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What is Historic Preservation?

Peirce Mill during the Fitz Water Wheel Company restoration in the 1930's

At the end of the head race next to the building is the the breast or apron.
This is hidden behind the breast shot water wheel once it would be constructed.
Its function is to hold the water in the wheel and make it more efficient.

What is Historic Preservation?

Why is Historic Preservation Important?

Historic preservation is the practice of protecting and preserving sites, structures or districts which reflect elements of local or national cultural, social, economic, political, archaeological or architectural history. Preservation has many diverse purposes and rewards, including the strengthening of local economies, stabilization of property values, the fostering of civic beauty and community pride, and the appreciation of local and national history. Historic preservation as a public purpose that advances the education and welfare of citizens, while providing economic and aesthetic benefits as well.

Historic resources are defined as districts, sites, structures, objects or buildings that are greater than seventy-five years in age, and are significant in local, state or national history, architecture, archeology, engineering, or culture. History encompasses all cultures, economic classes, and social, political and private activities that form the background to the present.

What is a historic site or structure?

Historic resources fall into five categories or types: buildings, sites, structures, objects, or districts. A building is a construction created to shelter human activity, while structures are functional constructions usually created for purposes other than creating human shelter. A site is the location of a significant event, occupation or activity, while an object is primarily an artistic creation such as a sculpture, monument or statuary. A district is a collection of any or all of the above which is united historically or aesthetically.

What are the benefits of historic preservation?

The benefits of historic preservation come in many forms. The prime benifit of historical restoration is always education. It also includes both public and private benefits. Historic preservation safeguards a community's heritage, making it available to future generations for civic enjoyment and educational activities. Preservation stabilizes property values and strengthens local economies. In addition, the conservation and maintenance of historic resources and scenic areas fosters civic beauty and bolsters community pride. Finally, historic preservation has been successfully employed to improve business opportunities in many locales.

In addition to these public benefits, there are also advantages that accrue to individual property owners when historic resources are preserved. In addition to stabilizing property values, historic designation offers financial incentives to owners who rehabilitate their historic property. Some states offers an income tax credit of 25 percent of the costs of approved restoration work on a designated historic property or a propertylocated within a designated historic district. The Federal government offers the same incentive, at a rate of 20 percent, but the credit only applies to income-producing residential, commercial, and industrial properties. (For more information call Preservation Assistance Division, National Park Service, 202-343-9573)

Finally, there are some public and private grant and loan funds targeted to designated historic properties for their stabilization and restoration. Because of the changes in the federal laws in recent years the bulk of the federal and corporate-foundation money for historical restoration is only aside for structures that are on historical registers and are operated with non-profit 501 (c) foundations.

Shoaff Mill, Little Buffalo State Park, Pennsylvania

A nicely preserved mill on the outside but the interior original configuration of the mill's machinery
bares little resemblance to the way it was when it was an actual operating mill. Molinologists, millwrights, mill consultants and restoration professionals claim that there are only "nine" mills in the United States that retain their original configuration.


  • (1) Because most mills are altered over the years by changes in milling technology. This brings about changes to the orginal structure such as expansion of building, adding external grain storage, movement of office and addition of other buildings.
  • (2) Many mills are altered from one operator (miller) to another.
  • (3) The changes in the function and products produced by the mill over its years of operation often alter the mill's interior machinery and layout.
  • (4) The power source of the mill's changed with new technology, and because of the available and changes to its original power source with alternative power sources.
  • (5)When most mills stop operating, most often much of the machinery is removed, sold at public auction, removed for in other operating mills, and then later mill restorations.

  • In Eugene E. Eby's Book, "Perry County Grist Mills," in the section on Shoaff's Mill, now in the Little Buffalo State Park. In mentions about when the mill purchased its new water wheel, "Ellis Shoaff operated the mill to full capacity, grinding flour, buckwheat flour, corn meal and feed for livestock. Improvements were needed at the mill which Ellis immediately procceeded to do. With the addition of more machinery, it became apparent more power was necessary to operate the mill. The old 27 foot wooden water wheel was in need of much repair. Rather than make the necessary repairs, in 1906 Ellis purchased a 32 foot steel wheel from the Fitz Water Wheel Company, Hanover, Pennsylvania.

    The original 27 foot wooden water wheel was enclosed with in the one side of the building. The hurst frame next to the water wheel has a great spur gear system that operated two pairs of millstones. When the 32 foot steel I-X-L Water Wheel was installed the section of the building that housed the wooden water wheel saw sliced off and the Fitz wheel installed in its place. Perhaps at this time the interior layout of the machinery was changed. When the mill ceased being an operating mill then perhaps much of the interior machinery was removed. Because of that, what is in the mill today is only a token of what was in the mill originally when it was an actual operating mill. To make a mill into a museum, often you have to give up some of the crowed (rain forest type jungle) space that was fulled with bins, moving belts, shafts, machinery, the storage of the mill's product waiting shipment, storage of packaging containers, and a area work for maintenance of the mill's machinery.

    One of the few mills that retains its original configuration is McConnell's Mill, in McConnell's Mill State Park, near Portersville, Pennsylvania. Another is the Cedar Creek Grist Mill in the State of Washington, and Mascot Rollers Mills (also called Resseler's Mill), Newport & Stumpton Roads at Mill Creek, Ronks vicinity, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Who can e-mail me with other possibilities for the other six!

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    Copyright 2000 by T. R. Hazen