and merchant
milling offers a regular source of income for the mill owner and the miller.
This type of mill often may have a domestic pair of millstones and a pair
of French Millstones, or it may have added the modern system of roller milling
to the mill so it can manufacture Minneapolis style white flour. Often the
mill owner will employ a miller of the operation of the mill may be a sole
function of one of the mill owners children while other children operate
other parts of the owners business ventures.
Mills in America passed through at least four major eras of technology:
Historical Evaluation and Damage Assessment
Historical evaluation and damage assessment is important to the historical
record, and to document the structure. Historical evaluation would include
a physical description, describing the present and original (if known) physical
appearance of the mill. The historical significance which would include
the historical time periods of construction and alteration. How it was important
in the larger scheme of things, such as historical events and historical
persons, agriculture, commerce, and architectural, etc. Finally the historical
evaluation would include such information like, this is the last example
found in this county, state, region, country or the world, and if this is
an unique and rare example (one of a kind). The mill may not be the first
to have been constructed in an area, but the last remaining mill gives it
its own historical significance. The damage assessment of old mills can
be separated into different categories as follows:
Preservation of Historic Mills
Step One: Understanding Mills and Their History
Historic mills are preserved for a number of reasons. Some are so well built
that they remain useful even after a hundred years or more. Many others
are intimately connected with the families who built them and the surrounding
communities. Others reflect developments in milling science or regional
centers for wheat growing and flour milling.
Before restoring a historic mill or rehabilitating it for a new use, an
owner should study the building thoroughly. This process involves finding
out when the mill was built, who built it, and why. "Why" is it
so important? To learn what the mill was constructed for and to produce
what products. One example is that many mills in the buckwheat growing regions
of the United States were only ever built and constructed to grind buckwheat.
It also means to develop an understanding how the building was changed through
the years. It means assessing the condition of the mill, and understanding
its components. This process has as its end in appreciation of the building's
historic character, that is, the sense of time and place associated with
it. It is this physical presence of the past that gives historic buildings
To assess the historic character of a mill, an owner should study old photographs,
family records, deeds, maps, insurance papers, and other documents that
might reveal the building's appearance and history. Neighbors and former
owners are often important sources of information. Local libraries, historical
societies and preservation organizations are additional sources of help.
However, some of these sources often have limited information about mills
and their operation.
Step Two: Making an Overall Evaluation
As part of this overall evaluation, the following elements should be assessed
for their contributions to the property. They are the principal tangible
aspects of a mill's historic character, and should be respected in any work
done on it:
Setting. Setting is one of the primary factors contributing to the
historic character of a mill. Millers and millwrights built mills in order
to help them supply food for the families in the area. Mills belong to the
community where they can be seen in relation to the surrounding water system,
and other structures that may be in the mill complex. A mill being crowded
by suburbs is not a mill in the same sense as is a mill clustered with other
related buildings, or standing alone against a backdrop of the mill dam
and stream. Hence, the preservation of mills should not be divorced from
the preservation of their setting: mills and mill dam, mill races, sluice
box, mill ponds, the miller's house, the mill streams and country roads.
Other important elements of setting include head gates, stone walls, roads,
paths, overflows, trash racks, and ancillary structures such as the miller's
house or other trade buildings (saw mill, blacksmith shop, distillery, store,
etc.) and silos or granaries. (Granaries, storage elevators and silos, indeed,
have become so closely associated with mills as nearly to have lost their
"separate" identities.) These features help place the building
in the larger agricultural context, relating it to its purpose in the overall
Form. The shape of mill, as with other buildings, is of great importance
in conveying their character. (the size and, the shape is the defining feature
of the milling type such as custom or merchant mill) Often the form of a
mill is visible from a distance. Often, too, more than one side can be seen
at the same time, and from several different approaches. The rear and sides
of a mill are differentiated from the front, and the rear. The front has
the doors and loading dock area connected to the road, while the rear has
either the external or internal water wheel.
