National Register Nomination, Form Information for an Old Mill.
The Thresher Mill is situated on the north side of the road from Barnet
to West Barnet (State Aid Highway #1) at the falls of the Stevens River
just west of and adjoining Vermont's Barnet Center Historic District (accepted
on the National Register July 12, 1984) The property includes the mill building
(#1), a tannery site (#3), a storage shed site (#4), a lumber shed site
(#5) and 1 barn site (#6) grouped on the south bank of the river in close
proximity to the dam (#2) which has been in continuous use since 1836. Potential
subsurface indications of at least 1 other shed, a blacksmith shop, and
the Batchelder barn east of the mill (1) as well as the Carrick/Goodwillie
log cabin and shed (2), and the Harriman blacksmith shops (3)
west of the mill have yet to be located. The mill building incorporates
an 1872, 2-1/2-story, gable-roofed, wood-frame carriage and woodworking
shop (#1a), a 1-story, shed-roofed, wood-frame cider mill wing (#1b) added
c. 1885 to the shop's west gable end, and a 1-1/2 story, gable-roofed, post-and-beam
frame blacksmith shop wing (#1c) built c. 1840 and moved to the east gable
end of the mill c. 1880. The mill retains the historic woodworking, machining,
cidermaking and blacksmith machinery and tools as well as shafting, belting,
turbine and related hydraulic system used to power them. The millowner's
homestead, located across the road just west of the mill buildings and associated
with the site through common ownership from 1870, is not included in the
nomination. The land associated with the complex is relatively flat and
cleared in the immediate vicinity of the buildings and sites; the eastern
portion of the property in proximity to the Barnet Center bridge is wooded
and slopes more steeply toward the river These historic resources possess
an unusually high degree of integrity with regard to location, setting,
design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
1. Thresher's Mill, 1872, c. 1880, c. 1885. Contributing. The 2-1/2-story,
5x2-bay, gable-roofed, wood-frame, carriage and woodworking shop (#1a) is
oriented with the eaves front and is flanked by a 1-story, 2 x1-bay, shed-roofed,
wood-frame cider mill wing (#1b) on the west and a 1-1/2-story, 2 x 2 bay,
post-and-beam framed blacksmith shop wing (#1c) on the east gable end. An
enclosed staircase and 1-story, shed-roofed wing are situated in the northeast
rear ell formed by the saw mll and blacksmith shop while a 1-story, shed-roofed
penstock shed is in a similar location in the northwest rear ell of the
cider mill and saw mill on the west.
1a. Sawmill. The 2-1/2-story main block measures 40'-9" x 30',
and rests on a combination fieldstone/cut granite foundation on that has
been faced in places with concrete; the rear foundation along the riverbank
was replaced c. 1990 with poured concrete. The saw mill is sided with clapboards
having 3-5/8" exposure and has a standing seam, sheet metal roof with
an interior, brick chimney rising from the west ridge; the exterior portion
of the chimney stack was rebuilt in 1992 following its collapse during a
winter storm. The mill is articulated with plain cornerboards, a wide frieze,
and molded box cornice which returns on gable ends where there is also a
Sash, set in plain trim, is generally original and replacement 6/6, with
9/6 in the attic story of the gable ends. An original window opening in
the second story, east gable end was infilled during the addition c. 1880
of the blacksmith shop; the original double-hung, 6-light sash were separated
and moved to occupy symmetrical fixed positions flanking the ridge of the
wing's roof. Five windows with 12/8 sash on the ground level of the north
rear along the river were replaced c. 1990 with horizontal wood sheathing
during the reconstruction of the rear wall and foundation. Original sash
feature muntins which are simply molded and terminate in a gently rounded
point, whereas muntins from 1992 stock replacement sash are more complexly
molded and squared-off at the terminus.
On the center, south front portion of the first story is a window with removable
wall panels and sash for rolling out large water tubs. A shop-made cordwood
saw projects from the right flank of this window on the facade. The corresponding
center window on the first floor of the north rear (river side) is slightly
enlarged to allow for the passing through of long timbers in the process
of sawing and planing. A 14" x 14" opening in the west flank of
this north rear wall has a removable panel allowing for the passage of wood
from the planer-jointer. Vertical board doors added c. 1920 open from the
left flank of the facade on the first and second stories. The opening on
the first story has two leaves on roller tracks; the left leaf has a pass-size,
hinged door and the right leaf has a window with 5/6 sash. The twin leaves
of the second story door open inward. A temporary wood sign on the facade
put in place for the 1992 filming of the movie "Ethan Frome" has
been replaced by one reading "Ben Thresher's Mill".
