Interpretation for Old Mills (text only; no images or links; print
Interpretation for Old Mills:
Effective Interpretive Programs to make the "same old grind" come
Theodore R. Hazen
Types of Interpretation:
Interpretation for old mills is much like balancing millstones, it comes
in two forms static and dynamic. In interpretation then static interpretation
of an old mill would be when the machinery is still, not operating, or not
able to operate. Dynamic interpretation of an old mill would be when part
of, or all of the machinery is in motion. This may include just turning
a portion of the machinery to idle it, or the grinding of grain into flour
or meal. Over the years I have seen a wide variety of interpretation in
old mills, some very good, and some very bad. I find that interpretation
of old mills has two drastically different effects upon the visitor when
the mill is operating versus when the mill is not operating. You could be
the best interpreter in the world, but when the machinery begins to operate
there is nothing like it in the world. Even the best interpreter has to
take a second seat to the turning machinery. All one can to is add to what
is already happening. It may be like being a to witness creation, the raw
grain going and seeing the final flour coming out, and being able to touch
it between your fingers. Who wants to read about it or hear about it when
you can see the real thing happening before your eyes. It is like watching
bread dough grow into a loaf of warm baked bread before your eyes
Lets look at an example, you sitting in the audience part of a group of
visitors watching an interpreter in an old motion picture theater. That
interpreter after introducing themselves and who they represent, explains
the history and importance of the theater. Then a visitor asked the question
what happened here? For what ever reasons may be behind our science fiction
example there are no longer any motion pictures in their world. All the
interpreter can do is make the theater dark inside and explain what happened
upon the huge white screen behind them. This is a similar effect that interpretation
of an old mill has upon visitors when it cannot operate. If the interpreter
could make the motion picture screen come alive with light and moving pictures
all they could do is step aside and take a seat to what is happening upon
the giant screen. An old mill when it is operation has motion, a bit of
lights and shadows flickering inside of the building. What really draws
the visitor into what is happening is the real sounds more alive that recorded
sounds coming out of speakers. There is the sounds of the flowing water
turning the water wheel, and the sounds of the gears meshing together as
they turn the millstones. Then there is also the added factor of smell.
There are many smells in an old mill which is much different than any other
rural building. I will save taste and texture for later. What it comes down
is a similar experience for the visitor part of the real interpretation
of an old mill, he is a witness how the miller experiences operating a mill
is by using your senses.
In today's world, I would guess almost every interpreter at any site has
experienced it. A visitor walking through with a operating video camera
glued to their eye. They won't stop, you can't say anything to them like
even, "Do you have any questions?" (1) It is almost like
the bootleg video they sell on many of our major city streets but this for
what ever reason is bootleg vacations. The visitor goes away with experiences
that they never stopped to enjoy or understand when it was really happening.
There may be nothing an interpreter can do, if their batteries died they
would simply go in search of more batteries.
Since most people have never been a mill let alone seen one that is operating.
You may ask yourself if they could go home and have learned only one thing
what would that be? I always think of is an understanding of how the millstones
work. They do not touch each other or mash, crush up the grain into flour
like most people who walk in the door with this preconceived notion. Anther
approach is to allow the visitors to experience the mill by using all of
their senses. The one way to do this beyond the actual mill when it is operating.
Since they cannot touch the turning machinery for safety reasons, they can
have a better sense of the mill by being able to sense some thing of the
machinery. You can use old wooden gear teeth without being covered with
lubrication, millstone dressing tools, and being able to touch the millstones.
I have even made an all-wooden mill pick for small children to hold and
touch that does not have the weight and dangers of an actual metal tool.
Some of the tools used in the operation of the mill such as scoops, paddles,
bag closing devices, and so forth are also good for them to experience.
You can show them objects or artifacts that are familiar or may be perhaps
strange to them. A picture is worth a thousand words as the old saying goes.
Then how many words are found in a three dimensional object worth. If your
local health officer allows it setting aside some grain and ground flour
for the visitors to be able to touch and feel. This of course would be thrown
out at the end of the day.
One of the best experiences an interpreter in an old mill can learn from
it to present his program to a blind individual or group of totally blind
individuals. They can sit their at a distance and safety hear all of the
sounds of the mill operate. But the major portion of your program has to
involve using touch and texture of the actual mill parts. This may involve
kernels of grain, a hand full of flour, touching a portion of the millstone
and its furrows. Being able to hold a wooden gear tooth in their hands and
other experiences even filling a sack of flour. You can do things like letting
them grind up a few kernels of grain using the millstones in their mouth
or between two smaller stones on a table. This is one of the best ways I
think an interpreter can become better at one he does is to make a visitor
who has lost one or more of their senses to understand what is happening
and to go away with a better understanding. Then one might say the visitors
have all of their senses would be a breeze, but it is far to easy one of
two of them to get lost between the cracks. Did you reach out and touch
everyone who wanted to learn and understand today, remember sometimes a
lot of visitors are terribly shy and pass by without saying a word. You
don't want to become an interpreter that when visitors see you coming they
turn and walk in another direction. I have been seen this happening for
real in some parks.
One of the best sources of information it use in the "contrast"
and "compare" portions of your interpretive program I have found
in the pages of an old milling journal called, "American Miller."
The issues from the beginning half of the 1900's, each issue they ran a
one page section similar to "Ripley's Believe it or Not." It was
entitled Milling Highlights and Oddities." They had a number of line
drawings with a sentence of two caption underneath. One example was, did
you know that the tooth of a woolly mammoth is about the same size with
grooves on the surface just like that of a millstone. Another example shows
how explosive flour dust is, at one time some built an internal combustion
engine that was fueled with nothing but flour. Over a number of decades
they provided interesting facts about historical events and mill related
Some of the most interesting and compelling interpretation that I have seen
was what I would referrer to as the interpretation of space. The interpreters
setup their furniture within an archaeological grids of where a building
was discovered. The visitor remains outside of the grid with perhaps the
sense of being able to look not only through time but through walls of a
building as well. The interpretation is actually within the real space of
an historical building or event presenting their program.
I have been to one park that does first person interpretation. (3)
The person in charge at the time told me that he became interested in interpretation
and living history because of his interest in old mills. (4) They
do what I referrer to as "soap opera" living history. They get
together each morning before the park opens to the public, and plan out
the days story line, for example, today a child has died. Then they all
go out and present how that event would have effected the lives of their
characters. (5) In mills like anything that has turning machinery
people get injured, they loose either parts of their bodies or their lives,
but that is not an event that I would consider presenting in living history
in an old mill. I would think you might quickly loose your funding if you
presented programs about death and tragedy. I think besides the main themes
of an historical mill site, you would want to present mills and water power
are still a practical and environmentally friendly alternative technology.
Mills are still around because the technology is old, that does not mean
it is obsolete or its products are bad product. If modern energy methods
fail, or we run out, we may be just going back to these forms of power one
I was somewhat disappointed to read the lesson plans from Saugus Iron Works
National Historic Site, Saugus, Massachusetts, there was no mention of water
power or water wheels. I know the Fitz Water Wheel Company was responsible
for the original restoration of their water wheels when the site was first
restored. At least at Lowell and at Harper's Ferry they discuss the topic
of water power. My ideal National Park to have worked in would have been
if they created a park out of a portion of the flour milling district of
Minneapolis, Minnesota. You would have such great themes as water power,
flour milling technology and the history and development of the milling
district of Minneapolis.
To return to this last park, I am waiting for the day when they rebuild
their mill. My understanding is that they had a millwright come to America
from England. However, before he could erect a mill he died. So they had
to order a mill kit from England. A full size mill built in England, taken
apart, stuffed on board with more immigrants coming here. Once it arrives
you follow the instruction and put slot "A" into hole marked "A."
So on and so forth until you have a mill a complete mill. I think I just
gave away a lot of their story lines. Since I learned about this park, back
in England somewhere they found lost and hidden in an English garden a post
mill. In some of the old drawings and maps you found post wind mills that
were not drawn to scale but were about the size of a man. For a long time
they though this was a problem in interpretation and perspective. The discovery
of this windmill showed that they had build portable windmills that were
not much larger than the size of a man that could be moved from place to
place. They had scaled down sail arms, gears and a small diameter pair of
millstones, and could actually grind grain into flour. They were somewhat
like the later portable burr mills but were complete with their own ability
to generate power. So perhaps this park in its historical period either
bought a full size mill, or one of these smaller scale windmills from England.
It is an interesting alternative after all, one of these portable windmills
would better fit into a 17th century sailing ship.
There are two main types of interpretive programs in mills. The first one
is a walking tour of the mill, and the second is station interpretation.
A walking tour of the mill is when the miller, park guide, volunteer, or
interpreter takes a group of visitors through the mill. (6) They
would stop at various stations or places in and around the mill on a tour.
Generally this is the bread and butter of school group interpretation, and
perhaps the best way to take a group of visitors through a milling program.
The interpreter in many cases would began his talk at station one. This
station is usually the outside of the mill within view of the dam, and mill
race, with the water wheel, and the mill in the background. Once the program
begins it generally takes from one half an hour to forty-five minutes to
The Walking Tour Method of Mill Interpretation:
The best way to present a program is to first write an interpretive outline
or lesson plan, and then to write out the dialog for the program in long
hand. Another method is to create it by using the storyboard method. Make
the interpretive materials appropriate to the age and grade level of understanding
and educational level. (7) Your program begins by identifying your
group or organization that you are employed with. Then you establishing
how you want to be referred to by the students, as Mr., Mrs., Miss., or
by a first name, such as Ted the miller. The basic portion of this program
outside of the mill would give a brief history of the mill. Don't fool yourself,
the group is there not to learn every detail and event in the mill's history,
but to see it operate so keep it simple and basic. An interpreter friend's
wife stated in these terms: "They lived, they fought, and they died."
Keep it simple. Those visitors with a greater interest will identify themselves
after the program is over or by coming back and asking more questions. So
if she is correct in her interpretation of who interpretation should operate,
milling interpretation should be no more than: "They built, they ground,
and it stopped."
An overview of the history of the mill in the mill's folder is generally
enough for most visitors. If you start getting too detailed with dates and
names you will begin to loose people. This is the time to include the main,
and sub themes of the site. This would include information like, this mill
was one of many mills along this mill stream. Give information like the
number of mills over a period of time. The first mill was build in "such
and such a date," and the last one was in operation until "such
date." Other relevant information can be presented such as "why"
were the mills built here, such as to make use of the water power in the
stream, and perhaps this was near a port, or an export market, and close
to the sources of grain. The patterns of wheat growing and grain milling
as well as the milling technology may have changed over the years.
If the person giving the interpretation is the only person on site, and
the control gate for the water wheel is nearby or accessible, this is a
good time to open and close the gate. If there is another person on duty
in the mill, like the miller, he can operate the water wheel from inside
for the group. If the school kids are young enough you can first ask them
the question, "How do you turn it on? I don't see a switch." Generally
the kids are bright enough to say, "pull the handle." You need
to make them understand that it is not like a light switch at home, by flicking
the switch "off" and "on," it does not always work.
In fact, it does not have a switch. You can explain it in this manner, "Water
flows and fills the buckets on top of the water wheel. Once enough buckets
are full, and that portion (the top) of the water wheel becomes heavier
than the rest of the water wheel the wheel will turn or fall. As long as
the water is flowing the wheel will continue to operate. The water wheel
arms are like a series of levers as long as you (the weight of the water)
pushes down upon them the wheel will turn. The more water, the more machinery
can be operated, and then therefore, the more grain the miller could grind."
This can be a time to include such information like generally most of the
time it works fine, but its operation is dependent upon the stream or mother
nature. When the stream floods you can't operate the mill, or when the water
levels in the stream are low you also can't operate the mill. You can compare
this to eating candy, too much of a good thing will make you sick. If you
never get any candy the more you long for. During the winter months the
mill sometimes can't operate because of snow and ice buildup on the water
wheel but most of the time it will operate with no problems. Environmental
messages can be included such as the turning action of the water over the
water wheel mixes oxygen into the water which actually improves aquatic
life in the stream. One of the mills that I have worked in historically
the fish swam up the over flow around the mill dam. The old millers and
locals who lived in the area talked about it. This can be a time to talk
about different types of water wheels, wind mill power and the operation
of a tidal mill. Actually tidal power is more dependable because you operate
using salt water and it does not freeze. Because you are operating from
the sea and not a stream you don't have problems with season flooding and
low water droughts. The only problem is that tide time changes and you operate
the mill twice a day for about 5 or 6 hour periods each. You may be operating
the mill then in the middle of the night because that is when the tides
are working for you. You can sit down and make a tide chart. Then you can
tell someone to come back on any given day and time (up to a year in advance)
and the mill should be working. You can't do that with a wind or stream
power mill. The only time it won't work is if the wind has blown hard enough
and long enough it will prevent the tide from coming back but that rarely
happens. That is a good time to include the question why then you don't
find more tide mills around?
Before you take you group into the mill you must stop outside of the door
and give the group a safety message. This is when you can stop at the door
of the mill and explain why the mill may have Dutch doors and that the miller
wanted to keep out stray dogs and kids from getting hurt inside of the mill.
The top of the door can be opened to allow light and air to enter the mill
but keep out unwanted guests. Some mills had a bell on an outside pole that
was rung so the miller knew someone was there with a wagon load of grain.
The customers used it, and the miller got used to coming to the door when
the bell was rung. Other times some one could yell inside through the open
door for the miller, but that is know a good idea you should knock first
before you enter people's houses or places of work. The mill's cats could
have constant access to the mill and the outside. Many mills had a cut in
the corner of the door so the cat could move freely. Explain to them that
there is turning machinery inside of the mill and it does not know or care
if it is grind up grain or people. You can tailor the words to fit the age
level and understanding of the group so you don't really need to talk about
blood and gore.
If the person contact person of the tour is a park guide this is a good
time to present the group to the miller who would take over the tour and
present the operation of the mill from the millstones to the mill's basement
where the gears are located, and where the grain may exit the millstones
fall down a chute into a bin. If this is a tag team tour of the mill, the
miller can present his portion of the program, and then give it back to
the park guide for the final stage which may be a film or video presentation
on another level or building of the mill site. Some mill sites the visitors
and groups see the film or video before they enter the actual mill site
grounds. When the program ends, make sure you thank the group for coming,
and you can include who good of a group they were such as good listeners,
etc. Invite them to come back on the weekend with their families and friends,
etc. You can add things like saying to the teacher, "You can leave
one or two of them with us. We are always looking for a good apprentice."
