of Flour Milling in Early America
Question: Were the early mills of America like the traditional English
Country Mill, similar to the Pakenham Mill in the drawing above?
Question: Did the tradational English Country Mill develop as the
same time, both the English and early American mills from the medieval mill?
Question: Did American mills become more suffocated than English
and European mills?
Question: Did American mills change and develop differently that
English and European mills?
The Basic Information:
Grist mills constructed in the early 1600's to grind corn and wheat to make
flour for the early English settlers of coastal areas. Two words in this
sentience reveal was the mill was constructed to do. These words are: corn
and flour. To English speaking people of the 1600's and 1700's a corn mill
means a mill that grinds corn and makes flour. Corn is the English generic
word for grain. More specifically meaning a mill that grinds wheat, rye,
oats, and or barley into flour and meal. The common American word "corn"
meaning maize the English and Puritan settlers would have called it maize
and not used the word corn. In America the English use of the word corn
did not change until the War of 1812, when the people of the United States
wanted to separate themselves from England.
Wheat was grown in New England primarily along coastal areas. The rocky
soil and climate of New England never made New England a large wheat growing
center. Wheat was a more important crop in the areas of Pennsylvania, New
Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. Early milling centers of America
was New York (first by the Dutch and then later because of Rochester and
the Erie Canal), Wilmington (along the Brandywine River), Baltimore (along
the Patapsco River), Georgetown (along the C & O Canal), Richmond (on
the James River and the Kanawha Canal). Then after the Civil War the wheat
growing areas sifted to the Midwest. The Mennonites brought hard wheat from
the Ukraine and the milling methods changed, places like Minneapolis (the
largest ever in the world) became milling centers.
Many early water wheels were enclosed inside of the building or under
roof for protection from winter's snow and ice. The above photo is of the
Lee Mill, Stratford Hall, Virginia. The Fitz Water Wheel Company claimed
that this was their best and most accurate mill restoration. A roof is over
the water wheel in the classic illustration Winter
at the Old Grist Mill, a Currier & Ives print. Is this more
nostalgic than reality and how much does nostalgia become a factor in mill
New Englanders traditionally preferred rye over wheat and a common New England
dish was 'Rye' & 'Injin,' meaning corn bread with rye flour instead
of wheat flour. The problem unknown at the time was the hallucinations fungus
(LSD) ergot commonly found in rye, and not effected by the milling, sifting
and baking process. The New England food Johnny Cakes originally was called
journey cakes. Over time the word journey cake was bastardized into Johnny
cake. Buckwheat is not a grain, grass or member of the wheat family is actually
an herb. It was brought to New Amsterdam in 1626 by Dutch and German settlers.
Buckwheat spread down from New York, into Pennsylvania, western Maryland,
West Virginia and into Michigan. In the North and New England the type of
corn used for milling is yellow field corn, while in the South white field
corn is used. When corn is milled into corn meal the bran is sifted out
to make bolted corn meal. Coarser corn meal contains the bran and is called
unbolted corn meal. In the South the middlings is used as a cereal and is
Soft wheat or English wheat was grown and milled. Wheat was sifted or bolted
into white flour. In sifting the bran and middlings (cereal) is removed.
The middlings also was called ships stuff or red dog, was used for ships
biscuit. Red dog was named after a New England Native American who was named
Red Dog. He made a deal with a New England miller in trade for all of the
middlings the miller could supply his tribe. Bran was tossed into streams
considered worthless. whole wheat has the bran sifted out and came into
existence in the mid-1800's with the popularity of Sylvester Graham's Graham
Flour. Around the time the Pilgrims were building Plymouth Plantation a
patent was issued in Great Britain for the making of woven wire cloth. A
century later a Scotsman named John Milne invented a sifting reel that rotated
instead of being shaken. So after about 1730 most mills of any size operated
their flour sifting machinery by water power rather than being hand sifted.
So the reconstructed mill probably and a flour sifter (bolter) on the second
floor of the mill that was water powered.
Question: When did American Mills stop looking like European mills?
Perhaps it was not until Oliver Evans developed his improvements did American
There time in America when we wanted to get away from all things English.