The roof is among the most important elements of building form. Mills are
no exception. Having a good roof keeps the rot and decay out of a building
especially when it is awaiting restoration. The gable roof of the "typical"
or most common mill roof are among the most prominent features on these
buildings with its classical hooded sack hoist extension. A mill can also
have a series of dormers to let in light an allow warm air to escape the
building. A mill roof can often be seen from a distance, and for this reason
must be considered a major feature. With many roller mills they would place
the name of the mill in different colored slate roof patterns on one side
of the room from the common approach.
Materials. Among the major impressions given by well maintained historic
mill are those of the passage of time, strength, solidity and permanence.
These impressions largely result from the durability and ruggedness of the
materials used in them. Weathered wood siding, irregularly shaped stones,
or roughhewn logs on the exterior; dressed beams, posts compacted by years
of use, scalloped step treads, and plank flooring polished smooth on the
interior all contribute to the special character of mills.
Openings. Unlike historic industrial and commercial buildings, mills
generally can have a great number of openings for windows and doors. Yet
the openings found in mills are important both to their functioning and
to their appearance. Typically, large Dutch doors and openings to the attic
are among the most striking features on mills. Mills can have sliding doors
that side open on the inside or outside of the building. Not as prominent
as these large openings, but important from a functional perspective, are
the exhaust ducts found on many mills. The one reason for the overall impression
of massiveness and solidity conveyed by many historic mills, and that they
stand upon several basement levels above the mill stream.
Interior Spaces. The impression received upon stepping into many
historic mills is that of a crowed space. Not infrequently, each floor level
of the building appears as a single large space. To enter these buildings
the first thing many experience the sense of smell. A flour or feed mill
smells much different than other farm buildings. Even when wheel and gear
pit areas "consume" part of the building, they often do not keep
the full expanse of the interior from being seen. Mills have areas that
are poorly lighted, very dark, and are often very damp.
In large mills, this can be an imposing sight. More commonly, the mill is
a combination of confined spaces on the lower floor separating the gear
pit from the rest of the basement. The main floor has the grinding machinery,
the miller's office, and at times a flour room and other storage areas in
additions. There may not be a sense of large open space above on the upper
floors because they are full of bins, machinery and chutes. A common mistake
in mill restoration is the removal of too much machinery for the movement
of groups and tours through the building, but in the process the character
of what makes a mill is lost.
Structural Framework. The exposed structural framework is a major
component of the character of most historic mills. Typically, mills were
built for strictly utilitarian purposes. Accordingly, mill builders or millwrights
made no effort to conceal the structural system. Yet for that very reason,
mills achieve an authenticity that accounts for much of their appeal.
In some mills, the load-bearing members are of enormous dimensions, and
the complex system of beams, braces, posts, rafters and other elements of
the revealed framework create an imposing sight. In the mortise joints with
their pins are very evident along with the independent foundation of the
millstone support timber frame work. Yet even in small mills, the structural
system can be an important feature, helping to determine the historic character
of the building. In mills of stone or brick construction the floor joist
and main support bears are what is termed, "burnout beams." This
means that they are not fitted fully into the square wall pocket or socket
in case of fire. They have tapered ends or are cut on a diagonal so in the
event of a fire they will drop out of wall without damaging the wall so
the building can be rebuilt.
Decorative Features. Historic mills, like modern ones, are structures
built for use and as a rule have very few architectural embellishments.
Nevertheless, decorative elements are not lacking on mills. Foremost among
these is color (red or white being most common) for painting the siding
and another color for the windows and trim. Grist mills traditionally sported
distinctively shaped with their hooded sack hoist and underneath on each
level is a Dutch door on the front of the building. On many stone and brick
mill buildings are the standard metal curved crafted "S" or star
shaped bracket that supports an interior rod support system. The Eling Tide
Mill in Totten, England, these "S" braces are detailed to resemble
In addition to these elements, extended sack hoods, patterned slate roofs
of many roller mills, fanciful cupolas, weather vanes, lightning rods can
be found on historic mills. Finally, individual millers and mill builders
sometimes added personal touches, as when they carved or painted their names
on anchor beams, or painted their names and the date over the entrance.