Small amounts of original paint remain on the mill: the river (north) rear
has traces of yellow ochre, with window and door frames exhibiting some
dark red pigment and window sash having white paint. All other sides of
the main block appear to be unpainted except where new sash has a dark stain.
The main block of the mill is framed with circular sawn members: 8"
x 9" sills and beams set 8' on center supporting the first story floor
of 3" thick wood planking; 2" x 10" joists with bridging
set 20" on center, an 8"x8" beam running the length of the
center of the building, and a 2" x 10" plank floor supporting
the second story; and 2"x8" joists set 16" on center, a center
8" x 8" beam, and a 2" thick plank floor in the attic story.
The roof is framed without a ridgepole and is supported by 2" x 7"
rafters approximately 38" on center with 1" thick random width
sheathing and clapboards.
The interior ground floor of the main block is finished with a concrete
floor except on the north (river) side where rock and earth are exposed.
The large stones of the foundation are evident on the south wall, where
it also has been faced with concrete. A wood partition in the south east
corner defines a furnace room from the otherwise open space occupied by
the machinery, shafting and turbine of the hydraulic power system for the
The power system, shown in copies of the HAER drawings from 1979 which accompany
the nomination is powered by a horizontal water turbine (1967 Hunt Turbine)
manufactured in 1911 by the Rodney Hunt Machine Co. in Orange, MA in which
an 18" water wheel delivers about 30 horsepower under 16' of head.
This replaces an earlier vertical turbine that had wooden cogs. (4)
Water is supplied by a wood penstock made by wooden staves bound together
by steel hoop tie rods; the remnants of the penstock built in 1911 by Judkins
and rebuilt c. 1949 by Ben Thresher will be used in its reconstruction.
Various line shafts, counter shafts, belts and belt tensioners run under
the first floor and are used to run the equipment there by belts. A boiler
manufactured by Ames Iron Works, Oswego, NY, installed c. 1915, provides
steam for the former steam box and cider evaporator tank.
The interior first floor of the main block is finished with plaster on lath
and horizontal wood sheathing, with the framing members of the ceiling exposed.
The large central timber running the length of the building is supported
by two chamfered posts. A straight run staircase enclosed with horizontal
board sheathing and a vertical board door with two wide boards is situated
on the west gable end of the large open space; stairways ascend to the second
floor from the south front and into the basement at the north rear. A brick
chimney stack is set against the wall framed by the staircase. A door opening
into the cider mill is set at the southwest corner of the room and adjacent
to the entrance to the staircase; it features a door with 4 lights/2 vertical
panels. A wide, vertical board door with bracing opens into the blacksmith
shop on the southeast corner.
Machinery contained in this large open room is shown on accompanying drawings
from 1979. An engine lathe, manufactured by Gage, Warner and Whitney, Nashua,
NH, was purchased in 1927 by Fenton Judkins and manufactured by Lucius W.
Pond, Worcester, MA between 1875 and 1888, are situated on the northeast
rear corner of the mill, where a hole has been bored through the end of
the mill to accommodate the iron rod hoop stock for water tubs. At the center
of the north rear wall is an unused countershaft which may be the location
of cidermaking activity before the mill was
installed in the adjacent building at the end of the 1800's. (5)
In the northwest corner is an old wood frame pattern or spoke !a the, manufactured
c. 1850 and brought to the shop in 1894 by J. L. Judkins. A "cutting-off"
or cross-cut table saw manufactured by L. D. Howard, St. Johnsbury, VT has
an iron frame and is situated on the western half of the middle of the room
where there is also a wood-framed rip saw and a jointer-planer manufactured
by W. W. Carey of Lowell, MA. Baxter Machine Co., of Lebanon, NH manufactured
the planer in the center of the room c. 1878; it was purchased by F. L.