We had just fought to wars with England and water to separate ourselves
and our language from the English. The term "corn" which the English
use as a generic word grain only came to mean maze not by English definition
(a corn mill) a mill that grinds wheat, rye, or barley. We stopped using
the English millstones in American Mills and preferred using the French
millstones because they made better white flour. Our milling industry was
converted to sport the Napoleonic wars. We were happy to ships American
products to other markets other than England. We got away from using what
would be termed English designs such as clasp arms on water wheels and used
the American standard of compass arms. Sure some mills were build in American
in the 1700's using clasp arm construction in water wheels and gears. But
this was American and we did not have to maintain the king pin tradition
of keep the same water wheel shaft for generations and only replacing the
housing around it. We had more availability to lumber and timber than they
did in England. So the designs of water wheels and milling machinery changed
in the 1800's.
Enck's Mill along Yellow Breeches Creek in Dickinson Township, Cumberland
County, Pennsylvania, has the same basic lay out as the Eling Tide Mill.
Enck's Mill has two equal mill sections with the mill stream that ran under
the middle of the building that turned two breast shot water wheels each
driving two sets of grinding stones.
Types of Mills:
There are two types of mills or milling operations. Custom mills grind grains
individually for farmers and other individuals. The miller is paid for his
services of milling by collecting a toll. A toll is a portion of the grain
brought to the mill for grinding. Local laws and custom set the allowable
amounts for corn and wheat. The usual toll was one eighth for corn and one-sixth
for wheat. Because milling was also a craft learned through apprenticeship
no one was allowed in the mill when it was operating or when the miller
was measuring out his toll. A dishonest miller could collect more than his
allowable limit. In the middle ages people got away from brown flour because
a dishonest miller could adulterate brown flour with saw dust. White flour
is nothing new and goes back thousands of years. Custom mills is most often
referred to as grist mill. These mills operate seasonally with the harvest.
The miller is often the person who owns the mill. He often has another occupation
practiced when the grist mill is not operating. The machinery of the mill
is simple, often only one pair of millstones, but sometimes two pairs of
millstones are found in the mill. In a custom mill generally there is no
cleaning or sifting machinery, and the miller sifts the flour or meal by
hand. Modern health standards have put these types of mill out of existence,
because they don't clean the mill machinery between different individuals
batches of grain. The health inspectors believe that contamination can lead
to sickness, disease and death.
The other type of mill is a merchant mill. A merchant mill Is a commercial
milling operation. The miller or millers is generally not the person or
persons who own the mill or constructed it. This mill grinds grain and produces
flour for profit and for export. This mill does not grind grains individually
for farmers and other individuals. It grinds wheat and produces white flour
packaged into barrels, rather than a custom mill that would grind sacks
of grain. Flour barrels have wooden ash hoops rather than a metal hoop of
a wet cooper. A merchant mill puts a label or stamp on the barrel head of
each flour of flour. Until the end of the 1700's the barrels were stamped
with a heated branding iron. This is much like a cattle branding iron. Irons
would say for example: "SF 196." This means "superfine"
white flour. The number "196" is the weight in pounds that the
barrel contained. By law each barrel of flour must contain 14 stone or 196
pounds. A mills output was measured in numbers of barrels it produced in
a 24 hour period. Branding irons were used for main years before they used
paint and stencils. Branding irons were heated in a fireplace of often found
in the basement of the mill. A fireplace in the corner and a window, this
probably was the corner where the miller's office was located. A merchant
mill purchases its grain from grain dealers and farmers. This mill is larger
and its machinery more complex. A merchant mill generally would contain
three pairs of millstones or more. The largest water powered mill ever to
have existed in Minneapolis contains 42 pairs of millstones. I had a friend
who's grandfather was a foreman in a steam powered mill in England that
had 52 pairs of millstones. Merchant mills grew in importance and numbers
after the improvements made by Oliver Evans in 1782-83.
Oliver Evans wrote the first practical book or text book for millers
and millwrights. Evans wrote "The Young Mill-Wright & Miller's
Guide," first published in 1795 and reprinted through 15 editions until
1860. It became the millers and millwrights bible and today is a valuable
reference work. The wars in Europe fed the growing numbers of merchant mill
in America exporting flour. The Napoleonic Wars more than doubled the price
of a barrel of flour. A sure sign of a merchant mill is the type of millstones
it used. A merchant mill used French millstones imported from France. The
French millstone is the best grind stone material ever found for grind wheat
and producing white flour. French millstones are made of a freshwater quartz
quarried principally around La Ferte sous Jouarre near the town of Chalons
in the Marne valley of Northern France. The United States became the largest
importer of French millstones. There were more here than in France or anywhere
else in the world. The increasing importance of merchant mills and the two
wars fought with England cut off the importation of English millstones.