The in turn usually ask, "How much do we get paid?" You can answer
that we will clothe and feed you and give you a place to stay until we feel
you can graduate and go work for yourself. That is a better deal that the
school gives you." Then if the kids ask, "But how much do we get
paid?" You can answer, "You can have all of the flour you can
My personal feelings about mill tours, I don't like them. I think they are
an unnatural act. They are not historically accurate and it is not a way
to present living history. (8) You become a third person costume
interpreter. (9) Historically people would not be taken through the
mill on a tour, and have its operation explained to them. The mill does
not operate the mill by the miller touring through the mill. He would run
the mill by working at one or two stations, this was usually the millstone
and basement level of the mill. The miller's helper or apprentice would
do the work on the upper floors of the mill by climbing narrow steps or
ladders. It is a good way of effectively presenting back to back programs
to school groups with a 5 or 10 minute break in between. It is a necessary
evil for week day operation of the mill to school groups. On the weekends
and when groups are not scheduled visitors can randomly move though the
mill. Some mills only allow visitors to more though the building on mill
tours. They do not allow the visitors to remain, sit, watch the operation
of the mill for long periods, or ask a lot of questions. This would include
such activities as sitting in a corner and drawing or setting up a tripod
and taking pictures. Some mills have gone so far as to create walkways to
keep the visitors within guardrail areas while moving though the mill. It
becomes like a modern industrial plant tour after a while. The problem with
many mills is that they only allow for the employment of one person, a miller.
A mill should have two people for the main consideration of safety. The
other person who is station at the mill can be the miller's helper, park
guide, or outlet sales person. They should always know how to stop and start
the machinery for safety concerns. For employee safety, and visitor liability
there should always be two person at the mill to operate the mill and grind
grain into flour. If there is not you are taking a big risk if someone were
to get hurt. A million plus kids can go though the mill with no problems
all it takes is just one to get hurt to spoil it for everyone.
The most rewarding part of being a miller- interpreter was receiving large
envelopes in the main that contained a booklet made up from drawings that
were inspired by that the impressed the kids the most about their recent
school field trip. Sometimes it was the kids that acted the worst that you
thought were not paying attention, and it was a complete waste of your time
to present a program to them. Then out of the blue one day you would receive
this wonderful testament to your efforts in the mail. Surprising things
happen every day. It seemed like it was always one groups that you made
notes in the margin of the school field trip book don't ever take kids from
this grade and school ever again. Of course, it was only something that
we would privately joke about but would not ever do.
The Stations Approach to Mill Interpretation:
The other form of mill interpretation is station interpretation. A person
is station at each stop or place of interest in what could be termed a visitor
self guided tour of the mill. This may be two people one located at the
millstones and another in the mill's basement if that is where the ground
material is coming out of the millstone chute into a meal bin. If the millstones
are located on a platform above the gearing and behind a meal bin then you
would only need one person. Station interpretation in a mill works well
when you have many floors and machinery turning on each level. This is for
interpretation reason and for visitor safety. During special events and
festivals you have to give up the idea of mill tours and go to station interpretation
for visitor safety and visitor flow. The system that I like is when the
visitors are guided through the mill by tour guides who present the majority
of the interpretation to the visitors. The visitors can watch the miller
and his helpers operate the mill grind grain and package flour. Then before
the visitors move onto the next station stop the visitors are allowed to
ask questions of the miller or his helpers. Sometimes the miller and his
helper can interact and present they first person interpretation amongst
themselves with the visitors present. (10) This is sort of like the
visitors are allowed to time travel and look in on what a happened in the
mill during a certain time period but they cannot interact or they might
change history. Self-introduced role play (11) is first person interpretation
introduced (and or followed up) in third person by the same interpreter.
(12) Role acting is a hybrid of first and third person interpretation
in which interpreters adopt a historical personality by a first person,
but respond beyond its bounds when prompted by out-of-period and personal
First Person Interpretation:
Now to get back to the idea why I consider much of this an unnatural act.
Historically people were not allow to walk through a mill and the miller
would not normally explain the operation of the mill to strangers. The miller
like the millwright and millstone dresser learned his trade through apprenticeship.
They safeguarded their secrets and only reluctantly passed them on to their
apprentices over a long period of years. Therefore traditionally anyone
who would come to the mill, the miller would see them coming and stop the
mill. Nothing would ever be apart such as the millstones uncovered and open
for viewing. The visitor would not see the mill operating or be allowed
to ask questions about its workings. The visitors or mill customers were
told to leave your grain and come back at a set time, and they could pick
up their finished product (minus the toll collected for payment of grinding).
In the mean time they could use the area around the mill for fishing, swimming,
picnicking or ice skating. Some millers and mill owners only allowed visitors
to use the area around the mill for recreation if they were customers of
the mill at that time otherwise they would be run off. Rakes Mill at Rakes
Mill Pond above Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway was a good example
of this. (13) Basically then as far as milling is concerned interpretation
is an event or act taken place out of time but set into an historic place
which would never of happened. I think then first person living history
does not work in a mill environment because people have no historical reference
to it. People waited their turn sitting on their wagon with all the other
customers of the mill. A young child sometimes would have to sneak into
the mill to ever get to see it operating otherwise their fathers would tell
them to sit in the wagon.
To do first person interpretation you need to the staff to present it effectively.
(14) You need a third person interpreter outside of the mill to introduce
everyone to what is going on inside of the mill. (15) I have had
a difficult time to allow the budget to have more than one paid staff person
let alone two individuals. You need someone in modern clothing to introduce
what is happening inside of the mill or stop your program and explain what
it is and that you are about to present it to them. (16)
The wind miller at Colonial Williamsburg does not do first person interpretation
of the windmill. His apprentices present all of the interpretation from
the ground level and then allow you to climb the ladder to look into the
mill. One reason the windmill was reconstructed not on a site of the original
two windmills. It does not operate, it is in an area where there is not
enough wind, and it is not in mechanical condition that would allow it to
actually grind grain. Second Mr. Rockefeller decided that the windmill should
be some thing that you interpret and does not operate. Meanwhile the other
craftsman are practicing their trades but the miller and his apprentices
have been mandated not to operate the mill. This has been a source of great
frustration for the wind miller and his apprentices over the years that
they can only interpret the windmill. And thirdly or finally, the wind miller
spends his time making baskets and talking of other matters. The definition
of the term "living history" means that you make history come
alive how can you effectively go that if the mill can never come alive.
Third person and first person interpretation makes use of costumed actor
or guides, known as interpreters. (17)
The True Living History Approach to Mill Interpretation: Advantages and
Costume interpretation is basically what you have to present to visitors
because in restored mills since you are not operate the mill in a way it
did in an historical period. The one mill that I have seen that comes closest
to true living history is the Upper Mills at Philipsburg Manor where the
late Charles Howell was the miller for many years. (18) The new miller
Pete Curtis is continuing in their tradition of grinding grain that is carried
to the mill in burlap sacks, hoisted to the top floor of the mill by a sack
hoist. Then the sacks are dumped loose into the mill's bins above the millstone
level. Once it is ground and then the apprentices sift the flour it is placed
either into cotton sacks or sealed in the traditional wooden flour barrels.
Later when the visitors go home the sacks or barrels are opened, and someone
puts the flour into the modern paper sacks that are sold in the gift shop.
This usually happens in a clean basement room of the visitors center. A
drawing on the wall of the Dayett Mill at Cooch's Bridge off the Old Baltimore
Pike south of Interstate 95 and Newark, Delaware, is of a miller that resembles
the late Charles Howell. (19) I remember that it is a drawing from
"Early American Life" back in the early 1970's when they did an
article on Philipsburg Manor when Charles Howell came from England to be
their miller. The miller has a big smile with his arms at his waist, and
wearing his apron has a round barrel-like shape. (20)
I need also to mention lubrication and cleaning up of the mill at the beginning,
and end of the day. It depends upon the park, historical site how this is
handled from site to site. In many cases the lubrication and maintenance
of the machinery is done when the visitors are not wondering the mill. The
mill should not wear the same clothing he wears while running the mill and
making flour. He may have a pair of coveralls that he slips off and on.
Also when is the mill is cleaned after each days operation or grinding.
The doors are locked and the visitors go home and the modern vacuum cleaners
come out. The Glade Creek Mill in Babcock State Park, near Cliff top, West
Virginia, the miller ends his day and goes home. Then the park maintenance
and cleaning staff come in and cleans the mill. You can't maintain modern
health standards with historical cleaning equipment. A miller can use a
traditional broom, brush or cobweb catcher to show visitors how they cleaned
historically. Then to present a mill in an historical interpretive setting
the mill would have dust and cobwebs everywhere. Grain and flour would be
spilled on the floors and there would be no evidence of health standards
in place. So to operate a mill in a true living history format you can't
do that with modern health standards in place. (21) You have to make
some compromises and work around things. So if the miller and his helper
are also the mill's maintenance and cleaning staff for the mill you have
to allow time in the day for those operations to occur. The first hour of
the day is set aside for maintenance and lubrication, and setting up of
demonstration items. The last hour or hour and half are set aside for cleaning
and maintaining the health standards. The miller and his helpers may answer
questions but no formal interpretive programs can occur unless one person
can clean while the other stops what he is doing and deals with visitors.
The thing I find unpleasant the most about working in an old mill is closing
by locking the doors, and staying inside to clean while visitors are still
in the area around the mill. You can have the hours posted outside of the
mill and a "closed" sign. It does not matter what you do, visitors
will try to the door, pound on it, and look in the windows. They will just
not let you alone and want your attention and time even tough the mill is
closed for the day to the public. Visitors will want to buy flour, get directions,
park information, and folders. At times it is hard not to have your interpretation
effected by the mill's other operations. You have to establish guidelines
and procedures and stick to them.
Other Forms and Variations of Mill Interpretation:
Interpretive programs at an old mill can take many forms besides tours and
demonstrations, talks and walks can also become successful programs. For
example, anything connected to the mill's operation or maintenance can be
turned into a program. Millstone dressing is a program in and of itself.
The process of uncovering the millstones, and lifting up the runner stone
are the beginning part of this demonstration. If the event is done for a
program, then you would basically explain the process, the tools used and
how it was done. If dressing the millstones is an actual maintenance event
for the mill it can become an ongoing demonstration that can last for several
days. When dressing millstones for visitors you should still wear safety
glasses and keep visitors at a safe distance so they do not get stone chips
in their eyes. This is a good time to add in bits of information like most
millers wore breads to protect them from the cold and from stone chips.
Many restored mills that are open to the public would never think of or
allow the dressing of millstones while visitors are in the mill or when
it is open to the public. Often these mills may not have a millstone crane
and lifting and upturning the runner stone is done the old fashioned dangerous
way. This also means that the mill may never clean between the millstones
after each days grinding. Some mills that have two pairs of millstones many
have one together for grinding demonstrations and another always apart for
show. This way the miller can explain the operation of the grinding process
or millstone demonstration with the apart pair of millstones and grind with
the other pair. From time to time the miller can switch back and forth with
the use different pairs of millstones so he does not wear out one pair more
than the other. For special events the miller may have both pairs of millstones
together and grind with both millstones at one time. It is sort of like
demonstrating a balancing act grind grain on two pairs of millstones at
the same time. One pair of millstones could be grind corn while the other
I should mention grinding grains. If a mill only grinds one type of grain,
and makes only one grain product such as corn meal, also if a mill was only
build to grind only corn meal that is one thing to do historical demonstrations.
It takes no great skill upon the miller's part of maintain, and operate
a mill that just grinds corn meal. It takes much more skill upon a miller's
part to operate a wheat mill and make flour. If the mill gets a lot of repeat
visitors you may wish to consider grind more than just corn meal. This way
on day that I was grinding corn, I would talk about the history and uses
of corn. I would grind corn meal and also at times be producing grits. You
could show the visitors the various stages, and products that come from
each separation. Other days I would be grind wheat, buckwheat, rye or oats.
On days that I was grinding rye and buckwheat the mill would be extra dusty
because of those materials being ground that put more dust into the air.
I could also talk about how buckwheat was not a cereal grain or a grass,
but it is an herb. Buckwheat and corn do not have explosive dust like wheat,
rye and oats. Some times I would grind corn on one pair of millstones and
wheat or another small grain on the other pair of millstones, but then at
the end of the day, I would have twice as much to clean up. It was easier
to grind corn or wheat and then switch to buckwheat without cleaning up
around the stones between each grain. I would have only one pair of millstones
to clean up at the end of the day, and what was laying around the millstones
under the cover would be mixed together. Rather than throw it out, I would
hand sift this and bag it as pancake flour.
Mills are very expensive, they are expensive to build, restore, relocate,
and to maintain. Some historical organizations discourage the public grinding
of grain for visitors to see. They simply say that it cannot be done in
a museum environment and with living history programs. Part of it may be
that they think milling is a commercial operation, and it will take away
from the interpretation aspect of the site. You can maintain modern health
standards in an historical mill setting. If you look at most states health
regulations that would apply to grist mills the laws are not that difficult
to maintain their standards. In fact most states have very little regulations
that apply to old mills. An operating mill produces a food product and not
a ready to eat item. It is not like a restaurant were you are serving a
finished food product to seated customers. As long as you are able to plug
in a vacuum cleaner, and you have access to a slop sink you should be able
to maintain health standards. If you follow my guidelines: "Recommended
Health Practices for the Operation of Historic Grist Mills," found
on another page of this web site, you should have no problems. Most states
regulations for old grist mills fall under the regulations of their department
of agriculture and not public health. Many states would not find it a problem
to have a mill cat in the mill while you are grinding grain, it is a dog
that they have problems with.