Judkins between 1900 and 1938 along with the Carey jointer-planer. On the
east half of the room are located a band saw, manufactured by F. H. Clement,
Rochester, NY between 1883-86, a wood lathe installed between 1872-1877
by Alexander Jack, an emery wheel, a drill press (post drill) manufactured
by Canedy Otto Mfg. Co., Chicago Heights, Ill, purchased c. 1950 by Ben
Thresher to replace smaller Canedy Otto post drill, a wood framed horizontal
boring machine installed 1872-1887 by Alexander Jack, and a hand threader
that Ben Thresher bought in Ryegate at a blacksmith auction. Also located
in the center of the room is the hand wheel for the turbine and a wheel
horse. At the south front of the shop are a series of workbenches and cabinets
with a variety of smaller hand tools and parts.
The interior second floor of the main block is divided into several rooms.
The former wood-bending shop is situated on the western half of the floor
plan. The walls and ceiling are finished with plaster on lath and the floor
is covered with 2" wood planking. A chamfered post identical to those
on the first floor supports the central timber running east/west parallel
to the ridge line of the roof. An opening measuring approximately 20"
x 20" located in the southwest corner adjacent t o the straight run,
enclosed stairway to the attic formerly provided access to a steam box on
the roof of the cider mill; it was removed c. 1990 during renovations. At
the northwest corner of the wood-bending ship and main block is a small
storage room measuring approximately 8' x 10' that contains shelves and
hooks. A partition roughly halfway across the width of the second floor
divides the wood-bending shop from a paint shop n the northeast rear and
old living quarters in the southeast front corner. Some of the vertical
board wail sheathing in the paint shop was added for the filming of the
movie Ethan Frome in 1992. The living space exhibits several layers of wallpaper
dating from the late 19th- early 20th century and a plaster on lath ceiling.
Twin-leaved doors join the living quarters with the paint shop and wood-bending
shop The wood bending equipment was removed during ownership of the mill
by the Woodstock Foundation. (6)
1b. Cider Mill. The 1-story, shed-roofed, wood-framed cider mill
was added to the west gable end of the sawmill c. 1885 (7) and rehabilitated
in 1941. (8) The exterior features plain corner boards, a wide frieze
and a shed roof with rolled asphalt roofing rebuilt with new rafters c.
1990 due to deterioration. Portions of a wood steam box and a vent from
the cider tub rise from the roof at the junction with the sawmill. Cut nails
fasten the original trim and clapboards to the building. Sash is 6/6 with
plain trim. Double doors divided into 4-panels each open on the right flank
of the south front facade. The foundation is a combination of stone, brick
The basement level under the cider mill reveals exterior clapboards on the
west end of the sawmill to which it is attached, indicating that the cider
mill was added to be saw mill after the latter was built in 1872. Much of
the cider mill equipment found on this level was purchased in nearby Mosquitoville
in 1915 by Fenton Jenkins, the owner of the property at the time. (9)
Included are: line and counter shafts to drive the machinery, an apple grinder
(manufactured by Boomer and Boschert Press Co., Syracuse, NY patented in
1881) fed from the scales and apple hopper on the floor above, a cider press
(Boomer and Boschert), a hydraulic pump for the cider press made in the
shop, a cider pump made from bicycle tire pump that pumped fresh cider from
a collection pan under the press to a cider tank on the first floor, and
a cider evaporating tank for making cider jelly. A penstock shed, partially
rebuilt c. 1991, is located on the north side of the cider mill building
along the river. It houses on this level portions of a wood penstock rebuilt
in 1949 in the process of reconstruction and an old steel boiler shell used
for a penstock.
The main floor of the cider mill is comprised of 2" thick planks and
houses the scales and hopper for apples, manufactured by Fairbanks Morse,
St Johnsbury, VT. A hand lever opened the bottom of the hopper to let the
apples fall into the grinder directly below. A large copper cider tank is
suspended from the roof to the west of the south front door. The storage
tank was filled with cider pumped up from the basement and from its height
it could be conveniently drained into cider barrels in trucks. Presently,
the shop is used for the storage of miscellaneous equipment. Remains of
a former steam box, fueled with the steam from the boiler in the basement,
is situated on the shed roof of the mill. The box was accessed from the
second floor of the sawmill and utilized to bend wood runners for sleighs
and wheels for wagons.