Millers were recant to accept change. Milling and the process of milling
had not changed for centuries. It was not until Oliver Evans made his improvements
in a mill on Red Clay Creek in Delaware. A mill in the early or middle 1700's
looked like a mill in the 1600's, 1500's, 1400's, or 1300's. The milling
process was very labor intensive, and a mill could not increase its output
unless it increased its labor, installed more duplicate machinery. In the
English colonies there was even less incentive for change, the patient laws
in English required that to obtain a patient to protect your invention,
you had to be an English citizen living In England. Grain and flour was
stored on the floors and the whole system was a mess. Most of the people
involved in the milling business: mill owners, millwrights and millers were
Quakers. The Quakers were the one who invented the system or incentive for
making profit. So it was the Quakers who were primarily in the merchant
flour trade. They were long chastised for it, but for centuries it was not
you just due. When you made and sold something, you could only ask for what
it cost to make it, never any extra. It was not your entitlement as a craftsman
Question: Do you know were the largest collection of pre-Oliver Evans
mills in America is located?
These mills were constructed before Oliver Evans inventions and did not
see any milling changes until the end of the 19th century when roller mills
and metal water wheels were added to the traditional pre-Oliver Evans mills.
Several years ago I made an extensive tour of the grist mills of Perry County,
Pennsylvania. My companion was the late Charles Howell (1926-1993). We used
as a guide a small booklet on the mills of Perry County (a similar booklet
is available on covered bridges), and the classic county history book: "Perry
County Grist Mills, 1762-1978," by the late Eugene E. Eby, The Triangle
Press Inc., Penbrook, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1978. Mr. Howell like myself
was a master miller, millwright, milling consultant, and millstone dresser.
Together we both have spent our lives working in both commercial and public
flour and grist mills. Charlie and I had read both of these publications
cover to cover, over and over again. It was not evident from our reading
but after we both had begun to see a number of 1700's mills that were still
standing in the county (at that time), we came to an interesting conclusion.
The mills that we saw that were constructed in the 1700's before the improvements
of Oliver Evans, they still had their characteristics of a pre-Oliver Evans
mill with the millstones feeding to meal boxes, lighter staffs to tenter
the millstones, and a sack hoist. These mills were constructed, operated
and never saw the improvements brought about by Oliver Evans. The mills
missed a stage in the development of flour milling and remained the same
until the introduction of the roller milling process and the desire by the
American household for Minneapolis style flour.
The Early Mills:
What did these early mills look like? The mills has a loft or garner as
it was known in England. In American garners were storage bins for grain,
sometimes located under the eaves in the attic or along walls on lower floors.
The loft was the best place to store grain, flour and meal because it was
the driest part of the Mill. It was out of the lower floors that would be
flooded by the mill stream. It was also more difficult for rats and mice
to get at the grains the ladders would be pulled up at night and the trap
doors closed. There would be as many as three cats kept there to keep vermin
at bay. The problem was the summer heat and insects. It was however, it
a time when rodents were considered much more of a problem than insects.
A good example of this type of mill is the Brant mill, near Rector, Pennsylvania.
A good example of an adapted old mill can still be seen it the Mascot Roller
Mill, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It is still evident in the maze
of bins and and interior layout that was adapted to fit a turbine powered
roller mill when the water wheel and millstones were removed. Another example
is Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park. The mills original basement steps was
in the center of the building were the millstones are located. The mill
never had steps to the second and third floors. When the mill stopped functioning
in 1897, shortly thereafter around 1900, the building was converted into
a public tea house. The Peirce mill also had trap doors with ladders that
could be removed at night.
In the pre-Evans mill, millers and his boys would carry freshly ground
flour sacks up ladder like stairways to the top floor or attic of the mill.
This was the days of the "sack and back" operation. All of the
work was carried about the mill using sack on ones back. Sometimes it was
hoisted up using ropes and buckets or sacks, and dumped on the floor where
it was spread with a rake to cool and dry it. The miller's helper in this
process was called the "hopper-boy." Also in the mill the miller
had his "sack-boy," whose job it was move sacks about the mills,
add empty sacks to chutes when ones filled up.