Interpretation of old mills is mainly the interpretation of a technical
process. So the main insight of interpretation for visitors is to make them
see and understand something that they have never seen or is hidden from
view. Most people have no idea who flour is made let alone have ever been
in an operating mill. I think there is a fascination with old mills because
it represents a more simpler technology than what we encounter in out every
day lives. The milling of flour is basic because wheat is one of the basic
staples of life. The milling of flour has always been one of our top 10
industries back to early America. Even today we are world leaders in the
milling of flour. Milling is a trade rather than a craft. (22) A
craft would be spinning wool on a spinning wheel, you can put it down and
come back to it at a later date with no continued monetary outlay or investment.
Pottery is a craft as long as you throw the raw green ware back into the
slop bucket, and then rework and wedge the clay over again. Once you place
it into a kiln and fire it takes on another form of a trade and industry.
Milling is a trade and a business process because once you grind grain into
flour you cannot it turn it back into grain again, like you could take apart
once fired pottery and throw it on the potter's wheel over again. The more
you operate a mill the better it will operate because it is getting more
regular attention and maintenance. A mill develops problems when it is operated
on an off and on basis. I don't know how mills can continue to operate once
a month or only once a year for special events. A mill with a wooden water
wheel, and wooden gears and teeth is effected by seasonal and climatic changes
so it is almost like a living thing. A more modern burr mill or roller mill
is metal based technology and bearings, like a metal Fitz Water Wheel which
is more like operating a motor than a water wheel. If you have ever seen
a larger Fitz Water Wheel operate like a 32 foot diameter wheel when you
close your eyes it does not sound like a water wheel but an electric motor
Some programs or talks that I enjoyed doing involved a series of props and
tools. One program involved the tools of the miller, or of the millstone
dresser and millwright. A program can be made out of the tools it took to
build and maintain the mill. Another program can involve wooden barrels.
I had a number of historically correct wooden flour barrels that were made
by the cooper at Colonial Williamsburg. I had one barrel so I could pull
off the wooden ash hoop and show the interlocking notches on each end that
would form the hoop. Part of the program was to talk about the difference
between a "wet" and "dry" cooper, and what types of
material went into each one. I had made a shaving horse so I could use it
for machinery wedges, shingle making, and barrel making. A hands on program
can involve simple things like demonstrating leather lacing of belts. You
can have a number of lengths of belts with the holes already punched into
them, and let visitors and kids learn to lace the belts. This is something
that the young apprentice would learn at a young age. If school kids of
that age are learning to lace and try their shoes, they should enjoy doing
this on a larger scale. Another program involved a series of different hand
sifters (with different meshes of screen) and containers with different
products from each sifting. A standard program was to give each school kid
an ear of corn and let then run it through a corn sheller. You can also
talk about how long would it take to shell corn before you had corn shellers?
You did it by hand so each kernel became precious to you and spillage became
a problem. The problem with the corn shelling activity was keeping large
amounts of eared corn around for corn shelling because it would quickly
become buggy, and contaminate the rest of the grain in the mill for human
demonstration grinding. I would often keep it in a separate building where
fought the local squirrels from eating it first. The next stage or alternative
to this program is to have a hand quern or table mounted hand powered grinding
mill. Have already shelled corn (the stuff you buy in sacks that is already
cleaned) and let each school kid they turn the hand grinder several turns.
Then they move on to sifting what they ground over a large tub. Teachers
and school kids love anything that is "hands-on. " The problem
is that the powers to-be and the health officers may not like the idea of
letting visitors touch the grain or finished product. This grain that was
ground and sifted in this manner would get tossed out or end up as duck
This program can have a variation and presented when regular visitors are
coming through the mill when it is grinding. Pick out a child volunteer
and put on a miller's cap and an apron, and let him put the flour or meal
into a sack. You can also let the kid sift some flour by hand. It can be
great fun for the parents and kids, and a bit of flour on the face and clothing
is not going to upset anyone. Tell the parent that the kid that they are
good at it, and that they could leave them in our care, and come back in
seven years to pick them up when their apprenticeship is finished. If the
health people have problems with visitors around the products lets the kids
help in the clean up process give them a broom and a brush. They can't hurt
anything and it just may make a bit more of a mess that you have to clean
up with a vacuum cleaner later.
Another program that can be done involves determining if a site or location
which is suitable to locate or build a mill. Generally this is done with
older kids that have a bit more math skills. You measure off a distance
along a stream. Then you guess the width of the stream and average depths
across that line. Then you figure out the average area in cubic feet of
that cross section. Then you find an object that can float like a piece
of wood, and get a kid to use his watch to time the distance it travels
in a set amount of time. Then you plug these basic figures into a formula,
and you would know the horse power of the stream. Then you know if a millwright
would bother building a mill there or not. You just need basic things like
a watch with a second hand, paper and pencil, and a floating object to know
if a mill could be built on any point in a body of moving water.
If you have an Oliver Evans mill almost everything in the mill can become
a part of applied science program. There are the basic machines found all
around the mill. The wedges, or the incline plane, pulleys, and levers.
This can be a simple cheap program with props that involves wrapping a wedge
shaped piece of paper around a pencil to show what the screw on the millstone
crane is a a form of a wedge. The applied science program can have to drawings
and handouts. If the budgets allows the basic machines are available from
school supply centers that show these basic principles such as levers and
gears, or they can be easily made out of wood. So you can have a number
of table top models and the real thing (application) for them to find or
see in the mill. Something I found displeasing about doing mill interpretation
is when teachers would have students do a scavenger hunt in the mill without
our prior knowledge. I don't know what was worse having them come in to
find objects or coming in disturbing out regular interpretive programs to
ask questions to for answers to complete a sheet of missing blanks. Some
times I have quickly given the answers to one kids sheet and then told the
others to go find the kid who has the completed sheet. I know it is not
the correct thing to do but they will start climbing in the machinery if
you are not paying attention.
Wheat failing and winnowing was an event or demonstration that happen at
special times. It was harder to get wheat cut that was still on the shafts.
I had made a number of wheat flails, and had a basket maker make a winnowing
basket. Generally we did this demonstration outside of the mill on large
pieces of white duck canvas. This way the mess was contained on something
we could easily pick up. We could do a program from wheat to loaf because
we had a small cook stove inside of the mill. Then we could set up demonstrations
in different areas of the mill. This is sort of like the program from sheep
to shawl. Visitors love programs that involved giving each visitor a small
plate with a pancake or a piece of corn bread on it for them to eat. This
type of activity seems to work better for rural areas but in urban city
situations the health department and the park fathers have problems with
visitors tasting things and sue the park claiming they got sick. It broke
out hearts as much as when were were told we could not give it to visitors,
and we ourselves could not eat it, and it all had to be thrown away.
I also made a rope making machine, not that rope was an activity that was
necessarily done in a mill, but there was a rope walk in the area historically.
Rope was used inside of the mill for sack hoist and early rope drives of
machinery. Boy scouts loved the activity and it could be done inside or
outside of the mill. When we did it inside of the mill we would allow each
kid to make his or her own length of jump rope to take home. It was a good
activity for repeat visitors that thought they saw everything they thought
happened at the mill.
A easy program that did not take a lot of effort to present revolved around
a film, slide program, video, or film strip. You could give a short talk
and then show the audio visual program. After it was over you could ask
if there was any questions and send them on their way. Showing them a film
before or afterwards can reinforce their learning experience while at the
mill. (23) Sometimes the groups that act the worst can surprise you
that they actually got something out of the program. School kids often go
back to school and do drawings about what they learned and then teachers
will turn them into booklets and often sent them to you in the mail. Now
they put them up on the internet for everyone to see.
Another program that can be basic to the mill involved the use of the miller's
desk. Since the miller kept records of his grain grinding, flour sales and
so forth, a program can involve the use of the miller's desk, and how the
miller kept his records. This can involve such things as a chalk and slate
board, a tally board for keeping track of how many sack of grain the miller
has ground. The miller's daily log book of what happens in and around the
mill, along with the mill ledgers and record keeping. Some millers even
kept a diary. (24) Writing instruments and letting kids try their
hand at writing with a quill pen can be part of the program. An thing can
be messy with kids especially using ink but you can have several large smocks
available for them slip on before hand.
A standard program that I would do it seemed to involve a larger portion
of the year, the use of the wood stove in the miller's office. Most of the
time I had all of the firewood and kindling split, and a fire going before
visitors came into the mill. So visitors did not experience the mill filling
up with smoke until the chimney heated enough inside so the thing would
draw properly. Even when the stove was going, the smell of the wood stove
and the cracking of the burning wood was something to talk about. Visitors
loved it because they also gathered around it to get warm. Not that I did
interpretive programs about building a wood fire, but it was something that
I could safely do with school kids by letting each one of them carry in
a piece of fire wood into the mill. I could gather the kids around the warm
stove and be talking about something else but all the time feeding the fire.
I could be talking about the miller's clothing and how when I went home
at night, he would take off my pants, and sleep in same shirt he wore all
day. The miller's clothing or costume involved the miller's beard that kept
his face warm and protected it from stone chips in dressing the millstones.
The miller's shirt and neck tie, his waste coat and apron are also things
mentioned in stories and folklore. Even the miller's pants are different
that what people wear today. You can ask questions like why did the miller
wear an apron to protect his clothes from getting dirty or perhaps the apron
was cleaner than this clothing? Why was the cap the miller wore a cap with
out a brim? If he wore a cap with a brim he would hit it on the machinery
as he climbed about it in his work. Why did the miller dress in white, and
wear clothing similar to that of the baker. They work in related trades,
but long a go the baker took the miller's costume for his own.
A basic theme related program would be about milling folklore and stories.
(25) I usually would get a lot of visitors for those programs. I
would do programs on different types of mills, everything from merchant
mills, custom mills, plantations and estate mills, to mills of the tidewater,
to mountain mills. I knew if I did too much about modern mills and who they
operated it would put people to sleep. So then I just know I could not show
an industrial film that would last for an hour on flour bolters worked,
that would even put milling science students to sleep. Kid loved films with
talking characters in them such as Wally Wheat. I must have had about a
half dozen or more different films that I could show in conjunction with
a program I was doing at the time. I know there must be some quote in a
classic interpretation text book that must say that a film is no substitute
for an interpreter. The problem with applying that standard to an old mill
is that an old mill can't always operate for one reason or another. So you
have to have an alternative to show them that has some sound and movement
a the mill. When I worked with the National Park Service at Peirce Mill
in Rock Creek Park, we had come up with a hundred thousand dollars to produce
a film of the mill. It would show the machinery in operation, all of it,
not just what was regularly operated but all of the machinery from top to
bottom. It would show the elevators, conveyers, grain cleaner, smutter,
millstones, water wheel, gears, basement sifters, hopper-boy, bolters (both
of them). (26) Basically anything in the mill that the grain or flour
could move though would be shown and documented. I had seen an old black
and white film of Peirce Mill on public television that looked like it was
shot in the 1930's or 40's. I wrote a script, it was rewritten, and others
in the park added their own two cents to it. They argued over who would
narrate the film. The higher ups in the park they wanted someone seen in
the film that was wearing a Park Ranger uniform. They also wanted some one
narrating almost every frame, but I said that sometimes you just wanted
to viewer to be able to watch and listen to the machinery, and not being
talked to each moment of the experience. The basic idea was to have a film
that could show the mill in operation to visitors when it was flooded and
could not operate, broken down or frozen up during the winter months. It
was dragged out back and forth until it just never came about. The money
and the professional people went onto other projects that could get off
the ground. Now that the mill is broken down for a number of years, and
needs another major restoration such film would be a valuable documentation.
It would be a great incentive for people and organizations to donate money
to get it operating once again.
I should mention that evil word, "puppets." I used to tell people
when I was younger that I wanted to grow up to become a puppet until I found
out puppets don't go through puberty. One of the mills that I worked in
before I came there used to do puppet programs for visitors, but by the
time I came along the mill has been closed for several years and the puppets
and puppet theater was gone. I got one local college at had a class in puppet
making to agree to make puppets and create a puppet program for the mill
as a class project. They were going to make at least a miller, perhaps the
miller's wife, a farmer, a mill cat, a talking bag of flour, a talking loaf
of bread, and may be a talking sheave of wheat. They would create a program
with the narration that was already on a tape recording so that volunteers
or staff members could put on a puppet, and just mouth the words to the
tape recording. The idea was that I would use a portion of the hurst frame
in the basement of the mill. I would stop the mill from operating and who
ever worked the puppets could stand down in the gear pit and hold the puppets
up over the top of the hurst frame and I could interact with the program.
The powers to-be that ran the place would not sign off on the idea, but
I know from experience that if you put the word out in the media about "puppets"
you will get more kids that you can handle. A basic puppet program for a
mill could be about nutrition and that wheat is the staff of life. I used
to do a program that has a goose puppet sort of a version of mother goose
but with a miller instead and the kids loved it. If you go to my web paged
called, "Mill-Speak: "Sayings" from the Mill," you will
have the basic information for my miller goose program. As for my milling
stories and folklore that may appear in future web pages. (27)
I should mention the old saying, "You can't fool mother nature,"
and grandmothers. (28) I worked at Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park
for 11 years that was operated by a fake overshot water wheel that was turned
by city water and two electric pumps. In 1969 the second restoration abandoned
operating the mill from the creek and using a breast shot water wheel and
went to artificial means. This meant at that time the an annual city water
bill was estimated it would be 35 thousand dollars a year to dump chlorinated
city water into Rock Creek. Even grandmothers who came to the mill could
tell that there was an obvious height difference between the overshot water
wheel and the creek. Visitors could smell the chlorine in the water, and
they often asked where it came from. It was in direct line with the public
restrooms. It was easy to say the old school saying flush twice it is a
long ways to the cafeteria or in this case just down hill to the 60 foot
sluice box that magically came out of the hillside.
In the National Park Service the average that an interpreter works at a
site or park is about 5 years. If they have worked there more than 5 years,
the unwritten rule is that there may be something wrong with the interpreter
that is why they have not moved on. Regardless if this is true or not, some
people need to move on. I have seen interpreters that have been interpreting
a site just too long, and when the visitors are gone they joking say, "They
will believe anything I tell them no matter how ridiculous it is."