Many mills often have a use a wall or door surface for posters, to hold
blackboards, and signs.
The elements discussed here are major components of historic mills. Yet
no list can convey the full historic character of an individual building
because no two mills were ever built alike. It is very important, therefore,
to study each structure carefully before undertaking any project to restore
it or to adapt it to new uses.
Maintenance. If a building is to be kept in good repair, periodic
maintenance is essential. Mills are like houses, when they feel unloved
and unwanted they often go downhill very quickly. Mills should be routinely
inspected for signs of damage and decay, and problems corrected as soon
as possible. Water is the single greatest cause of building materials deterioration.
The problem that water creates was a normal part of the daily operation
of a water powered industry. The repair of roof leaks is therefore of foremost
importance. Broken or missing panes of glass in windows or cupolas are also
sources of moisture penetration, vandalism by throwing burning objects into
the building, and should be replaced, as should broken ventilation louvers.
Gutters and downspouts should be cleaned once or twice a year if they are
found on the mill. Proper drainage and grading should be ensured, particularly
in low spots around the foundation where water can collect and freeze.
Moisture is one major threat to historic buildings. Insects, especially
termites, carpenter ants and powder post beetles, are another grain related
insects. Regular examinations for infestations are essential. If a mill
stops operation it is essential that all remnants of the grain, and corn
cobs be removed. Chemical bleaching agents once used to make bleached flour
and insecticide poisons should be dispensed of as toxic waste.
Additional periodic maintenance measures include repair or replacement of
loose or missing clapboards, and inspections of foundations for cracks and
settlements. Because of the vibration of the machinery often the foundations
contain large cracks. Vegetation growing on the mill should be removed,
and shrubs or trees near it should be cleared if they obstruct access, or,
more serious, if roots and other growths threaten the foundation. They also
increase the possibility of insect and rodent infestations. Soil and corncob
buildups against the foundation should be removed. Such buildups hold water
and snow against wooden elements, and promote rot. They also promote insect
infestations. Door hardware should be checked for proper fitting and lubricated
yearly. Lightning rods should be kept in proper working order, or added,
Repair. Many historic mills require more serious repairs than those
normally classed as "routine maintenance". Damaged or deteriorated
features should be repaired rather than replaced wherever possible. If replacement
is necessary, the new material should match the historic material in design,
color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, material.
The design of replacements for missing features (for example, cupolas and
dormers) should be based on historic, physical, or pictorial evidence.
Many mill owners today have have no experience in the care or operation
of these milling structures. Where expertise is lacking, it will be necessary
to consult structural engineers, millwrights, milling consultants, millers,
stone masons, carpenters, and architects, as may be necessary.
Structural Repairs. Ensuring the structural soundness of a historic
mill is vital both to its continued usefulness and to the safety of its
occupants. The following signs of structural settlements may require the
services of a structural engineer to evaluate: major cracks in masonry walls,
visible bowing, leaning and misalignment of walls, sagging windows and doors,
separation of the members in structural frames, trusses pulling away from
seating points at support walls, sagging joists and rafters, and noticeable
dips in the roof between rafters.
To correct these problems, masonry foundations may have to be reset or partially
rebuilt. Sills and plates may need to be repaired or replaced. Walls may
have to be straightened and tied into the structural system more securely.
Individual structural members may need bracing or splicing.