In early American millers used the old American or flat grinding system
of milling. The fast turning millstones were set close together and placed
a lot of pressure on the grain. They needed to be well dressed to do their
job. The object was to produce as much flour as possible through one pass
through the stones. Grind once, sift once was the rule. The meal would leave
the stones hot and damp; the duller the stones, the hotter would be the
flour. The bran was broken into fine particles, and the middlings turned
into warm clumps which would clog the bolting cloths if not cooled before
bolting. Hence the need for a device (or person) like the "hopper-boy,"
whose job it was to "hop-to-it."
The flour might remain on the floor for many hours, or days, filling the
loft with flour while waiting for the moisture to evaporate so it would
not sour later. Egg laying insects loved it! After the flour was dried and
cooled, it was bolted, where again it would be deposited in hoppers or bins
to age and whiten. Evans invention of the hopper-boy cooled and raked the
freshly ground flour mechanically: saving labor, time, and space; and, it
did a better, more complete job.
Mills of early American were small often one or two stories, but there
was little need for tall structures (that came later with the Oliver Evans
mill). Mills of this time period of early American contained the mill machine,
consisting of the water wheel, gears and millstones. The millstones were
often separated on a platform or a level separate from the first floor.
The miller spent all of his time in the mill's basement were he suffered
from problems of cold, dampness, dirt, fungus, mold, mildew, and poor light.
This is why the "millers's thumb" was developed so the miller
could judge the quality of the flour by using his hands and fingers without
the benefit of much light to see by. The miller would only travel to the
millstone level to fill the millstone hopper or dress the millstones. The
millers or boys helpers did the rest. layers old old flour and meal covered
the floors, corners, and cobwebs throughout the mill.
The grain gets to the millstone by being taken by a the sack hoist to the
top of the mill. When it is needed to be ground it then is poured through
a chute down to the millstone hopper which dribbles it into the eye of the
stone. The damsel is attached to the runner stone and spins around with
it at about 125 r.p.m. The effect of this is to vibrate the shoe causing
the corn to run down the slope. As the grain travels out from the center
of the stone to the edge, it is ground up into meal. The meal collects in
the wooden vat which surrounds the stones and falls through a small hole
in the floor down a meal spout to the ground floor. Sometimes the miller
would sift the flour or meal by hand using a hand sifter or the miller would
collect the meal in a sack or tub and sends it up to the top of the mill
again on the sack hoist. After a time it would be poured down another chute
into the boulting (later term bolting) machines which sieve the bran out
of the meal, leaving the flour to fall into the flour bin. The bran or offals
would be tossed out often by pouring it into the mill stream. A millers
horse could always be easily identified because it would have rickets because
it had too much bran in his diet.
Often the mills most complicated piece of machinery other than the millstones
would be a windlass barrel hoist. A type of hoist that a rope is wind up
around a barrel used to lift sacks, barrels, tubs on the inside of the mill
(through trap doors) or on the outside of the front of the mill vertically
up past a series of Dutch doors on each floor of the mills. Candles were
used for lighting either sitting on barrels or on candle holders forged
by the blacksmith with long spikes on the end that would either stick into
barrel heads or beams.
One old expression is: "Don't put out the miller's eye." The particular
phrase has no reference to the eye of the miller. However people in Michigan
have taken it to mean that only a good miller would have one eye, that he
would keep his noise so close to the grindstone that he would poke out one
eye in dressing the millstones. The original phrase has no reference to
the eye of the miller, but probably to that part of the machinery of the
mill known as the mill eye or eye of the millstones. If by the inattention
of the miller, the grain flows too freely from the hopper through the shoe
and fills the eye or the aperture of the revolving millstone and brings
the machinery to a stand still. Another use is to "put out the miller's
eye," in other words for the miller or one of his helpers to dump a
large amount of grain to fill the mill's eye and choke the millstones and
machinery down to a sudden stop. To put out the miller's eye with good whiskey
(rather than grain) they would drown before they could ever put out the
miller's eye. The folks of Michigan have taken the old expression "keep
your noise to the grindstone." It means if you keep your noise literally
always pointed towards the grindstone, your ears are also in that direction.
The expression means pay attention to you work, by using your senses of
sound, sight and touch to operate the mill.
The phrase "dusty miller" is meant the last child born in a family
and should be really "dusty milder." "It's mildering"
means that it is pouring rain. The Irish never say 'pouring with rain."