I have always felt that what information you present to the public you,
the interpreter should be able to go somewhere and point out that information
in the source material. For years in my millstone dressing program I talked
about the problems the millstone dresser or the miller had with the blacksmith
when it came to tempering the mill picks used in dressing the millstones.
My supervisor was always after me to show him where I found that bit of
information. I know that the first blacksmithing books it gives formulas
for quenching solutions for tempering mill picks. I also knew from my milling
background that it was a problem dealing with blacksmiths. It was not until
much later that I reread a book that Charlie Howell had lent me, "The
American Miller, and Millwright's Assistant," by William Carter Hughes,
1894. I had made a photo copy of the entire book, and when I was typing
sections of it for my web site I found that bit of information that I used
in my millstone dressing programs. At the time I spent a lot of time searching,
and searching for it because I knew I read it somewhere. My apologies to
my former supervisor, but I kept telling him that I did not pull it out
of the air but I read it somewhere.
Don't be afraid to tell a visitor, "I just don't know the answer to
the question, but if you give me your name and number. I can look it up
for you or get back to you with someone who would know the answer."
Don't make up things in your interpretation to make yourself look good.
If you don't know just say I don't know. There is no shame in not knowing
the answer to a question. An interpreter can't be expected to have all of
the answers. I learn new things every day and I don't know everything.
It is fine to take credit for something, a program, or building and maintaining
something. I have know park rangers who claim credit for anything and everything.
I knew a miller who worked in a mill that when anyone from the media would
come to the mill with a camera or pencil and paper pad in hand. He would
stand in front of everyone and take credit for everything regardless of
if he knew what he was talking about or not. He talked himself into even
being given awards for interpretation and for milling. I have know park
rangers and interpreters who found old programs and ideas from 20 years,
or more before that they have put their own names on and taken full credit
for the idea, and have won awards for. It is better to present a team effort
rather than an individual effort to the public. After all when you work
for a park or organization you don't represent yourself. Even if it is something
as basic as regular mill maintenance, someone has to sign off on the paper
work so you have the materials to maintain the mill in operating condition.
Somebody else has to see that you would make a good employee to hire you
in the first place. You may have put together the program but someone had
to find the funding to hire you in the first place. You may first have to
present the program or outline for review before presenting it to the public.
Then another individual had to present the information to the media so you
would have visitors to present the program to. So on and so for with an
endless list of team effort on every ones part, even down to the maintenance
staff who provides clean bathrooms and visual quality about the park are
part of the team effort. Don't kid yourself, there are some people that
you would never see if they could not use the restroom first.
The Problems of Restoration in Old Mill Interpretation:
Not all mills are created equal. Some mills and mill buildings have been
restored, others have been rehabilitated, others are a total reconstruction,
and some have only been stabilized. The same is true for mill interpretation
and the information that the interpreter or miller finds when they come
to the mill. The Mill at Philipsburg Manor is a total reconstruction or
recreation, nothing of it is original, and that would include the artifacts
inside of the mill. The Colvin Run Mill claims to be a restoration but it
is really a recreation. Only three of the four stone walls are original,
and the machinery that was in the mill when it was restored was removed.
It is someone's idea or interpretation of what it could have been installed
in the mill when it was constructed. The Colvin Run Mill's biggest problems
it was restored to the level of church craftsmanship but mills were never
built with that degree of refinement.
Another problem with restoration is that for many years it was in style
to restore a building back to the date when it was first built. Peirce Mill
in Rock Creek Park is a victim of this practice they removed the water turbine
and power train system of the water turbine and returned the mill to its
appearance of when it was first constructed. At that time it was common
place to find turbine powered mills but it was beginning to become a rare
thing to find a mill built in the early 1800's still with its original appearance
and machinery. From time to time these mills would be featured in the professional
milling journals of the day. This may be fine but in the case of the Colvin
Run Mill they lost the metal Fitz Water Wheel, the roller milling system
and any evidence of what may have been in the mill originally. That is what
happens when you gut a building to a hollow shell and start over from scratch.
The Wye Mill on Maryland's eastern shore is a good example. It was first
built in 1671, and there was a saw mill next to the mill building originally.
Over the years the mill has seen a lot of changes happening in this small
colonial mill, but there may be not a stick of the original 1671 mill left
in the structure today. If in any of its restorations someone would have
decided to return the mill to its original appearance you would have lost
a lot of history and the interpretation of that history. Then of course
you have the changes in technology that is all still there for the interpreter
or the miller to explain next to each other in the same mill. If you return
a mill to the day it was built they you can logically talk about the changes
in milling technology that occurred beyond your restored time period.
I knew for may years the late Barton McGuire, or E. Barton McGuire. "E"
stood for Emily but she always said that she never felt like an Emily. She
was responsible for the restoration of the Water Mill circa 1644 at Watermill,
Long Island, New York, where she was the miller for 15 years. When she moved
to Long Island with her husband, Bradford, the local woman's group asked
her to join. Barton said that she would join on one condition, that we take
this old mill, and turn it back into a mill again. The mill had been cleaned
out and converted into a colonial teahouse. There she used the "little
Red Hen" approach to mill restoration, she begged, browed and conned
everyone into helping her restore the mill. Then until her sudden death,
she worked for Preservation Maryland to restore the Wye Mill, State Route
404, Wye Mills, Maryland. It was something to see when a man walked into
the mill asking, "Where is the miller?" Barton's fists would close
and she would get this strange look on her face as she said, "You are
looking at the miller!" (29) I have known several lady millers
over the years. The most famous is Ed Mabry's (of Mabry Mill 1910 grist
mill located along the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the Meadows of Dan, Virginia)
second wife Mintoria Lizzie DeHart. (30) Ed never addressed her by
her name but nicknamed her "Boss." For her time she was surprisingly
undomestic, and could be seen pumping the bellows in his blacksmith shop
or working in the grist mill. She was better at running the mill than he
was. Perhaps with her size she could better toss around the sacks of grain,
may be she had a better business sense that he did and took less for the
customers, or with her nickname and size she intimidated the customers better
than Uncle Ed. (31)
I was in the Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood, Virginia, before it was originally
restored back in the mid-1960's, and that mill had four pairs of millstones
with the corn cob crusher in the middle, and a wooden Fitz style water wheel
behind the mill. Union Mills had two water wheels each operating an equal
sets of millstones but it was restored only with one water wheel and three
pairs of millstones. The Colvin Run Mill, Burwell-Morgan Mill, and Union
Mills claim to be Oliver Evans Mills but they are missing vital components
above the main (millstone) milling floor. The Copper Mill has it four pairs
of millstones but only one water wheel was installed in the restoration.
I can understand that a stream may no longer have the water to operate what
was there historically but it all should be put back in restoration with
the option that one half or the other could be operated. The water wheel
at the John P. Cable Mill and Peirce Mills have gotten smaller over the
years. At the Cable Mill it originally had two pairs of millstones which
one was removed in its restoration. These restored mills the idea was that
only one pair of millstones would be ever operated. Peirce Mill originally
had four pairs of millstones, it has gone to three pairs and who knows its
sad to think about, but in the future it may go to two pairs. One of the
problems with restored mills is that they know that they would not ever
be operated like their did during an historical time period, so they install
a water wheel that can only operate one pair of millstones rather than two,
three or four pairs that was or should be in the mill historically. At Peirce
Mill in the 1970's their interpretation of the mill and the miller's costume
was that of the 1890's during the period that the mill last commercially
operated and broke down. The problem was that the mill was restored in the
1930's by the Fitz Water Wheel Company to look like it did when it was first
constructed in the 1820's that may have had some of the Oliver Evans machinery
from the earlier mill 1790 installed into it. (32)
In not every mill the interpreter finds a library of information and resources
about the mill's history and operation. The problem with mills is that when
they stop operating things disappear, machinery is sold and removed, and
people and family members walk away with things. The daily log books, mill
ledgers and other important bits of information that are important to its
operation and interpretation disappear. Sometimes an interpreter is only
given a folder about the mill (with right or wrong information) and thrown
out to interpret the mill. No two mills were ever built alike or laid out
in the same manor. They are as different as people's finger prints. The
big problem with mill restoration is that it is not a perfect science because
no two mills were exactly alike and too much is taken for granted. Then
there is the problem of who makes the final decision for what is to be done,
generally they know the least about what mills are all about. So a lot of
mill interpretation and mill experiences is someone's modern view of what
that mill could have been about. When the Fitz Water Wheel Company reconstructed
the Beckman Mill at Philipsburg Manor the people there wore Dutch clothing.
Now that a new mill has been recreated their they wear what could be best
called colonial clothing. When Charles Howell worked there they had an English
miller with English holiday celebrations throughout the year. With the new
miller has come a focus on the African American experience working for their
Dutch masters. (33) The Colvin Run Mill that was built in 1810 when
it was restored in the early 1970's for many years the miller and the people
who worked there wore colonial clothing. It looked great and I know some
people were still wearing their short pants and three cornered hats in 1810
and later. Clothing did not disappear then the colonial period ended. People
wore what they had for many years, and they handed it down from one person
to another. Often they gave clothing to relatives in their wills. A great
coat was a common will item. Then at the Colvin Run Mill after some time
they decided not to wear a costume just their street clothing. I once attended
a mill conference in which another miller was there from a mill where he
was treated as a seasonal employee with no benefits and a minimum wage job.
The individual in charge of this foundation that operated the mill often
told the miller that the main reason the mill was there in the first place
was because the house, and house tours to little old ladies was the most
important reason for their existence. The conference laster for three days
and no one I knew claimed to see or meet this miller. The Mabry Mill which
is the most photographed mill in the United States the miller's main job
is not interpretation but to sell paper sacks of flour that is commercially
made in two other mills. So I guess when it comes down to it the mill interpretation
it is only as good as the person doing it, and it is dictated by the people
paying the pay checks.
A lot of mills, it seems has no formal interpretation in evidence. Visitors
just walk through the mill. I have been to several mills in a state park
systems that is run proudly by the efforts of volunteers, and I have been
there many times, and no one contacts you directly to ask you even if you
have any questions. Perhaps operated by volunteers only means locking and
unlocking the door and turning on the water wheel to idle the machinery.
Some mill's interpretation is poor at best. I had to walk away because sometimes
the interpreter presents miss information, and you can't tell them any different.
Some mill's interpretation is only done by a park ranger (National Park
Service or a state system) only at certain times or when they are available.
Other than that you just walk through on your own. I guess I have been to
more mills and asked questions of the mill owner or the people who work
there. This is basically how I first began learning about mills.
Then there are the mills where no one is there. You have to form your own
interpretation. Play act as Sherlock Holmes and deduce the history of the
mill on your own. It is sort of like presenting and interpretive talk in
an interpretive class without have the mill there as a backup or having
the graphics that you desperately need to explain something. I have done
this many times and I wish millstones were lighter and much more easier
to move around that they are.
The mill interpretation that I find difficult is where you are separated
by a wall or barrier, it is almost like listening to a tape recorded activated
button, you can't get close, there is glass, a screen, or you can't ask
any questions. Not to mention there is too many people in the way who just
won't move aside. These sites don't really seem like they are in the business
of interpretation as much as moving people through. The interpreter stands
there and might as well be speaking into a camera lens because there is
no connection with the group of visitors. I always try and make eye contact
with one or two people when I present a program and try and draw people
into that program.
Ivins L. Smith, III, started out in life to be a dairy farmer but has been
running a historic mill in northern New Jersey, for many years. Ivins has
been doing mill interpretation the longest at the same location, the Cooper
Mill, near Chester, New Jersey. Richard Gnatowski, whose first love is working
in museum environments, has been the miller at the Grist Mill at the Wayside
Inn for also a number of years and he also does a great job of it. I know
one or two people who work solely in office environments who can do good
mill interpretation when they are dragged out to talk about it in classrooms
situations at limited times. I have met and know others who work in mills,
but I have not been there to their mill to know if what they do mill interpretation
or just run and operate a mill producing flour. I won't say where I have
seen the worst mill interpretation. All I will say is that it was in several
mills located in the same county. That was some years ago and hopefully
things have changed or it was just a bad day when I visited for the interpreter.
I think that some of the best mill interpretation that I have done the only
prop that I used was a handful of flour.
Advice to Old Mill Interpreters:
Then their is the issue of having in approbate items out of their time for
the public to see. This can be simple thinks like eye classes that are not
period approbate, to having paper flour sacks that came into existence after
1910. Along with non approbate paper flour sacks can come wire tie closing
devices and the wire twisters. A good miller should at least know how to
tie a miller's knock on the neck of a flour sack even if the sacks sold
to the public are closed differently. That can be an important part of your
program and something you could let visitors try is tying a miller's knot.
When I worked in one of the commercial mills in Pennsylvania, and any individual
or school group walked in on us and they asked the magic question, "Tell
us how it works?" The mill owner and the miller who was teaching me
would look at me with the expression like, your the college boy or you are
suppose to be learning this stuff. (34) So interpretation would instantly
become part of my job description. I instinctively knew it was just first
or main floor interpretation because we were not a restored mill open to
the public. Our stairs and the lighting was such that I could not take the
average person who asked beyond the safety of the main floor normally in
my on the spot interpretation.
I could sit here and type up all of my years and go through the boxes of
interpretive outlines, narratives and programs, typing them up for you to
read. Then afterwards I could say learn and read them. Is that what mill
interpretation is all about? The problem is also that I could sit down and
write a book just about mill interpretation. I have tried in this article
to hit up a number of ideas and topics but I know I may have missed something.
If I were to write a book about mill interpretation, then each thing or
area of importance would have its own chapter, like understanding millstones,
millstone quarrying, grinding with millstones, and millstone dressing. Personally
I hate to memorize things words for word, and to put other peoples words
into my mouth. I also hate giving an interpretive program that is written
out and memorized word for word. My mind just has a hard time working like
that. Not everyone learns and repeats information in the same manner. Don't
leave the mill's interpretation to chance. I had a number of basic programs
that I could present to visitors, but I would try and read the visitors
interest level to judge which program to present. Several reasons that I
would develop new programs was to keep it fresh and for repeat visitors
who would say that I heard it all before. Don't present an interpretive
program like a tape recorder is playing out the words in your head so that
the program can be stopped or altered until the tape runs out. (35)
I know the subject inside and out, and in my sleep, and with my eyes closed.