Roofing. Moisture can damage historic materials severely, and, in
extreme cases, jeopardize the structural integrity of a building. Every
effort must be made to secure a weather tight roof. This may require merely
patching a few missing shingles on a roof that is otherwise sound. In more
severe cases, it may require repairing or replacing failing rafters and
damaged sheathing. Such extreme intervention, however, is not usual. More
typical is the need to furnish "a new roof," that is, to replace
the wooden shingles, asphalt shingles, slate shingles or metal covering
the roof. Replacing one type of roofing with another can produce a drastic
change in the appearance of historic buildings. Great care should be taken,
therefore, to assess the contribution of the roof to the appearance and
character of the mill before replacing one type of roofing material with
another. While some substitute materials (such as synthetic slate shingles)
can be considered, the highest priority should be to replace in-kind, and
to match the visual qualities of the historic roof. Gutters and downspouts
should be replaced if damaged or missing. Finally, dormers, cupolas, metal
ventilators and other rooftop "ornaments" provide needed ventilation,
and should be repaired if necessary.
Exterior. In addition to the roof and the foundation, other exterior
elements may need repair, including siding, brick and stonework, dormers
and cupolas, windows and doors. Security window coverings may be falling
off, doors may need to be rehung, and missing glass and hardware replaced.
The exterior may need repainting. (unpainted brick or stone mills, however,
should never be painted.) In the case of masonry mills, repointing may be
necessary. If so, mortar that is compatible in appearance and composition
with the historic mortar must be used. Using mortar high in portland cement
can damage historic brick or stone. Masonry cleaning should be undertaken
only when necessary to halt deterioration or to remove heavy dirt, and using
the gentlest means possible. Sandblasting and other physical or chemical
treatments that damage historic materials should not be used. Likewise,
power washing under high pressure can also damage building material. There
should be no plants or vegetation within three feet of the structure to
prevent rodent and insect infestation.
Interior. Typical interior repairs may include removing and replacing
rotten floorboards, and repair or replacement of partitions, storage bins,
stairs and hand railings. Concrete floors may be cracked and in need of
repair. Wiring and plumbing may need major overhaul to update it to code
or modern standards. The fireplace or chimney should also be inspected for
leakage and absence or damage to the liner.
Interior levels, Floor by Floor. This would include a list or inventory
of what machinery is found on each floor or level in the mill. Besides an
inventory list a floor plan of each floor should be made.
The mill's basement is often the same level in which the water wheel is
located, either in the basement itself, attached to the outside, or in a
building attached to the outside of the mill. The basement is the power
transfer floor or level which powers the grinding machinery on the floor
above, and contains the bottoms of the elevators that run through all levels
in the mill. The first floor is usually the grinding level containing the
primary machinery of the mill which is the grinding machinery. It may be
millstone and or roller mills. This is the level in which the grain comes
in, it gets ground, and the final product is packaged and it leaves the
mill. The upper levels contain the secondary machinery of the mill. The
second floor often contains storage bins for grain, and flour bolting machinery.
The attic contains the tops of the elevators and the grain cleaning machinery.
Step Three: Decision Time, Rehabilitation versus Restoration, and
Some mills have served the same use for generations, and when a mill is
still in operation it may need only periodic repairs and routine maintenance.
Others have become obsolete, and need extensive repairs. Similarly, mills
that can no longer be used for producing a food product at all normally
require changes to adapt them for commercial, office, or residential use.
In such cases mills need more extensive work than the maintenance and repair
treatments outlined above. However, when rehabilitating a historic mill
for a new milling operation, public restoration, or a new use entirely,
care must be taken to preserve its historic character while making needed
changes to accommodate the requirements to allow for visitor access to the
A successful rehabilitation project is best guaranteed when a work plan
is drawn up by someone familiar with the evaluation of historic structures,
and when it is carried out by contractors and workmen experienced with the
building type and committed to the goal of retaining the historic character
of the property. Help in formulating rehabilitation plans and in locating
experienced professionals is normally available from the State Historic
Preservation Office and local preservation groups.