Milder is a milling term that means the quantity of grain ground at any
one time. So milder means a great amount, a flow, quantity, a deluge. The
"melder, " flour or meal fell into a great wooden tub, then the
miller's helper would have raised the tub to a flour bin or loft area. St.
Mullins or anglicized to the name of St. Mulling. An Irish monk who lived
from 614-696, and is remembered as to having succeeded in milling (a mixture
of non-grain stuff such as apples, nuts and other particles, fibers, perhaps
belly bottom fuzz, etc.) into rye flour after a disastrous harvest. He is
the famous miller who maybe the source word for "Molinology."
His mill race and remains of his mill can still be seen. He is supposed
to be the earliest person who was named a "miller." So is the
study of milling meaning "Molinology" come from the study of St.
Mulling. The Dutch word for milling is "molin."
Dutch and German mills constructed in America tend to use German millstones.
These millstones are quarried at Nieder Menting in the Mayen district of
the Rhineland, and was used by the Romans who went through a great deal
of effort to haul stones to their mills from the Rhine River. The stones
are known as "Cullin" stone, a corruption of Koln, the German
name for the city called Cologne in English. The millstones are made of
a bluish-gray lava and they tend to use a sickle millstone dress pattern
on the grinding surface. The English settlers in the New World favored millstones
from their motherland. So English mills and millers use stones cut from
quarries in the Peak District of southwest Yorkshire and the northeastern
perimeter of Derbyshire. This millstone material is known as Millstone Grit.
The British millers refer to these millstones as "Peak" or "Gray"
stones. Grist mills constructed by the English were more than likely had
a pair of English millstones and looked much like a traditional English
The first ships carried settlers to American. The millstones that the
mills they constructed in the New World came from Europe. These mills sprang
up as wind mills, and tidal mills and when they moved inland enough constructed
stream powered mills, along the streams of New England, New York, Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and the Carolinas. Millstones were quarried
in American at Mount Tom in Connecticut; Westerly, Rhode Island; High Falls,
Ulster County, New York; New Hampshire; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Maryland;
Ohio; and Rowan County, North Carolina. The better millstones were imported
A throw back to feudal Europe in early America was the plantation mill.
Mills in Europe were owned by the lord or Abbott. By law a peasant had to
take his grain to the ruler's mill, he had no recourse of going elsewhere
if the miller was stealing from him. Here in America mills on plantations
or estates ground mill for people living on the plantation. This also included
indentured servants. A later form of this arose in the South with the share
croppers. Plantations often ground coarser grains for people living on the
plantation and also ground finer white flour for export. These mills often
had two pairs of millstones, one millstone the plantations needs, and the
other French for grind white flour. So in away this milling operation was
both custom and merchant milling. George Washington had such a mill at Mount
Vernon on Dogue Creek. In America an 'honest miller' who took an honest
toll was something to spread the word about. Millers always had a reputation
for being mean and money-grabbing. In Geoffrey Chaucer's miller in the Canterbury
Tales was the classic caricature of a fat crude and rough willing and able
to defraud his customers with his "miller's thumb" of gold. Much
of the suspicion was due to the nature of what they did. When people took
their grain to the mill to be ground they only had the miller's word for
it that what they received in meal at the end of the process was theirs
and theirs alone. While Oliver Evans improvements were being installed in
American mills, in England still the rat-catcher also worked in mills catching
rats, while in America cats took on that responsibility. In American culture
you had to have a greater sense of occupation than in England.
Question: Was it the same as in England and elsewhere that in early
America (because of the apprentice system) when the miller saw someone coming
to the mill he shut the mill off? People did not see their grain being ground,
because the miller did not want to reveal any of his secrets?
The millstone surface is dressed with their furrows that grind the like
a scissors cutting action. Millstones are dressed or grooved for the type
of grain ground. A large kernel like corn the grooves are deeper than smaller
kernels like wheat, buckwheat, rye, oats, and barley that have shallower
furrows. Some mills have one pair of millstones for grinding corn and another
pair for grinding flour and other grains. Millers in the North and New England
states often grind all grains on one pair of millstones. The millstones
are dressed or grooved with an in between dress. In the South it is common
for a mill to have two pairs of millstones. It is the custom in the South
that if the locals discover the miller is using the same pair of millstones
to grind both corn and wheat, they will stop using the mill and go elsewhere.