(36) It may be like that old saying, "Only good artists make good
art teachers, but no good artist should teach." The best mill interpreters
that I have know are people who know how a mill operates first and can successful
work and make their living solely as a miller. Some people interpretation
comes naturally to them, others it is a struggle. I have seen too much misinformation
put into milling books by people who just don't know any better, or try
and find the correct information. I have seem too many mills restored wrong
rather than right. So do your best, don't be afraid to say I don't know,
but you can ask so and so, or give me your name and number and I will research
that for you. Then it finally comes down to if the visitor may not remember
your words that you said? The sad thing is that I have known interpreters
who loose sleep and get ulcers over worrying about people remembering what
they said in their programs. The visitor many only go away and carry with
them for years the experience of being in the mill and the machinery operating.
I guess as long as the miller does his job the best that they can, and maintains
the mill the way it should be. Your face and what you may say may be lost
in the memory in a short time. They are going to remember the gears and
wheels turning, the smells and the sounds of the water, the machinery and
the smells of the grain being ground.
I have been told from the powers to-be that I should answer the telephone
within three rings no matter where I was or what I was doing at the time.
Some interpreters would tell you they don't interrupt their own interpretive
program once it has started for no one or anything, come back when I am
finished. A good miller may be sound asleep, or have a mill full of a hundred
of more visitors doing interpretation with the mill operating and grind
flour and meal while they are bagging flour. But all the time the sounds
of the machinery is in the back of their head, and the least bit of a sound
of something wrong or out of place, and they instantly know it. Starting
and stopping the mill for various reasons to repair and fix it can become
part of your instant interpretation as to what is going on at the time.
You can't say that you are going to start you car and if the engine makes
noise you will look at it after you reach your destination. Your motor may
be shot for all times if you work on that plan of operation. Create a program
about fixing and repairing the mill that is as much of living history in
a mill as when it operates.
When I worked at Peirce Mill for 11 years my position was that of a mill
operator, I just became an interpreter by default. I was the best one who
could explain what was happening because I know how it worked the best.
So may be only good millers make good mill interpreters. Who knows, I have
know millers as well as artist who won't tell you what or why they are doing
something. It is just not part of their nature to explain things or give
information to others. The problem with millers is that they are generally
free thinkers and hate being told what to do. It is just a part of the nature
of the job that makes them what they are. Where does a good interpreter
fit into that mix? One of the common questions I was always asked was if
I was like the miller in Canterbury Tales? Anyone who has read Canterbury
Tales knows what a bad miller is about. (37) When it comes down to
it, the best mill interpretation is done by the mill itself. The only help
it need was from me to keep it in running order. I could not have explained
it in better words than what the mill itself uses to delight the senses.
All presentations dealing with history and operation must meet criteria
for honesty as well as accuracy. Specifically the following:
Historic places and old mills have powerful stories to tell, but they cannot
speak for themselves. Since Freeman Tilden mentions the the Peirce Mill
grinding corn meal along Rock Creek, I always have like to think that in
"Interpreting Our Heritage," he is mainly talking about old mills.
(39) Freeman Tilden who defined interpretation as "an educational
activity which aims to reveal meanings and relationships through the use
of original objects, by first-hand experience, and by illustrative media,
rather than simply to communicate factual information." (40)
For Freeman Tilden, the goal of interpretation is "provocation."
Good interpretation raises questions and encourages visitors to seek for
themselves the information they need to understand what they are seeing.
He emphasizes that understanding leads to appreciation, which, in turn,
leads to Mills are historic resources possess meanings and have significance.
Many visitors who come to a mill may have a connection to mills in their
past life experiences, and are remembering something of value for themselves
and their children and grandchildren. For the miller and the old mill, interpretation,
then, facilitates a connection between the interests of the visitor and
the meanings of the resource. (41) If I were to write a definition
of the word interpretation is would include something to the effect that
the aim of interpretation is to create a new way of seeing or understanding
the familiar and unknown. To me that is what interpretation is all about.
(1) Questions and their answers can lead to new programs. It is easy
to make your own list and if you do any interpretation in a mill, you will
soon develop a list of most common asked questions and answers. Some questions
that might easily develop into separate programs are as follows:
(2) Some examples of "Milling Highlights and Oddities"
(only a selection from each issue appear. Another problem is that it does
not provide the source material for the information):
(3) First person interpretation, the act of portraying a person from
the past (real or composite). A standard form is one in which the interpreters
refer to the past in the present tense; employ a combination of techniques
including storytelling, demonstration, question and answer, and discussion;
encourage verbal interaction from the audience; and avoid breaking character.
(4) Living history site (or Museum), a setting that replicates parts
of a historical environment as a featured exhibit area. Such site can include
historic houses, farms, villages, mills, factories, encampments, battlefields,
etc. At these sites you would find Live interpretation. This is another
term for "living history interpretation" or "costumed interpretation."
(5) This is referred to as an scenario. An Outlined or semi-scripted
sequence of dialogue and or events that adds structure to a first person
(6) Interpreter, one who translates material culture and human or natural
phenomenon to the public in a meaningful, provocative, and interesting way.
The term is usually applied to those who work in historic sites, parks,
natural areas, zoos, etc.
(7) Drawing #1 is similar to one in the children's book, "The
Gristmill," by Bobbie Kalman. It is part of the Historic Communities
Series. This drawing is based upon a very similar drawing in a Richard Scary
children's book, "How Things Work" (minus the little mouse in
the rowboat who is trying to overcome the flow of water down the flume to
the water wheel). I found this drawing being used on a mill's web site to
present how the mill operated. The actual mill is nothing like the drawing
which looks more like it belongs in the world of imagination being operated
by little animal creatures. Drawing #2 is a colored drawing that
is based upon a drawing from one of Edwin Tunis' books. The process of milling
was originally called, "mealing," because you were producing "meal."
Later it was referred to as "millering," because it was process
done by the miller. It was then shortened to simply "milling."
The caption for this picture says, "A miller grinds grain into flour.
He use a water or wind powered mill that has a wheel & a millstone.
The water would move the wheel & the wheel would do the grinding. The
townspeople would use the flour for cooking." Drawing #3 is
an example of a post activity sheet. As part of their unit of study on Colonial
Williamsburg, fifth grade Social Studies classes colored various scenes
of life in Williamsburg. The caption says: "At the Windmill, the miller
grinds grain to make flour." Picture by Lashonna Stafford. Drawing
#4 is another activity sheet entitled, "The Grist Mill." Information
provided with the sheet says, "A grist mill is where wheat and other
grains are ground or milled into flour. Bread was important to the pioneers,
so a grist mill was one of the first buildings to be built. The following
is the text that goes with the grist mill drawing:
The grist mill in this picture was built beside a small waterfall. Some
of the water was made to flow along a wooden trough and into the wheel-blades
of a large wooden wheel. The water turned the wheel, which also turned a
shaft attached to a millstone. A millstone is a heavy stone wheel about
one meter in diameter. This wheel turned on top of another millstone that
did not move. As grain was poured into a funnel or hopper, it fell along
the grooves between the millstones and was ground into flour. It took about
an hour to mill five bushels of 'stone ground' flour. Can you find a flail,
a rake, and a sickle hidden in the picture?"
Activity sheets can be used with pre and post educational packages sent
out to the schools. Some people at times have raised the issue do these
have any educational value? I have always found that the kids love them.
I have done programs that were simply called "Rainy Day Projects at
Peirce Mill," were I provided long tables with crayons, pencils, tape,
scissors, and glue. Then I passed out an assortment of various activity
sheets that I made. At times it may have appeared like we were in competition
with the Art Barn's (Carriage House) art class just across the parking lot.
I had 50 to 75 sheets for various educational levels. These sheets were
everything from fill in the blank, mazes, connect the dots, to color and
cut out a paper model of mill buildings and other related buildings. There
were information sheets on corn, wheat, and buckwheat to how millstones
work. There was a demonstration model made out of a pencil (that worked
at the millstone spindle), a round piece of mat board (that was the bed
millstone) and a round piece of plexiglass that was the runner millstone).
There is an an animated drawing that demonstrates this, "Scissors Actions
of a Pair of Millstones," on my web page, "The Art of the Millstones,
How They Work."
(8) The 1980 edition of the Service's Interpretation Guideline (NPS-6)
refined the standards for living history in a manner clearly reflecting
the critics' concerns. Excerpts from Chapter 7, pages 9-11:
Every person doing interpretation as a miller should read: "The Cheese
and the Worms, The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller," by Carlo
Ginzburg, translated by John and Anne Tedeschi, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1980, and a number of reprints. This book is a study of
the popular culture in the 16th century as seen through the eyes of one
man, a miller brought to trial during the Inquisition. Story of a learned
Miller and his disagreements with the Church, for which he was burned at
the stake because he read books that he should not have read and developed
ideas that he should not have told others about. His basic crime was literacy
and thinking for himself. Using the records from the Inquisition trial of
a miller the author has recreated the way an ordinary person attempted to
respond to the confusing political, religious, and social issues of his
time. His basic philosophy of life is summed up in the title of the book,
"The Cheese and the Worms." You have a piece of cheese, the worms
come along and eat it and that is all there is to life, and nothing more.
The back cover gives a description of the book, "Menocchio was a simple
family man, a miller, the father of 11 children, and had briefly been the
mayor of his village. He was a voracious reader, very curious, and he constructed
a radical cosmology and dared to present it to the world. In 1599 he was
burned at the stake as a heretic." Millers are generally independent
thinkers and hate to be told what to do or how to think. Most individuals
(historically) connected with the milling trade were of the Quaker faith
in the United States, English Colonies in America and the United Kingdom.
(9) Third person interpretation, an informative, often interactive
talks and demonstrations by interpreters who may be dressed in period attire
but do not assume character roles.
(10) From a Press Release supplied by Don Miller of the Blackman
Group. The Stony Brook Grist Mill will celebrate its 250 years of History
by presenting a series of programs from April into October 2001. At the
Stony Brook Grist Mill: "Living History" features costumed actors
who interact with visitors and transport them back to the colonial era by
portraying a miller's wife, miller, "dusty" (miller's apprentice)
and other characters in the first person." The living history performances
which costumed actors relive a day in the life of a miller in the first
person. These are in addition to their regular millers demonstrate the grinding
process and conduct tours of the Grist Mill in season, and their "Dusty"
Program, an educational field trips. I would have to view this program for
myself and video tape it, to further comment upon it.
My experience with these so-called milling experts in such groups of as
the Society for Creative Anachronisms, is that they know more about acting
and very little about mills. This is my basic problem with first person
interpretation, is that many people (actors) in such traveling troops that
do such performances began their interest in acting either in Society for
Creative Anachronisms, and or at the regional Renascence Festivals. The
Society for Creative Anachronisms began as a college social activity. Personally
I don't find what these groups do very credible or historically accurate.
Their only ability to portray the miller, his wife and the miller's apprentice
comes from their understanding and reading of Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury
Tales," the telling of the miller's tale as found in "The Reeve's
Tale." This is their extent of their knowledge and comprehension about
molinology. I have seen people from the Society for Creative Anachronisms
do what sounds like the same program at various locations without the benefit
of being presented at an old mill, and they become more historical dramas
than anything else.
This is the portion of the history, that the National Park Service (and
other groups and individuals that now call themselves "professionals")
do not like to discuss in the history of interpretation that "living
history" was first introduced as a separate concept in the late 1960's
by such groups at the Society for Creative Anachronisms. They combined the
exhibition of material culture with reenactment of the historical processes
which originally employed or produced those artifacts, structures and landscapes.
Before this such sites as such "living history museums" such as
Williamsburg and Old Sturbridge Village, just performed employing costumed
interpreters who used the standard "third person" presentation
in which they talked about "what they did back then" while performing
their activities or tasks. The one reason that costumed interpretation,
sporadic reenacted social events and craft demonstrations became first person
living history programs at Plimoth Plantation, because 1620 is closest to
the Renascence in time, and if they could take the back in time to 1620,
they could do whatever date is represented.
(11) Role play, a descriptive term for the standard form of "first
(12) Ghost interpretation, a first person character who travels into
the present. The interpreter may acknowledge the present.
(13) Rakes Mill Pond Overlook (parking), elevation 2,477, Blue Ridge
Parkway Milepost 162.4. Plaque: "Rakes Mill Pond" The stone facing
of the nearby mill dam was built early in the 19th century by one Jarman
Rakes, Miller. His operation was notable for a scheme of advertising that
would credit a much later day. Rakes we are told allowed his customers the
sole privilege of fishing for brook trout in his pond while they waited
for their grist.
(14) Character Interpretation, another term for first person interpretation.
A term coined by Colonial Williamsburg Interpreters.
(15) Contextualist, a third-person interpreter who provides an introduction
and possibly other commentary in conjunction with a first person program.
A term coined by Colonial Williamsburg Interpreters. Also called a guided
first person program in which third person guides escort visitors to (or
between) first person locations.
(16) Mixed interpretive medium, interpretation that combines more
than one method of interpretation. For example, a third person guide who
acts as a mediator between
visitors and first person interpreters, or a first person program that closes
with a third person question and answer session.
(17) "For decades, living history, or the art of simulating
life of past times and cultures, has been a popular form of interpretive
programming at historical farms, houses, villages, and museums. Purporting
to 'bring the past alive', this method blends material culture, technology
and processes, and human actors or 'interpreters' in an interactive learning
environment, one that seeks to unlock the mysteries of the past by allowing
visitors to experience what life must have been like in a previous time.
Living history practitioners and advocates alike believe that this approach
teaching opportunities and an ability to affect visitors' understandings
of other times and places.
One of the most innovative, though oft-times controversial, forms of living
history is first-person interpretation. Defined as a way of recreating 'the
daily activities, thoughts, and behavior or real (or composite) historical
people' through role-playing, first-person interpretation seeks to humanize
the past and to make history more meaningful through spontaneous interpersonal
and conversational experiences." by David G. Vanderstel, The National
Council on Public History; ALHFAM Bulletin, Fall 1998, volume XXVIII, number
3, page 10.