1c. Blacksmith Shop. The 2 x 2 bay, hand-hewn post and beam blacksmith
shop attached to the east gable end of the carriage and woodworking shop
is 1-1/2 stories and was built c. 1840 as a horsebarn. (10) Moved
to its present location c. 1880, the exterior clapboards of the earlier
sawmill to the west form the interior wall of the first story blacksmith
shop. The shop rests on a stone and concrete foundation. The sheet metal
roof with a concrete block interior chimney is supported by rafters and
the exterior vertical board siding is visible on the interior. Access from
the south front is provided on the left flank of the facade by a vertical
board door. Light is provided by 6/6 double-hung sash with a 12/12 window
on the north rear and a small fixed 6 light sash in the east gable end.
On the north rear, a staircase covered with a shed roof provides access
to the first floor shop from the lower ground level, and a small shed-roofed
shed built c. 1907 shelters the machinery for the main shaft for the turbine
generated power for the entire mill.
The basement of the blacksmith shop with an earthen floor contains the old
electrical generation room which extends into the basement level of the
rear shed. An air duct at the base of the concrete block chimney of the
blacksmith shop leads to the forge blower for the shop located in the shed
wing. The blower was manufactured by Canedy-Otto Manufacturing Co., Chicago
Heights, Ill. and is presently driven by an electric motor via a belt. Also
contained in the wing is a belt drive countershaft for the forge blower
which is used when the power is taken from the line shaft connected to the
turbine under the main mill. Three concrete foundation pads under the blacksmith
shop were installed in 1911 and 1913 by the owner, Don Judkins, for electrical
The first floor of the blacksmith shop centers around the chimney to which
is attached the coal-burning forge with an anvil nearby. There is a workbench
under the south front window. The northwest rear corner of the shop contains
an L. D. Howard triphammer, manufactured n St. Johnsbury, VT, a ring mandrel
and a punch and shear to cut iron manufactured by Little Giant Punch and
Shear Co., Sparta, Ill. In the front southwest corner of the shop near the
tire shrinker (upsetter) manufactured by Champion Blower and Forge Co.,
Lancaster, Pa., a "Green River #3" caulking vise for horseshoes
manufactured by Noyes Foundry Co., Greenfield, Ma., and a box type woodstove.
2. Mill Dam, c. 1836 with later alterations. Contributing. The breached,
propped plank-and-timber dam across the Stevens River has evolved from the
first stone dam built in 1836, portions of which are still evident on its
north end. Repaired many times after being breached over the years by numerous
floods, the approximate 10' 9" head is currently not available due
to a breach just north of the middle of the dam. The dam has the appearance
of a roof structure: vertical boards propped at a 45 degree angle are reinforced
by spaced purlins with log rafters held up by from 2-4 log braces of varying
heights spaced along the length of each rafter.
3. Tannery site, c. 1847. Contributing. The former tannery was located
partially on the site of the presently standing blacksmith shop. The only
surface indications of this structure, which utilized water from the flume
or mill dam of the first sawmill on the site, are the remains of the foundation
fieldstones lining the south bank of the Stevens River, extending approximately
10' east of the blacksmith shop. Potential subsurface remains of associated
structures, such as sweat pits, bark mills, rolling and fulling mills, tanning
vats, dry sheds, or furnaces to burn wet tan have yet to be explored.
4. Don Judkins Storage Shed site, c. 1923. Contributing. Situated
at the southwest corner of the cider mill, this 1-story, wood frame structure
with a concrete foundation was built c. 1923. (11) Surviving to the
present is a portion of the foundation which has been made a part of an
infilled parking area constructed c. 1992.
5. Fenton L. Judkins Lumber Shed site, c. 1907. Contributing. Evident
as a partially collapsed structure in 1980, this 1-story, wood frame building
had a concrete foundation and was placed immediately southwest of the existing
cider mill. The concrete foundation which remains has been made a part of
an infilled parking area constructed c. 1992.
6. John L. Judkins Barn site, c. 1895. Contributing. Remains of a
concrete foundation measuring approximately 20'x30' as well as remnants
of the wood barn building and contents mark the location of this barn. Built
across the road from (north of) the mill owners' home and west of the above
described mill and sheds, the barn appears to have been constructed by Fenton
L. Judkins' father, John, during his short ownership of the mill and homestead
(1) Interview, Ben Thresher, 4/93. Ben indicates that Charlie Morgan,
a now deceased former blacksmith from Passumpsic, describes the property
as having a blacksmith horseshoe shop flanking the east and west ends and
in sight of the existing mill. The Barnet Land Records, 22/620, indicate
that in 1870 the former tannery site was "between the sawmill yard
and Batchelder's barn", which was removed when the road was straightened
in the 20th century.