In 1671 a grist mill was built on the Wye River on the Eastern Shore
of Maryland. The mill was used as a boundary marker between counties in
1706 and supplied the Continental Army with flour. It switched between many
different private owners throughout its history. Wye Mill was bought by
the state in 1953, and deeded to The Society for the Preservation of Maryland
"A Very Short System Mill" in a letter to the Editor
of American Miller, J.F.T. Brown the owner of the Wye Mill in 1889, describes
this 1 1/2 story building that is 37 by 25 feet. "I have recently remodeled
my mill to the roller system. I expect to have the shortest system you ever
heard of. I hardly know whether to call it a one or two-break mill. It has
one pair of smooth rolls to grind all the middlings. I have three Silver
Creek Flour Bolts, one single and one double scalper, one purifier, one
Excelsior Bran Duster, one Eureka and one Hercules Wheat Cleaner, these
are machines I have in the mill. The two-break mills are 9 X 15, manufactured
by John T. Noye Mfg. Co., Buffalo, N. Y. I send all the tails over from
the bolts and scalpers, such as bran and ship stuff, to the bran duster,
and it gets all the flour out of it. The flour that comes from the bran
duster, I sent to number 3 bolt, clothed with number 12 cloth; about one-half
of this bolt is cut off and sent to the purifier, which makes very good
middlings. I am making a straight grade equal to patent flour, and have
a capacity of thirty barrels in twenty-four hours. I am running my mill
with water power and have sufficient water all the year to drive it. I engineer
the mill myself, and it suits me in every respect."
They had removed one pair of the mill's "old burr" stones to install
this very short roller system. At this time the mill was powered by two
Little Giant Water Turbines. Later the turbines were replaced by a single
Fitz Water Wheel and the roller mill system replaced by a Midget Marvel
Mill. The turbines and millstones are now on display outside of the mill.
"A Very Short System Mill," American Miller, 17 (May 1, 1889):
"Good Bye Old Burr: The Roller Mill Revolution in Maryland, 1882,"
by John W. McGrain, Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume 77, Number 2, Summer
1982, page 162 of pages 154-171.
The one major problem is that there are no guidelines or standards set
for historical mill restoration. Generally the various elements are restored
the way they would be in other historic structures. Often the person in
charge of the projects has the ultimate say in what is done if it is historically
accurate or not. The following approaches should be observed when carrying
out rehabilitation projects on historic mills:
Preserving Mill Buildings in Their Historic Settings
A mill or a grist mill was a vital necessity in any early settlement
such as in many areas. An operating mill would greatly enhance the visitor
experience of any park or historical site. A mill would increase the technical
and agricultural awareness for visitors of a certain time period. The industrial
revolution of milling technology occurred in America with the improvements
of Oliver Evans and these would be reflected in a mill of this time period.
There is no other operating mill found in a park setting in this area to
attract visitors which interprets milling technology and regularly operates
and produces flour and meal.
In recognition of its historical significance and importance as an educational
resource, a grist mill is being considered to be relocated and restored.
Other things that need to be done are to collect the mill's history along
with evaluating other components that once may have existed besides a typical
grist mill. They may include a miller's home, a dam, a pond, a general store,
a blacksmith shop, a cooperage, plus a number of farm related buildings
adjacent to the mill. The restoration work will be performed by the staff
of the park whose goal is the development of a fully operational water powered
grist mill depicting the era of the stated time period.
The staff should be dedicated to the preservation of our rural heritage
through the authentic restoration of a grist mill as a functioning water
powered structure within an historic setting.