Question: Why did metal (iron) appear in use in America for gears
and water wheel parts 100 years after they did in England?
Question: Why did England want to keep the Industrial Revolution
from happening in America and its other colonies?
Construction and Operation:
This location was chosen because of the available water power. It was
built over a waterway that moved a large wooden wheel, which in turn, rotated
a large stone upstairs in the mill. Wheat or corn that was grown locally
was placed between the stones and ground into fine meal or flour. Many of
the first mills constructed in America were wind and tidal powered mills.
At first it was hard to get intelligent people to come to America like millwrights.
Often early settlers forced to order complete wind mills from England that
were disassembled and packed into a ship in a kit form. I have never heard
of a water mill being ordered from England in this manor.
Building a mill took weeks or even months of labor. No machinery or standardized
parts were available, only human strength and ingenuity. Except for a few
(metal) parts the blacksmith might forge, everything had to be made from
wood and stone........ The millwright was called in for the job. The millwright
found a good site. Foundation walls were erected. Logs were cut and fashioned
into beams, boards, and shingles. Pillars were constructed to support the
water wheel shaft. Mill millwright located a white oak tree for the water
wheel shaft. Only the millwright had the knowledge of what woods were best
used for different parts. The water wheel, gears, and bearings made. Some
times stone or wood was used for bearings. Stones bearings were lubricated
with either water or tallow. Wooden bearings were lubricated with tallow.
A dam, mill race and or a sluice box was constructed. Finally the mill was
ready to be set into operation. The first grain was ground and the mill
was tested. No one dared ask the millwright about his work, he went about
it in silence, few people were lucky to watch him work, he safe guarded
his knowledge. No one dared ask him questions, what he was doing or why,
because it is a well know fact that a millwrights spit can kill a toad.
Some mills also included a blacksmith shop. As customers would come to the
mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. The blacksmith worked
on their wagons and shoed their horses and mules. The Blacksmith was always
needed by the millstone dresser to draw out and temper mill picks or mill
bills. The blacksmith kept his secrets of how he tempered the mill picks
and the millstone dresser would always disagree with the blacksmiths work.
It was not until later, in the late 19th century were the blacksmith's formulas
for tempering mill picks published in blacksmith manuals. The blacksmith
worked with the miller and millstone dresser to repair metal bands on millstones.
Later many millers learned to dress millstones, learning only the basic
knowledge how to do it and make the millstones grind, but without the skills
once only done by master millstone dressers. It is the idea, anyone can
do it, you put marks on the millstone and it will grind, but only the master
millstone dresser knew the complete knowledge of how the millstones actually
grind and what happens between the millstones. The miller who dresses his
own millstones for the most part, could care less of the bran is removed
in the proper shape and flake size. He just wants to grind grain for his
The blacksmith first fabricated metal parts for the millwright, and later
worked with the millwright again or miller to repair mill machinery. The
blacksmith worked on mills when water wheels, gears, shafts were primarily
made of wood, with metal parts fashioned by the blacksmith. Later, when
the millwright no longer completely fashioned everything with in the mill,
the blacksmiths work became less important. Metal replaced water wheel shafts,
gears and bearings. Originally the millstones adjustment of tentering device
the lighter staff and bottle weight were made by the millwright. Then the
blacksmith made metal tentering rods and wrenches. The blacksmith could
not fashioned the proof staff used by the millstone dresser. These were
made in foundries. They were used to check a straight edge or paint staff,
used to check the dishing of the millstones. The blacksmith rebabbitted
metal bearings if the miller did not learn how to do it. The technology
of making mill parts of metal took over the work of the millwright and blacksmith,
when metal parts could be fashioned and cast beyond the abilities of their
Originally all of the machinery located in a mill was operated by wooden
gears, including millstones, bolters (flour sifters). Then rope drive was
used, and later leather belts were used. White leather was first used for
elevator belts to hold elevator cups, later to be replaced by canvas belting.
Elevator cups were either made of wood, or fashioned out of tin by the tin
smith. The miller learned to lace leather belts with leather lacing. In
the beginning of the 20th century metal belt lacing came into use. Wooden
pulleys became made of metal, and more and more machinery became belt driven
within the mill, even the millstones them selves. Later then metal replaced
water wheels, gears, bearings, shafts and even the millstones with the introduction
of the roller mill. The millwrights no longer required the skills of the
blacksmith. His metal work was done by a machinist in a machine shop. When
the millstone dresser or the miller no longer dressed the millstones, the
machinist became the one who regrooved the break rollers in the break roller
mills, once every several years.