(2) Barnet Land Records, 11/373. Ben Carrick sells 10 acres with
a "log house and shed" to James Goodwillie, formerly part of the
Stevenson Farm and on the north side of the road, to James Goodwillie in
(3) Barnet Land Records, 21/486. This deed of 1865 from Harriman
to Goodwillie describes the 1/16 acre as "all land owned in connection
with the blacksmith shop and shop thereon standing" bordered on the
east by the old sawmill privilege and on the west by the land of James Goodwillie
(with the log cabin and shed).
(4) Interview, Ben Thresher, 4/93.
(5) Interview, Ben Thresher, 4/93.
(6) Interview, Ben Thresher, 4/93.
(7) Measured HAER Drawings from 1979 indicate that the cider mill
was built c. 1872. It appears from other research that the building was
added at a later date.
(8) Interview, Ben Thresher, 4/93.
(9) Interview, Ben Thresher, 4/93.
(10) Interview, Ben Thresher, 4/93.
(11) Barnet Land Records, 36/123 and 36/352. This small piece of
land was 38' from the sw corner of the lumber shed associated with F. L.
Judkins carriage shop. The 1929 deed: "not intending to convey the
building erected by Don Judkins on land having been already sold."
Ben Thresher tells that this building was moved to the nearby parsonage
at Barnet Center and used for a shed (Interview, 4/93).
(12) Barnet Land Records, 27/280 described the former Alex Jack property
in 1893 as having a "house, shop, water power, shafting, belting, tools
and cider mill." In 1905 in a deed to from [sic] Mary C. Judkins to
Fenton Judkins (30/192), a "barn" has been added to the description.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE
The Thresher Mill is the lone survivor among numerous small mills that once
drew water power from the Stevens River and its tributaries in the self-sufficient
community of Barnet in the 19th century. It continues to operate by water
powered turbine on the south bank of the Stevens River as it falls to the
Connecticut River in this northeastern Vermont town. It is architecturally
significant as a working industrial component of the elaborate agricultural
network carried over from the economic and social world of the Barnet Center
Scotch settler/farmers of the 19th and early 20th centuries when subsistence
farming, village life, and small local mils were indissolubly linked. The
subject of a documentary video for PBS entitled "Ben Thresher's Mill"
produced in the 1970's, measured drawings of this rare survival of the mill
building type were prepared for the Historic American Engineering Survey
(HAER) in 1979. The mill privilege has evolved since it was deeded in 1836
from an overflow stone dam to a propped plank and timberdam, having been
partially rebuilt on numerous occasions after it was breached by various
floods and freshets. Located just to the west of Barnet Center, the Thresher
mill houses a combination of a blacksmith shop, cider mill and woodworking
shop/sawmill that also had a leather dyeworks when first constructed just
after 1870. A number of other industrial/agricultural sites from the 19th
and early 20th centuries surround the working mill including an earlier
tannery, blacksmith shops, barns, and the original Carrick log cabin pitch.
The communal ownership pattern over the years of both the industries on
the property and the nearby far ms forms a web of connectedness between
the significant agricultural and industrial contexts characteristic of the
19th and 20th centuries in Vermont. The t own of Barnet was first settled
in 1770 at Stevens Village (now Barnet) where the Stevens River falls steeply
to the Connecticut River, the location of the first saw and grist mills.
In 1773, Alexander Harvey and John Clark were sent as commissioners from
Scotland by the "United Co. of Perth and Sterling" to purchase
land in Barnet and Ryegate. The "glebe", located in adjoining
Barnet Center, became the focus for the Scotch emigration to the town as
the location of the Scotch Presbyterian Church. The Thresher mill property
adjoins Barnet Center Historic District t o the west, which was entered
on the National Register July 12, 1984.