(18) Charlie could tell ghost stories about mills for hours. I could
get him going at times and he would tell them for what seemed hours. Every
once and a while he would stop and say, "I have never seen a ghost
and I don't believe in ghosts," but yet he could tell these stories
for hours. I always wanted to get him going one time, and quietly pull out
a tape recorder. It is one of those things you think about doing for a long
time, and before you know it the person is suddenly gone. One of the stories
that I remember Charlie telling goes something as follows:
Charlie woke up one morning. He got dressed and went down stairs to eat
breakfast. He discovered that his father was not sitting at the table as
usual. It was not an unusual thing for his father to have gotten up and
had at early start at the mill. When Charlie ate his breakfast and the went
to the mill. He found his father William there. He was looking frightened
in a way that he had never seem him before. Charlie asked his father if
he was all right. His father said that he had never went home from the mill
yesterday, that he had been there all night. When I went to go home last
night, he said, a ghost was sitting on top of the gate preventing me from
leaving. Then Charlie realized that his father was sitting there with a
rifle across his lap. Charlie said to his father, you know that you can't
shoot a ghost. His father answered, I know, I shot through him twice.
The one person that I knew more about mills of the late 1700's and beginning
1800's, of the Oliver Evans system of automated milling was the late John
Blake Campbell (1890-1987). Mr. Campbell was much like Will Rogers in saying,
"I never met a mill I did not like. In later years every mill he visited
he would say that this was the finest example of a (late 18th century or
early 19th century) mill that I ever seen.
The wonderful living history program that used to be presented at the Thomas
Nelson House in Colonial Yorktown, Virginia, suddenly came to an end when
the Park Superintendent overhead the Park Ranger who put together this program
that it originated by going and sitting in the house one night and listening
to the ghosts. The Park Police would not even go into the house at night
alone or in pairs. They basically put together the program along with alcohol
drink and what ever, but the people loved the program. The program was presented
by a husband and wife team of living history performers who would appear
in rooms out of secret passageways each time being a new character of a
slightly later time period. They took you from the 1770's through the American
Revolution into the mid-1800's, and the American Civil War. The time travel
tour was begun in the basement and then you were told to proceed on to another
room where you would meet the next character, and so on and so forth. Park
visitors where told when the wonderful program ended that it was because
of budget cutbacks.
When I last worked for the National Park Service I don't think ghost were
approved source material for interpretive programs however, a number of
interpreters were presenting programs that involved the telling of ghost
stories in a number of parks.
(19) Dayett Mills in Newcastle County, Newark, Delaware, was built
in 1822. It bricks were brought from England. During the Battle of Cooch's
Bridge September 3, 1777, Cooch's Mill was burned. The mill has a mansard
roof that replace the original gable roof. The mill's millstones were replaced
by a Wolf Company of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, roller milling system.
The mill is powered by a 100 horse power ball turbine with a 35 foot fall
that receives water from a mill race a mile and a half long and two mill
dams. Not bad for the state of Delaware.
(20) Many times where the late Charlie Howell would travel to do
millstone dressing demonstrations and mill lectures, he would take along
two poster size drawings done by Robert Fink that appeared in his book,
"The Mill At Philipsburg Manor Upper Mills and a Brief History of Milling."
by Charles Howell and Allan Keller, Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1977. These
two drawings appeared in the end pages inside of the book. Cutaway Drawing
of Millstones in Use. This cutaway shows the grinding action of two
millstones with a right hand dress. And (a positive image rather than the
negative images as found in the book of) Cross Section of Gristmill.
This drawing is based upon the reconstructed water mill at Philipsburg Manor,
Upper Mills. The following is the text that explains the cross section of
a gristmill drawing:
Text from "The Mill At Philipsburg Manor Upper Mills and a Brief History
of Milling." by Charles Howell and Allan Keller, Sleepy Hollow Restorations,
1977. Drawings by Robert Fink. Read and read it enough to learn to speak
the same language and use the correct terminology.
(21) From "The Evolution of Living History," by
Plimoth Plantation: "The tangible museum environment changed as well,
with the aim of a truer mimesis of the past than the previously whitewashed,
decorative arts approach. Artificial barriers and didactic aids such as
signs or displays were removed wherever possible so as to not impinge upon
the period impression. Anachronisms and intrusions of the modern world such
as electrical lights or acrylic paint were progressively replaced with appropriate
period substitutes. "Dirt was gently allowed to intrude."
Costumes more closely approximated the actual clothes of the time, with
appropriate fabrics and patterns being carefully replicated. Inaccurate
earlier reproductions which cut corners by using modern materials or were
obviously of modern manufacture were replaced.
Activities in the historic houses or workplaces replicated the actual chores
and farm or craft labor of the period being presented. Livestock was acquired
and tended in the appropriate manner, crops were planted and harvested,
and gardens, once limited to decorative flowers and herbs, were used to
provide fodder for the cookery programs which produced actual meals. The
wear and tear of the reproductions became a mark of "authenticity"
and the use of original objects was discouraged. The ideal was to step into
a functioning exhibit which had a "Masterpiece Theater" level
of credibility, where no feature was missing or out of place, and the overall
impression was a seamless evocation of the past.
The key elements were the accuracy and completeness of the material settings
and the realism of the activities and processes, no longer the highly artificial
demonstration of a log "sawn" as long as possible to act as a
vehicle for conversations but which never became boards. The last step was
to make the people part of the re-creation as well, by involving them in
the re-creation as "animated artifacts," rather than as docents
providing a detached commentary to the scene. There are three main components
of a thorough living history program:
Together these elements make a reasonable mimesis of community life in the
past. The visitor learns not only by listening to the interpreted information
and by watching the work being done, but through the interaction of all
these things in a re-created social context* making the experience analogous
to a visit to a foreign country rather than to an ethnological institution
where the artifacts have been extracted from the original cultural use and
the significance which was attached to them." http://www.plimoth.org/Library/liveh1.htm
(22) This is called first hand (experience) interpretation. A type
of third person interpretation that incorporates a personal perspective,
but little or no characterization. This is often used by craft, trade, or
food ways interpreters, who describe how they themselves experience historical
(23) Sometimes teachers would call to arrange a field trip because
they read a book in school. One of the most common books (for grades Pre
Kindergarten to 3rd grade) that they might read (even more so than "The
Little Red Hen") would be, "Pancakes, Pancakes!," by Eric
Carle, author of the classic "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."
(24) The following information is as good as it gets for grinding
material to create first person interpretation in an old mill. The excerpts
from the following two diaries use the original author's spelling it has
not been changed.
(25) An example of the type of information presented in this program
is as follows: The name "Miller," is the third most common name
in the United States and many other countries. One who operates or tends
a mill. The name Miller is one of the oldest surnames in the world. John
the Mulner later became John Mulner (or Miller), and John the blacksmith
would later become John Smith.
A lot of people have asked me over the years, is my last name miller? Some
times it feels like it should be or perhaps secretly is. I guess I have
know more millers that I have personally known people with the name miller,
if that tells you anything.
Miller Origin: Miller is among the oldest of all Surnames, falling
into the occupational category (one who grinds grain into flour). The English
version of the name comes from the Middle English word Mille. The Miller
held a very important place within his community. The maxim, keeping your
nose to the grindstone, is derived from the fact that, for the miller, it
was a matter of life and death. He had to keep his face close to the moving
grindstones to smell for the acrid odor of granite-to-granite which could
produce sparks that could ignite the fine flour dust, causing an explosion.
It was also true, that a miller looking for employment, had to show his
prospective employer, his mettle. Millstones were sharpened by striking
them with huge hammers. Bits of metal would often chip off the hammer and
embed themselves into the miller's hands and arms. The amount of metal visible
in the miller's hands and arms was an indication of his experience.
There are numerous variations of the Miller Surname. The most common are
listed here as:
A good source of mountain folklore about mills is found in "Grist Mills
of Early America and Today," by , Elmer L. Smith, An Applied Arts Publication,
Lebanon, Pennsylvania, 32 pages, various publication dates, "together
with recipes using their products and illustrations of other early grist
mills." The book is a cultural resource and not a technical book on
mills and milling.
(26) The following example was chosen because of my interest in the
device and that there is very limited published material on the subject.If you take a copy of my article, "The Hopper-boy of Oliver Evans,"
that appeared in the Summer issue 1995 of Old Mill News, and is found on
a page of this web site. One might say, "How could I give an interpretive
program about the hopper-boy and present different information?" The
original article can be printed, photo copied, and become a visitor hand-out.
The following is an example of an interpretive program one could present
about hopper-boys. The narrative draft begins after the basic program introductions.
Please also read the above mentioned article as well.
The hopper-boy replace a "boy" whose job it once was to carry
or transport the ground meal from the bin in the basement to the attic or
upper level of the mill. There because of the methods they were using in
milling grain at the time the freshly ground meal was hot and damp. It could
not be sifted or bolted through screens because it would clog the opening.
So it was dumped onto the floor and raked back and forth until it cooled.
The millstones (furrows) were always kept sharp and run very fast with a
lot of heat and speed upon the grain. This produced the hot damp meal. The
millers wanted to grind the grain only once (regrinding created problem)
and they wanted to produce as much good white flour as they could in one
grinding. The idea was to keep down the amount of middlings because this
was basically cast off stuff or termed "offals." The bran and
was often tossed into the creek, or would become ships stuff or red dog.
It was made into biscuits for sailers that would go buggy and turn rancid
very quickly. The problem the ground meal was left there to age (improve
in baking qualities and to give off gasses from the chemical changes that
occurred in the milling process) for several days. They would rake it back
and forth thus cooling it by aeration. There the flour could be lost to
cracks in the floor, bugs find it, be born in it, rodents get into it, and
in general people and cats walk through it with no thoughts of cleanliness.
Legend has it that the name "hopper-boy" came from the words the
miller would cry out to the young boy to get to work and do its job, "hop
to it." So he became known as the hopper-boy. It was perhaps it duties
also to take sacks of bolted meal and carry them back to the attic where
they would be dumped into bins or onto the floor where the flour would lie
until it matured and aged. These jobs were dusty and dirty but not as dangerous
as walking into room size bins of grain to rake or shovel the grain onto
the discharge opening in the floor. Young children often were found later
when they were missed who had drowned in a room full of grain.
So Oliver Evans developed his hopper-boy named after the boy whose job it
was. Like the sack-boy whose job it was to replace sacks on the ends of
chutes. Sacks were hung on the ends of wooden chutes by small nails heads
or bent hooks. These hooks are called sack boys. In Germany, and Austria,
they would use actual leather belts to fashion the sacks on the chute temporarily.
The hopper-boy consists of a rotating vertical shaft. Around the vertical
shaft is a free floating rake. The vertical shaft is turned by the gears
above the hopper-boy. The rake around the vertical shaft is turned by an
arm that runs through the vertical shaft. The ends of the rake are attached
to the arms by a single cord that goes from one end of the rake up to a
hole in the end of the arm and loosely across the arm through the hole on
the other end and back down to the opposite end of the rake. The reason
that the rake is free floating and it is not attached to the vertical shaft
is because if the hopper-boy becomes over charged with flour, it will float
to the surfaces and continue to turn until it works through the extra amount
of flour. The reason the rake can float up and down is because of a counter
weight attached by a cord around the collar ring in the center of the rake
and up over a pulley placed inside of the vertical shaft of the hopper-boy.
The counter weight is also used to lift the rake up and hold it in position
while the area in which the rake revolved is cleaned.
The revolving rake with paddles on its underside are turned to move the
material that is introduced at the circumference rather than towards the
center like one might think because centrifugal force tends to carry things
outward and not inward. (The rake can be raised and show the visitors the
special mortise that holds the paddles into the bottom side of the rake.)
Some hopper-boy rakes may have separate blades attached to the side of the
rake at the center to keep the material form getting into the bearing underneath
the vertical post. Another variation some of them have is an adjustable
flap along the outside ends of the rake that move the material from the
wall of the rake inward where the paddles can begin turning it over and
over again towards the center. A good example of this can be found on the
hopper-boy at the Colvin Run Mill. The Colvin Run Mill's hopper-boy is a
wonderful work of wood craftsmanship and incorporates the basic design ideas
of hopper-boys from Oliver Evans' book, but it is an over stylized design
of modern woodworking. It has two design flaws that would not be found in
traditional or original hopper-boys. One being that the vertical post is
too short and the gears are too close to the flour. Second the hopper-boy
is located too much under the eaves of the attic roof and needs to be located
out in the center of the room where it would be more open to the interaction
of the air.
The ground meal is carried up the attic where the hopper-boy would be located
by an elevator. The ground meal would be introduced at the outside circumference.
It was never shown in any of Oliver Evans drawings or mentioned in his description
but people quickly began to place the hopper-boy rake in a low walled tub
about 2 feet tall. Another reason perhaps for placing the hopper-boy is
a tub is that it can act as a temporarily storage area for ground flour.
The gate in the chute that separates the underside of the hopper-boy in
the attic and the bolter on the flour below can be closed and the rake raised
out of the tub. Then the tub could be allowed to fill with ground flour.
Another reason for adding the tub, and most important, it would help reduce
the mess of the flour in the attic and keep it all contained in one area.
As the rake revolved the the tub it turned over the flour constantly and
cooled it in the same manner as the boy who once raked it back and forth.
Each time the rake of the hopper-boy revolved it turned it over just like
a raking it back and forth.The cool flour goes down a chute just off set
of the center where it would find its way to a bolter. The hopper-boy rake
revolves relatively slow as compared to other machines or devices found
in a mill, generally on average 10 to 15 revolutions per minute. Some mills
would have several (two) hopper-boys or one large one.
The following several paragraphs (pages 25-26) is by someone who came into
the milling business after the 1880's, and worked in several millstone mills.