A large millstone means a millstone with a diameter of 5 or 6 feet. This
millstones if given proper amount of water and with sharp furrows could
grind up to 500 pounds of flour and meal per hour. In the 1800's the average
diameter of a millstones was 48 inches. The large diameter water wheel that
turned the millstone upstairs. Millstones are operated in pairs and in writing
or speaking of a mill the number of pairs means how many set of millstone
the mill has. The lower millstone is called the 'bed' stone. This millstone
is a stationary millstone that a turning spindle comes through its center
and turns the upper millstone (the one mentioned in the statement above).
This millstone is called the 'runner' stone. A millstone 5 or 6 feet in
diameter would weight between 3400 to 4800 pounds. The millstones never
touch and the space between the stones regulate how coarse or fine the grain
is being ground. A mill built in the 1600's would more than likely not have
a millstone crane for lifting and turning over the upper runner stone for
millstone dressing. The reconstructed mill that was "significantly
different than its original construction," more than likely had a millstone
crane. Millstone cranes came into existence in the 1700's. Before that it
was a very dangerous operation to lift and turn over a large heavy millstone
using man power. Many a story has been told of a millstone that got away
and fell through a floor crushing the gearing below, and possibly killing
or injuring someone. In this time period millstones that hurt or killed
someone, was considered unlucky and a perfectly good millstone was retired
out of the mill. It often became a door step so the unsuspecting would step
on it and carry the bad luck or evil away with them.
The millstone would be sitting on a platform as in a typical pre-Oliver
Evans mill The breast wheel was sitting in a wheel pit. The gates would
be closed the water level would rise and then turn the double bucket breast
shot water wheel. water would exit down the tail race. The water wheel would
have been built from seasoned white oak. Oak, apple wood, hickory would
have made the wooden cogs on the gear wheels. The cogs would be boiled in
linseed oil to protect the wood and to harden the wood structure. The water
wheel was protected from the elements by a protective shed with the attached
roof to the main mill structure. From northern Virginia, up into Maryland,
Pennsylvania, New York and the New England states, may water wheels were
enclosed within the mill structure to protect them from ice and freeze damage.
Often the water wheels were placed in part of the mill basement, or a protective
roof, partial or complete shed enclosed the water wheel. This also protects
the water wheel in the summer months when not operating and drying out on
the outward side and remaining water logged on the lower side. This caused
the wooden water wheel to become unbalanced creating problems for the water
wheel, connecting machinery and its operation. This may take away from the
romantic notion that all water wheels were clearly visible to be seen, but
they were not.
Mills changed as technology changes they also change from one miller to
another, as operators change. Wooden water wheels last 10 to 20 and possibly
30 years if they are taken care of. The wooden housing of wooden teeth gears
are changed less often. Millstones are replaced every 20 years or so. French
millstones will last a man's lifetime or 100 years or more if they are taken
care of. Mills to burn well, the dust from wheat flour, rye, barley and
oats is more explosive than gunpowder and 35 times more explosive than coal
dust. The flour, dust, dirt and cobwebs feed a fire once it has started.
In a mill of Oliver Evans's day, American millers used the old American
or flat grinding system of milling. The fast turning millstones were set
close together and placed a lot of pressure on the grain. They needed to
be well dressed to do their job. The object was to produce as much flour
as possible through one pass through the stones. Grind once, sift once was
the rule. The meal would leave the stones hot and damp; the duller the stones,
the hotter would be the flour. The bran was broken into fine particles,
and the middlings turned into warm clumps which would clog the bolting cloths
if not cooled before bolting. Hence the need for a device (or person) like
the "hopper-boy," meaning "hop to it."
In the pre-Evans mill, millers or boys would carry freshly ground flour
sacks up ladder like stairways to the top floor or attic of the mill. Sometimes
it was hoisted up using ropes and buckets or sacks, and dumped on the floor
where it was spread with a rake to cool and dry it. The miller's helper
in this process was called the hopper-boy. The flour might remain on the
floor for many hours, filling the loft with flour while waiting for the
moisture to evaporate so it would not sour later. Egg laying insects loved
it! After the flour was dried and cooled, it was bolted, where again it
would be deposited in hoppers or bins to age and whiten. Evans invention
cooled and raked the freshly ground flour mechanically: saving labor, time,
and space; and, it did a better, more complete job.