1. Goals: In pursuit of overall mission, we shall.........
The Public and Special Concerns
The conversion of mills to public access is not new, but has become
increasingly popular in recent years. Yet the changes involved in converting
most mills to allow the public to enter are so great that such conversions
rarely preserve the historic character of the resource. The interior volume
of machinery is often greatly reduced, exhibits, lighting, hand railings,
restrooms, drinking fountains, fire extinguishers, and other fixtures normally
lacking in mills are added, and site changes, such as close in parking,
flag poles, and residential type landscaping are made, giving the building
a greatly altered site. Many other mills are "converted" to houses
or other uses by basically dismantling them, discarding the exterior machinery,
and reusing the internal structural system in a new building. The beams
are saved, but the mill is lost. In cases where the conversion from commercial
mills to restored has been successful, the positive outcome results in large
measure benefits from the careful choice of the mill. Historical buildings
do not by law have to be made handicap accessible, but such considerations
Mills have to have added security for night to prevent vandalism and fire.
The water system needs to be secured to prevent drownings. Often then mill
races has to be fenced off or the site entirely closed to the public at
night. The water system gates have to have locking devices for daily operation
and for when the site is closed. The water wheel needs to be locked to prevent
turning if someone climbs on the wheel or inside of it. The building needs
modern electrical systems, including three phase current, phones, security
systems, locking windows that one time historical perhaps were never locked.
There needs to be a flood evaluation plan to remove artifacts and for cleanup.
Signs should be at a minimum and not detract from the historic or visual
quality of the site.
Mills should be restored with the same methods of construction and style
that went into their construction originally. Do not restore a mill using
the same craftsmanship that went into building a church or institutional
building. These methods may be good for winning preservation and restoration
awards but the original character of who the mill was constructed is sacrificed.
Mills and mill repairs were often made very quickly because a mill in not
making any money when it is not in operation or broken down. Mills have
the craftsmanship that the millwright would have put into them but don't
make it look like a fine cabinetmaker just got finished constructing them.
Sometimes one should forget about the notion of restoration and preservation
and just replace in-kind. Never make any of the machinery braces or supports
lighter, smaller or compromise their structural and engineering integrity
to save money or for other reasons. Millwrights built things the way they
did for a reason and when you change that you may risk damaging the machinery
or the loss of human life.
Historic mills form a vital part of our Nation's heritage. Not every
historic mill can be saved from encroaching development, or easily brought
back into productive use. Yet thousands of such structures can be repaired
or rehabilitated for continued agricultural use or for new functions without
destroying the very qualities that make them worth saving. By carefully
examining the historic significance of each structure, owners of historic
mills can draw up plans that preserve and reuse these historic structures
while maintaining their historic character.
Mills are artifacts which are as important as any museum can be. Show the
visitor by going through an actual mill and convey its history, its changes,
and its people. All are important for a better understanding of ourselves.
It was a building built for manufacturing. In saving, moving and restoring
a mill, the grist mill should: (1) be irresistible, (2) show the agricultural
theme, (3) demonstrate its American history as a center of our towns, (4)
make it a physical and emotional experience. A good recreation makes it
easier to get money and to maintain the mill's operation. Show that technology
is easy for everyone to understand.
Mills are links to the past. They are the stuff of the past, a testament
to a moment in history, the communities they sustained, and those who operated
Water power endured well after the industrial revolution in America. Both
wind and water power are not predictable, only tidal power is. It was the
millwright's job to adapt his skill to each mill site so that during low
periods and floods a mill would survive.
I could quote a great deal about the height of the head and fall of various
mills, and about the revolutions per minute of water wheels and millstones,
which would only delight the most dedicated "molinosopher" with
enthusiasm. Flour milling encompasses several periods of technology. The
process of flour manufacture has changed through the phases of grindings,
cooling, regrinding, and bolting. However, the product has always remained
the same, it is just the process that has changed.
Unless one visits an operating mill and feels the vibrations along with
its laboring turning machinery and breathes in the dust particles, the technology
and history of it may be only so many lifeless words on a page. The flour
milling phase of American history is where the visitor would enjoy being
an active participant, unlike the history of battles, bloodshed, and war.
The enthusiasm for any mill restoration project should go beyond just the
idea of restoration of a grist mill, to an understanding that there is more
than just the planning, design and construction process. There are mill
wrongs and mill rights, there is more to milling technology than the average
person would think. A great deal of thought and knowledge goes into proper
mill restoration: doing it right from the beginning.