His description of the hopper-boy device is correct but how he says it operated
does not go along with how it was operated in the automated milling system
of Oliver Evans, and how it is discussed in "The Young Mill-Wright
and Miller's Guide." He was an author (Professor Benjamin W. Dedrick)
of numerous articles in mill journal publications, a classical milling text
book ("Practical Milling," National Miller, Chicago, Illinois,
1924), and he was the head of a milling science department at a major American
University (Penn State University, State College, Pennsylvania). I know
he worked in several water powered mills before becoming head of a milling
department, that would not have hopper-boys as part of their flour making
machinery at that point in time. He was a mill consultant on the 1939 Fitz
Water Wheel Companies restoration of the Lee Mill (circa 1740's) at Stratford
Hall, Virginia. I have had or have known of this book for 30 years, and
his chapter on millstones, how they operate and how they are dressed is
standard reference in the restoration of old mills. I am a bit amazed then
in reading the following section and how he totally misunderstood how the
hopper-boy was used. He has described the operation of the hopper-boy as
if it were used in the milling system that was in common usage before Oliver
Evans changed the way mills operated.
He (B. W. Dedrick) goes on to say later that the hopper-boy revolves at
55 revolutions per minute. This speed is just too fast for the amount of
power needed to power the device. The revolutions of the shafting in the
attic portion of the mill is much slower that on the lower floors, and the
way the device operates. This is the reason the elevators are operated with
leather belting in the attic to get them operating at a faster speed that
what the drive shafts are turning. He also goes on to say that the bolting
reels are 30 to 32 inches in diameter, and 12 to 20 feet long (Oliver Evans
era bolters) would turn 25 to 30 revolutions per minute. The information
about the bolter is correct. My experience in operating an Oliver Evans
mill is that the hopper-boy turns half the speed of the bolters and the
chop would be worked completely through there in several minutes.
In the late 1840's- early 1850's the methods or process of milling changed.
A new process that was called "new process" milling began to take
over and replace the old system of flat milling. The idea was that you no
longer to grind and sift the flour one time. Then also to avoid producing
any more middlings than possible, and to do this the millstones were always
kept sharp. Now they were ran slower and a bit father a part. The idea was
to then to produce as much middlings as possible because this was now what
the main bulk of the white flour was produced from. They began to use smaller
middling millstones with different feed devices that could feed the ground
stuff into the millstones. What was happening was that new types of wheat
became introduced. Originally we were growing and milling soft or English
wheat along the eastern seaboard. Russian hard wheats were introduced to
the plains of the Midwest.
I have found portions of the hopper-boy that were removed from the mills
operating machinery found in mills from Pennsylvania, to Minnesota. The
hopper-boys are usually cut into a number of parts either the rake, the
tub or separate vertical shaft. I have found these at Union Mills, Westminster,
Maryland; the Burwell-Morgan Mill, Millwood, Virginia; the Pickwick Mill,
Winona, Minnesota; the Newlin Mill, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, and a number
of other Pennsylvania mills (in Berks County). The Pickwick Mill that was
constructed in 1858, had a 14 foot diameter hopper-boy rake. You often only
find the rake either whole or cut into several pieces, or the tub cut up
into several pieces and nailed onto the walls, etc. At the Watson's Mill,
Manotick, Ontario, Canada, they have a hopper-boy tub (that is identical
to the one at Peirce Mill), and they are interpreting it as being a mill's
storage bin or garner.
They tried to move the hopper-boy more under the eaves of the attic to make
more room for new milling machinery but that defeated its aeration because
it needs to be out in the open to work properly. Some tried to put it in
a round wall that went up and enclosed the rake and lead arm under the turning
gears. This to keep grease from falling into the hopper-boy tub along with
other junk that would find its way into the flour but they discovered it
defeated its operation. Soon they discovered with the changes in the milling
process and the fact that the elevator was carrying small amounts of ground
meal in little cups to the attic from the basement it was sufficient enough
to cool the ground meal.
I have used a hopper-boy in an Oliver Evans mill and it works with no problems
and does everything that Oliver Evans developed it for. (The hopper boy
can be demonstrated by pouring a quantity of flour into the tub and turning
it around my had to show the visitors the action of the revolving rake.
This way the tub can then be easily vacuumed clean.) So it is not that the
hopper-boy fell out of favor or became obsolete, it was because the milling
process changed and it was no longer needed. Many people I have met who
own 200 year old mills seem to want to apologize for not having a hopper-boy
like it was something they just misplaced over the years and don't seem
to know why their mill is an odd ball for not having one. Oliver Evans system
of automated milling consisted of 5 machines or devices as he called them.
The elevator, the conveyor (or auger), the hopper-boy, the drill and the
descender. The drill and descender were not meant to be used in all mill
applications. The hopper-boy was the one device that Oliver Evans was the
most proudest of and which used the most original principals of design.
It rotates in a circle but rather than moving things outward it moves things
inward. Today similar devices are used to cool roasted coffee beans.
Oliver Evans invented a system of automated flour milling. The idea was
you introduced a raw product (grain) and at the same time the finished product
was coming out (flour, middlings (cereal) and bran). His automated system
consisted of 5 machines or as he referred to them as "devices,"
the elevator, the conveyor (auger), the hopper-boy, the drill, and the descender.
You connect them together on various floors with a system of chutes and
bins and one or two millers could replace 6 - 8 -10 - or 12 men and boys
working in a mill. The grain and flour was always contained within the machinery
and not left open to the air, stored on floors or open bins where it could
be easily contaminated by insects, rodents and other filth. They could produce
5 to 7 times the amount of finished flour that was cleaner and of much better
quality using a lot less labor in a time when there was a labor shortage
in America. It was the first automation of any industry. This was the first
development in the milling industry since water wheels were developed to
use the power of tides 1,200 years ago. Water mills were developed thousand
years ago and wind mills were first constructed 3 thousand years ago by
In a letter Thomas Jefferson (The Letters of Thomas Jefferson: 1743-1826)
wrote to Isaac McPherson, from Monticello, dated August 13, 1813. The subject
matter is "No Patents on Ideas." Thomas Jefferson's objections
to Oliver Evans inventions was that he believed that he was patenting ideas
rather than original inventions, because most of Oliver Evans devices (with
the exception of the hopper-boy) were based upon known scientific and mathematical
principals. He felt that Evans did not exclusive right to invention because
the applications of basic machine devices such as the continuous chain drive
and the Archimedes' screw had been used historically in other applications.
Jefferson felt that Oliver Evans was simply giving new names to old inventions.
This has been a subject of great speculation for several hundred years if
Oliver Evans had ever seen any applications of these principals in books
or were they purely his own thinking. My feeling is that part of the tone
of Jefferson's letter reflects the English ideal that only people of a certain
class had only had the rights of patent protection under the law. Regardless
of Thomas Jefferson's personal feelings, Oliver Evans had developed devices
with original applications to an industrial process that was not known at
the time. Even the Ellicott's who operated the Ellicott Mills on the Patapsco
River in Maryland, upon hearing that Oliver Evans developed a device called
an "elevator" for lifting grain and flour vertically in a mill
raced to develop their own version of such a machine so Evans would not
have exclusive rights to a device called a "mill elevator."
Thomas Jefferson says, "The hopper-boy is an useful machine, and so
far as I know, original......... It happened that I had myself a mill built
in the interval between Mr. Evans' first and second patents. I was living
in Washington, and left the construction to the mill-wright. I did not even
know he had erected elevators, conveyers and hopper-boys, until I learnt
it by an application from Mr. Evans' agent for the patent price. Although
I had no idea he had a right to it by law, (for no judicial decision had
then been given,) yet I did not hesitate to remit to Mr. Evans the old and
moderate patent price, which was what he then asked, from a wish to encourage
even the useful revival of ancient inventions. But I then expressed my opinion
of the law in a letter, either to Mr. Evans or to his agent."
I just wanted you to get the story straight. Oliver Evans developed a number
of machines but his big contribution was the system of automation. Before
this everything was a series of steps or stages and you had to complete
one step before you went on to the next. Before Oliver Evans not all mills
had the ability to clean grain or even sift or bolt flour. A lot of times
flour had to be taken to the baker were he would sift it or it was done
in a specially built boulting (bolting-sifting) mill. The French believed
that the process of sifting flour was such an elaborate process that is
could not take place in the same building that the flour was milled. So
separate mills were built to just sift the ground flour, and of course the
boulting mill would collect a separate toll (from the miller's toll) for
sifting the flour. In some old engravings that show the operation of French
boulting mills the bolters are powered by had cranks and covered with cloth
to keep down the dust. So you never see the actual bolting devices but you
come to realize that the process of bolting employed just as many labor
intensive workers as the milling process. Before Oliver Evans millers did
not give it a second thought to walk across an open bin full of grain, flour
or to jump inside a barrel full of flour to compress it so they could get
the allowed amount in a barrel as required by law with road mud caked to
their boots. Dirt and filth was a common fact of life. They felt they could
not get away from it so they had to live with it.
(27) Some examples of Miller's Tales are: The miller often had high
social status in his local community because he controlled one of its most
important services that of producing a food stuff. The miller regularly
met most everyone in the local area. The miller's importance often becomes
illustrated in local life through some of the many sayings, proverbs and
idioms which have their roots in the miller's trade.
A good source of more information see: A History of Corn Milling, by Richard
Bennett and John Elton, 4 volumes published separately 1898-1900, reprint
Burt Franklin, New York, 1964, Research and Source Works Series #74, reprinted
in 4 volumes in the United Kingdom, by Simpkin Marshall, 1989.
(28) With some mills people will go home and remember for years not
what the interpreter, miller, or what the mill site folder said, but the
fact that they walked around the building and saw a pipe coming out of the
wall of the building pouring water into the sluice box. So it may come down
to it what do you want the visitor to carry away with them? Information
about the history or operation of the mill or that it was operated artificially
like an amusement park mill? Some amusement park mills add blue dye to the
water so it looks like the water reflects more of the blue sky. Does passing
on a view of inappropriate restoration hurt as much as passing on incorrect
(29) A drawing from one of the books by the late Eric Sloane. His
books have inspired may to develop an interest in old hand tools and early
Americana. He was a friend of the late E. Barton and Bradford McGuire. Barton
told me that he did not understand milling technology, and what he did not
understand. The big problem with using Eric Sloane as a reference of guide
is that he tended to make up and fill in the gaps in his information. He
wrote 30 some books in the area of Americana, but only one of the does he
provide reference material for his sources. Eric Sloane was a meteorologist
who became an artist to paint cloud formations. He became interested in
old tools for their design and shape. I always felt if I had ever put down
Eric Sloane as a source material for an interpretive program that I would
be seriously questioned. Mr. Sloane thought that mills were a dead dying
subject and not worthy of an entire books just about them. An idea that
he even discussed in his writing. Eric Sloane's work and books must have
been inspired by the works of Marion Nichol Rawson. If you look at the drawings
on Marion Rawson's book "Of the Farm," the drawings of the fences,
styles of barn roofs and the drawings in general are in the same style of
art that Mr. Sloane later copied. Eric Sloane's best work on mills was entitled
, "Mills of Early America," American Heritage, vol. 6, no. 6,
October, pages 104-107, 1955. The writings and drawing of Marion Nichol
Rawson, Edwin Tunis, and David Macauley (in more recent years) were popular
writers that presented a more accurate information about mills.
In the well written article, "Life in Early America: The Legacy of
Water Mills," by Patricia O. LaLand, Early American Life, vol.32, no.1,
February, 38-47, 2001, is the Eric Sloane 1970 painting October Mill. The
same painting appeared in his book, "I Remember America." It is
almost like the article was written by or directed to the large group of
individuals who think Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the
finest examples of a grist mill in the United States. Mabry Mill is interesting
but there are many more better examples only if one would get off the parkway
of life and look at them. Mabry Mill was constructed in the beginning of
the 20th century using a 19th century style but it actually had an operating
lifetime of less than 30 years. It is a mill that is poor maintained, operated
and interpreted. It is being used to sell millions of bags of flour and
meal that is produced elsewhere because of its nostalgic quaint rural architectural
style in which a private individual is getting rich using a government faculty
to do so. It is politics plan and simple. Someone is so politically entrenched
that even the federal government is afraid to move him out. The National
Park Service claims it does not have the money or interest to restore an
old mill to operating condition, and staff it with its own employees. "It
is not a priority item," the federal government will say over and over
again. The same story has happened at Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, Washington,
D.C. The National Park Service and the federal government are playing politics
with out national treasures, just go down to the Great Smoky Mountains National
Park, and find out what ever happened to the pounding mill. It was the only
example of a complete and "original" pounding mill in the United
States that could be restored and made to operate once again. Because there
was not the interest or the money it was allowed to sit out in the weather
and now is no more, but there are several photos of it in the Historical
American Building Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Record
There is this mind set, that some people have, that says when people come
to an old mill they expect to see a turning water wheel. Even if it is a
turbine powered mill or may never have had a water wheel, they will go out
and find an old water wheel and tack in on. It may look phony and stupid
but it attracts more visitors, sells more sacks of flour and souvenirs,
and people enjoy sitting down in a restaurant and looking out and seeing
a turning water wheel. The Old Mill at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and the
Old Red Mill in Clinton, Hunterdon County, New Jersey are two of the most
well known examples. A little less well known is the Volant Mills in Volant,
Pennsylvania, and I could make a list of a number of others. The line from
the interpretation at the Old Mill at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, says to visitors
that the mill is actually powered by a tub wheel rather than saying it is
really water turbine perhaps because that sounds more "old timey."
If you look through the record files of the Historical American Building
Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), you will
find gross mistakes in the use of mill terminology. A good example of one
of their classic errors is found in Mingus Mill near the Oconaluffee Visitors
Center, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina
side. Besides the fact that the say the mill is located in Tennessee, they
referrer to the ball turbine water wheel (at the bottom of a vertical penstock)
as being an undershot water wheel. Perhaps because the water under shoots
the building and does not go over an overshot water wheel? Who knows who
they consulted or even if they cared to find out the correct words at this
point. I thought the idea was they were suppose to consult authorities in
that field for correct technical information. You would think that since
they have standards for photos and measured drawings that they would have
developed correct standards for the use of technical terminology.
(30) Mountain Industry Trail,Mabry Mill Visitor Center and
Complex, elevation 2,855, Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 176.2, craft shop,
gift shop, restaurant, water-powered combination sawmill, carpenter shop,
and working grist mill. E.B. Mabry operated Mabry Mill from 1910 to 1935.