The saw mill was built after the gristmill's initial construction would
have been an up and down saw mill. A straight blade (like a pit saw) was
set in a frame and moved up and down by means of a crank from below. The
converted logs into boards and improved the appearance and construction
of the homes nearby. When a saw mill was operating in a small community
the local homes often would have used the slab wood produced by the mill
and the inter boards sold elsewhere. Slab wood is the outer first cut that
one side is curved and still many contain the bark. At time the community
would be referred to as 'slab town.' The addition of slab wood to primitive
structures would be a great improvement. Grist mills were often combined
with another operations such as a saw mill, plaster mill, bone mill, etc.
The large diameter water wheel that operated the mill would have been
a "breast shot" water wheel. In the "Report of Commissioners
of Dams and Reservoirs," it states that the dam has a water of seven
feet in depth at the dam. The type of water wheel that a mill has is determined
by the "fall" and the amount of water in that part of the stream.
There are three types of water wheels. The overshot water wheels are used
with a "head" or fall of over 10 feet. Breast shot water wheels
are used at falls of between 6 to 10 feet, and undershot are used in falls
of under 6 feet.
The craft of milling and millwrighting came here from Europe. The most common
water wheels used in Europe at this time was the breast and under shot water
wheels. Mill sites in Europe were known and reused over time for centuries.
There was no guess work involved. Many of European mills were powered by
undershot water wheels form broad rivers or boat (floating) mills. What
they learned in Europe they came to America and constructed. So if a millwright
only knew how to construct undershot water wheels that is what they built
here. Even if the undershot was operated from a 40 foot fall where an overshot
would be more suited. The most common water wheel used in American industry
until 1830 was the breast shot water wheels. In the 1840's the French developed
the water turbines from the American adaption of the tub wheel. Water turbines
were first introduced into America around Lowell and the textile industry.
The water requirements for both the breast shot water wheel and the turbine
are similar so turbines were installed were once breast shot would have
been used. After the American Civil War turbines and overshot water wheels
became the most common water wheels used in most mills. Overshot water wheels
did not become popular or vogue to construct until afterwards.
The types of vertical water wheels and their variations are: The overshot
water wheel type including the overshot and pitch back water wheels. The
breast shot water wheel type including the high, mid, and low breast water
wheels. The undershot water wheel type including the undershot and flutter
type. The types of horizontal water wheels include: The Greek wheel or Norse
wheel, the tub wheel, baker wheel and the turbine.
The original gearing of early grist mill's would have had two-step gearing
operating the single pair of millstones and a sack hoist. The two-step gearing
system of interlocking gears is designed to permit several pairs of millstones
to be driven from a single water wheel. The water wheel shaft would have
a greater face gear that would engage a pinion gear. The pinion gear would
have slip cogs that could be removable to allow the millstones to be disengaged
and not operate. When the saw mill was added another form of two-step gearing
was added known as counter-gearing to operate the saw mill. In this form
the master or greater face gear would engage a lantern wallower, the wallower
shaft turns a lesser or little face wheel. The wallower is mounted on a
sliding bearing. A lever is used to disengage and engage the lantern wallower
and thus disconnect the drive to the saw mill from its source. The original
mill would not have had counter-gearing, or spur gear drive systems. These
gear trains alone would have only been installed to operate two or more
pairs of millstones. Even though some have recently referred to counter-gearing
as English gearing, this does not mean it was in all English mills. No two
mills are like in the water set-up, gearing arrangements, machinery, etc.
The English used all of the different types of water wheels and gear train
The water wheel at an early grist mill would have been a low to mid breast
wheel, 12 to 14 feet in diameter by 6 to 8 feet wide. It would take 3,000
to 5,000 gallons per minute to operate the mill. Most of the moving parts
were made of wood. The few metal parts would be gudgeons. Metal bands around
the ends of the shaft holding the gudgeons in place. Gudgeons are metal
journals mounted in the end of the various shafts to run in bearings. The
woods used to construct the mill would be seasoned woods such as white oak.
Note: The text from a Report of Hunt's Grist Mill, Old Rehoboth,
Massachusetts, April 1998, and the Newsletter Anvil's Song, Virginia Explore
Park, Summer 1998, both by Theodore R. Hazen.
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