Examples of Restoration Planning
Preservation of old mills can include a long list of things that need to
be done. The following examples are taken from: Grist Mill Restoration and
Site Feasibility Study for Virginia's Explore Park," by Theodore R.
Hazen, Virginia's Explore Park, Roanoke, Virginia, December 1996
Step One: Long Range Planning
Examples of Work Schedule for Major Work Projects
The following is a list of the major work to be accomplished on the
mill structure, its contents, mill dam, head and tail races, and the immediate
area surrounding the mill. For reference purposes and to provide a general
chronological order, the tasks are listed numerically. The list does not
include additional important and time consuming work such as consulting,
planning, preparing drawings, evaluating, locating material and making arrangements
on how the work will be accomplished. The reconstruction of the mill and
construction of the mill dam and races, along with the pump system may begin
at the same time but are listed as separate items for simplification and
Frank Briscoe, "Wood-Destroying Insects." The Old-House Journal.
Vol. XIX, Number 2 March April 1991, pp. 3439.
A. Harold Castonguay, "Two Men on a Mill, the Story of the Restoration
of Baxter's Mill," Wayside Studio, South Yarmouth, Cape Cod, 1962.
David Craik, millwright, "The Practiced American Millwright and Miller:
Comprising the Elementary Principles of Mechanics, Mechanism, and Motive-Power,
hydraulics and hydraulic motors, mill-dams, saw-mills, grist-mills, the
oat-meal-mill, the barley-mill, wool-carding and cloth-fulling and dressing,
wind-mills, steam-power, etc.," Henry Carey Baird, Industrial Publisher,
Evans, Oliver, "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," Philadelphia,
Lea & Blanchard, 1850 edition 13th, Philadelphia, Oliver Evans, 1795,
first edition. 1795, to the 15th edition published in 1860, reprint first
edition - 1795 by Oliver Evans Press, Wallingford, Pennsylvania, 1990 (available
from SPOOM above), reprint of 13th edition, Arno Press, New York, New York,
1972, reprinted 13th edition, Ayer Co. Salem, New Hampshire, 1984.
Hollis, Jay S., "Gristmills: One Man's View (architecture of grist
mills)," Historic Preservation: January-March 1977, Preservation of
Washington, DC, 1977.
Anders Jesperson, "Mills and Their Preservation," Copenhagen,
Larkin, David, "Mill, The History and Future of Naturally Powered Buildings,"
Universe Publishing, New York, 2000.
Philip L. Lord, "Mills on the Tsatsawassa: Techniques for Documenting
Early 19th Century Water-Power Industry in Rural New York," Purple
Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, New York, 1983.
William. Merrill, "Wood Deterioration: Causes, Detection and Prevention."
American Association for State and Local History Technical Leaflet 77, History
News, Volume 29, No. 8, August, 1974.
Marion Nicholl Rawson, illustrated by the author, "Little Old Mills,"
E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1935 first edition, reprinted Johnson
Reprint Corp. 1970.
Samuel N. Stokes, "Saving America's Countryside, A Guide to Rural Conservation,"
Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1989.
Norman Thelwell, illustrated by Norman Thelwell, "A Millstone Round
My Neck, The Restoration of a Cornish Water Mill," Methuen London Limited,
Harry B. Weiss, and Robert J. Sim, "The Early Grist and Flouring Mills
of New Jersey," New Jersey Agricultural Society, Trenton, New Jersey,
Vosbeck, Vosbeck, Kendrick, and Redinger, "Black Rock Mill, Restoration
Feasibility Study for the State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources,"
Architecture Engineering Planning, Hyattsville, Maryland, 1973.
George Woodbury, illustrations by Arthur Conrad, "John Goffe's Mill,"
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Copyright 2001 by T.R. Hazen.