A self-guiding trail gives a glimpse at pioneer industry including blacksmith,
wheelwright shop, mint still, and whiskey still. There are molasses and
apple butter-making exhibits in season. Exhibits all along the self guided
(31) What I know about Mabry Mill I learned for site folders and
National Park Service documents and not from interpreters, park rangers,
guides, or the miller. One of the problems with Mabry Mill, the John P.
Cable Mill and Mingus Mill, is that the miller is there to do non-interpretation.
The miller is only there for color, costume or being a living prop, and
they will tell you, this is why we have the park rangers whose function
is interpretation. Long ago in another time when the mill still ground what
it sold the old miller was for forthcoming with information about the mill.
The was some sort of mill on the site in the 1890's, but what is standing
to day date from after 1910. The saw mill portion was constructed in 1910,
the woodworking shop built in 1914, and the center grist mill section built
in 1928. Information about the Mabry's and mill from "The Mabry
Story," by Brenda Casper, "Mabry Mill: Today and Yesterday,"
Eastern National Park & Monument Association, Blue Ride Parkway, United
States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1977, and National
Park Service reports on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
(32) At Peirce Mill since the mill was first restored and open to the
public they have always had flow diagrams in the site folder and a drawing
posted inside of the mill on the second floor steps wall. This drawing was
changed several times over the years and the latest drawing is an watercolor
painting. Some mills of course the best drawings that explain the milling
process are the Historical American Building Survey (HABS) and the Historic
American Engineering Record (HAER) drawings. The ones that I think are the
best mill drawings are as follows:
(33) Barry Mackintosh terms it "living slavery," in his
chapter, "Living History," in "Interpretation in the the
National Park Service: A Historical Perspective," History Division,
National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. 1986.
The change occurred at Philipsburg Manor after December of 1988 when Charlie
Howell and a great number of other employees took early retirement. Their
positions reverted back to a much lower starting salary and were then filled
by African Americans.
According to "The New York State Freedom Trail Commission Report: 1698
Enslaved Africans operate a mill at Philipsburg Manor [North Tarrytown]."
According to "Africans at Philipsburg Manor, Upper Mills: Between 1680
and 1750, most of the people who lived at Philipsburg were African or of
African descent. The enslaved Africans constructed, operated, and resided
on a complex that consisted of a mill, manor house, bake house, slave house,
wharves, and a church. Dina, Caesar, and Venture among others labored as
millers, bakers, sailors, dairy workers, coopers, and servants. They and
the other 20 enslaved men, women and children living here at the time of
Philipse's death in 1750 formed a community."
The institution of slavery fits in more with the principals of Christianity
at Philipsburg Manor. I wonder how the original owner and builder Frederick
Flypse (Flypsen), a person of Dutch Jewish ancestry felt about slavery which
seemed to occur with the second owner of Philipsburg Manor, Adolph Philipse
(1665-1750). Frederick Flypse seemed to have died somewhere between 1893
to 1698, just before the coming of slaves to Philipsburg Manor. Christians
seem to use biblical excuses to justify the practice of slavery.
While I worked at Peirce Mill, there was another National Park Service employee
who speculated just because Isaac Peirce had 22 slaves and indentured servants
that a slave operated the flour mill.
We had a list of the names of the millers who worked at the mill. We knew
their annual salary (of $1,200 to $1,500) which was that of a merchant miller
that included free living quarters in the miller's house across the road.
The slaves and later the freed men operated the saw mills seasonally. It
was their responsibility to drive teams horses to hauling grain from Brandywine,
Maryland and from Virginia to the Peirce Mill. They also carried barrels
of flour to the market port of Georgetown. The Still House across the road
made peach brandy and apple cider. The peach brandy was placed into bottles
I had seen one of them with there label on the bottle. No one had yet discovered
if the wet coopers for the apple cider and the dry coopers for the flour
were made on the Peirce Plantation or hauled in a cooperage by their teamsters.
The 22 slaves and indentured servants were spread out across the Plantation
living in different quarters. On the hill across the road from the Peirce
House was the main slave house. Another slave lived in the top floor of
the Potato House (1801) and the another a top floor of the Spring House
(1802) whose responsibility was to make cheese and butter. Another slave
lived in a house northeast of the intersection of Park and Beach Drive who
did the laundry for everyone on the Plantation. A slave lived in the back
room of the Carriage House who took care of the horses and the carrier pigeons.
Since the large slave quarters house was near the Cow Barn (1810), the Peirce
House, the apple and peach orchards that was perhaps their responsibility.
There was also a blacksmith shop were Soapstone Creek enters Broad Branch
Creek. There was also the Peirce Mansion with its green houses and nurseries
atop of Linnean Hill. There was also the Isaac Peirce House in South East
Washington along with more greenhouses and nurseries on North Capital Street.
Isaac Peirce, his wife Elizabeth (Betsy) and two nieces are buried atop
of Cow Hill with their slaves on the hillside over looking Soapstone Valley.
Isaac Peirce was a Quaker. My feeling is that he left Pennsylvania at the
outbreak of the American Revolution to become a millwright at his master's
mill of Abner Cloud Sr. A trade profession along with the miller who was
exempt from military service. When the Quaker church outlawed the practice
of slavery they gave the members a chose either give up your slaves or get
kick out of the membership. Isaac Peirce remained an important member of
the Quaker Meeting house northwest of Dupont Circle.
(34) Ted. You know, if you're not careful in writing mill articles
this long and all-encompassing, you'll eventually have written THE definitive
HISTORY OF WATER MILLS IN AMERICA: HOW THEY WORKED AND WHAT THEY MEAN which
is what I've always wanted you to write!
Millers are like clock makers - none will be left who knows, saw, smelled,
tasted or felt the wheel, the belts, the stones, the chutes, the gears and
the grain, which ARE the mill. I think that your writing here really
gets nicely at the SENSUAL aspects of the mill experience. I like
that, Onward and forward!
Dorn Howlett, retired Art Education Teacher, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania,
(35) One of the best examples of how "not" to present an
interpretive program is found in the Tim Burton's 1985 film, "Pee Wee's
Big Adventure." The scene takes place in the Alamo in San Antonio,
Texas, when Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) finally reaches the Alamo to recover
his stolen bicycle. The interpreter presents a classic program using all
of the ways not to present an interpretive program. She ends with the scene
with a classic line from the movie, "There's no basement in the Alamo,"
which defies one of the basic creeds of an interpreter that there is no
such thing as a stupid question. See who can make a longer list of things
not to do in presenting an interpretive program.
Alamo Scene from Pee Wee's Big Adventure goes something like this:
One of the worst mill interpretations was not witness by myself, but by
one of my friends and former volunteers. The individual was at the time
a park employee and not the miller at this mill. When the miller was not
on duty randomly park employees would be rotated and sent to staff the site.
This meant open and close the mill and stand behind the visitors counter
to hand out park folders. This one individual would put on the miller's
clothing and pretend to be the miller. Several times my friend witness visitors
come to this individual and ask him a simple question like, "How does
it work?" For no reason my friend said, that this individual would
fly off the handle, and go in a tirade at them saying, "It has cost
me a read deal of time and money in life to learn what I know about mills.
Do you think that I am going to tell you!" The reason that I mention
this is because I think he totally is unaware that he has any problems.
This person seems to keep getting job after job. I have seen a file of this
person's ideas for programs at an old mill and he had great ideas on paper.
At one point I did an employment check on this person and learned this individual
has not been repeatedly fired because of problems with his form of interpretation
or lack of it. He has been fired from at least four mills, one park, and
one historical organization that I know of become of repeated problems this
individual has with sexual harassment, some of it involving legal court
cases. Somehow as I learned more about this individual over the years it
made the gross misinformation statements and poor interpretation styles
seem not so bad.
(36) Improvisation, working without a script.
(37) In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer (c.1345-1400) expressed similar
sentiments in his characterization of the miller in The Miller's Tale .
He said that the miller "wel coude he stelen corn, and tollen thryes;
and yet he hadde a thombe of ...." The miller's gold thumb referred
to the practice of pressing the thumb on the scales when weighting grain
to increase the amount and thus the price.
There is a big problem in interpreting Canterbury Tales, the Miller tells
his tale in "The Miller's Tale," but that is not the story of
the miller. The tale of the miller is told in the "The Reeve's Tale."
The tale ends, "Thus have I quyt the Millere in my tale. Heere is ended
the Reves Tale"
I have even found this common mistake in mill web sites that have pages
giving Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale," If you sit and
go through the old English it is not the tale about the miller, as I mentioned
it is the tale told by the miller who is talking of someone other than himself.
This is a common problem with the internet, people create web pages and
then they don't look at them on the internet to see if they are working
The Miller was an important person, ranking third in power after the lord
of the manor and the parish priest, as people were dependent on him for
bread. Families sometimes worked a mill through several generations, the
millwright's skill passing from father to son. Millers often had a reputation
for dishonesty. A tombstone in an Essex graveyard bears this inscription,
"Here lies an honest miller, his name was Steal." In 1796, a law
went into effect which made payment for the miller's services in money compulsory.
Prices had to be posted or the milled was fined 20 shillings. This was done
to eliminate the illegal practice of "hanging up the cat" the
practice in which a miller took some of the farmer's grain for himself.
(38) Barry Mackintosh in his chapter, "Living History," in
"Interpretation in the the National Park Service: A Historical Perspective,"
History Division, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Washington,
(39) "At the behest of Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes,
Pierce Mill in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., was restored as an operating
gristmill in 1936; the meal was used in government cafeterias.......Blue
Ridge Parkway, the reconstructed Mabry Mill ground grain and mountain people
demonstrated crafts." Barry Mackintosh in his chapter, "Living
History," in "Interpretation in the the National Park Service:
A Historical Perspective," History Division, National Park Service,
Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. 1986.
(40) Freeman Tilden, "Interpreting Our Heritage," 3rd edition,
Chapel Hill, N,C., University of North Carolina Press, 1977.
(41) National Park Service, "Fulfilling the National Park Service
Mission: The Process of Interpretation," Module 101, Interpretive Development
Curriculum, from Interpretive Development Program Web site .
(42) If you read the National Park Service books and publications
on interpretation is that they sometimes have sections on or end with the
note that "Interpretation is in Crisis." I understand that interpretation
may move in cycles and at times it has been better, and somehow drops off
for a number of factors. I think that it needs to be spoken of on a more
positive note. It has been better in the past, and it will get better again
in the future. I does not help employee's moral to state it in the terms
that it has gone down hill to the point that all interpretation is in crisis.
Employees moral does now down because of problems with the supervisor; the
site is locked into presenting certain programs and there are difficulties
instituting new programs, problems and funding for the site such as lack
of money for salary increases, benefits, restorations, equipment or training;
employee personal problems, and that the (employee or supervisor) may need
to move on (or retire); constant employee turnover, the position may need
to become permanent rather than seasonal, and people just get burned out
after a while. There is a big difference between interpretation coming to
the point of "crisis" or that it is in "crisis." Perhaps
then if you read this article and all of the footnotes, you might then feel
that mill interpretation is in crisis. Who knows perhaps then that may have
been the point of this exercise after all. Actually if you read the article
and the complete footnotes you should have the basic information to assemble
an interpretive program for the average old mill. Just so you don't miss
the real point I just told you.
Selected Readings on Living History Interpretation:
William T. Alderson and Shirley Payne Low, "Interpretation of Historic
Sites," Nashville, American Association for State and Local History,
Jay Anderson, "A Living History Reader. Volume One: Museums,"
Nashville, American Association for State and Local History, 1991.
Jay Anderson, "The Living History Sourcebook," Nashville, American
Association for State and Local History, 1985.
Jay Anderson, "Time Machines: The World of Living History," Nashville,
American Association for State and Local History, 1984.
Larry Beck, Ted Cable, "Interpretation for the 21st Century, Fifteen
Guiding Principles for Interpreting Nature and Culture," Sagamore Publishing,
Donald H. Ecroyd, "Living History," Eastern National Park and
Monument Association, 1990.
Donald H. Ecroyd, "Talking with Young Visitors in the Parks,"
Eastern National Park & Monument Association, 1989.
Alison L. Grinder, and E. Sue McCoy. "The Good Guide: A Source Book
for Interpreters, Docents and Tour Guides," Scottsdale, Arizona, Ironwood
John D. Krugler, "Behind the Public Presentations: Research and Scholarship
at Living History Museums of Early America," William and Mary Quarterly,
Third Series 48, July 1991, pages 347-386.
Barry Mackintosh, "Interpretation in the National Park Service: A Historical
Perspective,". Washington, DC, History Division, National Park Service,
Department of the Interior, 1986.
Interior, 1986. http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/mackintosh2/index.htm
Janice Majewski, "Part of Your General Public is Disabled: A Handbook
for Guides in Museums, Zoos, and Historic Houses," Washington, DC:
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987.
National Register of Historical Places, CRM Archive Issue Volume 16 Number
02, "Teaching with Historic Places." Note: This issue
contains all of the articles in a single text only PDF file.
National Register of Historical Places, CRM Archive Issue Volume 23, Number
08, "Creative Teaching with Historic Places." Note: This
issue contains all of the articles in a single text only PDF file. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/crm/issue.cfm?volume=23&number=08
Kathleen Regnier, Michael Gross, and Ron Zimmerman, "The Interpreter's
Guidebook: Techniques for Programs and Presentations," Interpreter's
Handbook Series, Stevens Point, Wisconsin: UW-SP Foundation Press, 1994.
Vic. Sussman, "From Williamsburg to Conner Prairie: Living History
Museums Bring Bygone Days to Life but Not Always Accurately," U.S.
News and World Report 107:4, July 24, 1989, pages 58-62.
Ron Thomson, Interpretive Consultant, Oneonta, New York, and Marilyn Harper,
Historian, National Park Service, "Telling the Stories: Planning
Effective Interpretive Programs for Properties Listed in the National Register
of Historic Places," U.S. Department of the Interior National Park
Service, National Register, History and Education, 2000. http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/publications/bulletins/interp/
Freeman Tilden, "Interpreting Our Heritage," Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, University of North Carolina Press, 1984, 1st edition 1957.
David Uzzell, editor, "Heritage Interpretation," 2 Volumes, New
York and London, Belhaven Press, 1989.
Copyright 2001 by T. R. Hazen