There have been buildings of mixed residential, agricultural and industrial
character on this south bank of the Stevens River from at least 1836, when
the land was purchased by Bartholomew Carrick and known as part of the 150
acre Stevenson farm. (1) The three 50 acre lots, #21, 22 and 23,
extended primarily south up the hill from the road from the Center to West
Barnet; the small corner of lot #23 where the mills were built was the only
portion of the property with river frontage and extended across on the north
banks of the river. It appears that Carrick purchased the land as a business
investment after he had purchased 150 acres of lots #173 and 174 north of
Warden Pond from William Carrick in 1835. (2) Bart Carrick built
the dam and sawmill after he purchased an indenture in 1836 for the water
rights from adjoining farm owner James Shaw. Shaw leased the flume rights
for a tannery to be built just downstream from (east of) the sawmill.
(3) Soon afterward n 1837, Carrick sold the southern 140 acres of the
Stevenson Farm to Walter Gilfillan who settled on the hill south of the
road. (4 ) Carrick also sold the 10 remaining acres of the Stevenson
farm north of the road with a log house and shed as well as the lease of
the land with the water privilege and sawmill later the same year to James
Goodwille (5), who appears to have settled on the north side of the
river adjacent to James Shaw. (6)
Sawmills, tanneries and blacksmith shops functioned in the 19th century
economy in much the same fashion as other activities evident in farmers,
account books: a complex economic web was formed by the bartering and trading
in kind for services and goods of an agricultural nature. The ledges at
this location on the river soon spurred the construction of a series of
mills owned by neighboring farmers: the Carrick/Goodwillie up-and-down sawmill
operated from 1837 until at least 1853 on the site of the present sawmill,
(7) the James and William Shaw/James McLaren tannery was operated
from c. 1847 until at least 1853 on the site of the present blacksmith strop,
(8) and at least one other blacksmith shop operated first by Isaac
Harriman and then James Goodwillle was situated on the western portion of
the site c. 1865. (9) These documented industries joined agricultural
buildings along this south bank of the Stevens River which served the farmhouses
built on the opposite side of the road.
It is interesting to compare the varied pursuits of these early subsistence
farmers with the specialized careers of present day residents. Population
and economic growth in Barnet reached their peak in 1850 during the height
of the industrial revolution, when census figures reveal that there were
2,521 residents. Contrary to the case in southeastern states which were
settled in previous centuries and were more purely agrarian, these northern
farmers were able to utilize the burgeoning industrial technology to harness
the energy of numerous Vermont waterways in order to increase the versatility
of their marketable output and thus augment their opportunities for economic
success. Neighbors shared in using the necessary products from these nearby
mills before the age of the railroad at mid-century increased the ease of
transportation and promoted the development of specialization of certain
areas of the country; for instance shoe manufacturing and tanning in the
large factories of southern New England and sheep raising and pulp wood
production in the western states. After 1850, there was an exodus of the
younger population to settle the western states, and the economy of Vermont's
hill farms and related industries languished. For instance, on the Grand
List of 1836, mill entrepreneurs Bartholomew Carrick also owned 1 horse
and 100 sheep while James Shaw had 2 oxen, 13 cattle, 2 horses, 1 stallion,
25 sheep, a house, and 50 acres of land. Neighbor James Goodwillie appears
to have been the most prosperous in 1836, having 70 acres of land, 2 houses,
several lots of land, 6 oxen, 11 cattle, 7 horses, 1 stallion, 31 sheep,
and a watch. The sawmill (along with the other agricultural possessions
of the earlier census) shows on Carrick's tax list for 1837 and on Goodwillie's
tax list for 1838. The US Census of 1840 reveals that 47
year old James Goodwillie lived with his mother, and 4 children, with he
and his son listed as engaged in manufacturing and trades.
The US Industrial Census of 1850 is a better indication of the relative
prosperity of the industries housed in the mills on the site. This was the
peak industrial year, with the total number of industries operating in Barnet
tallying at over 30. Neighboring farmers Shaw and McLaren's tanning and
currying enterprise was the most profitable in Barnet for that type of industry.
Their business was augmented by $1200 of personal estate in the business.
Quantities of materials totaled $2956 in value and included 1 barrel of
oil, 70 cords of bark, 1200 calf skins and 300 hides. The tannery employed
3 workers at the monthly cost of $81, with a yearly output of 1200 calf
skins and 600 sides of leather worth a total of $4200. In contrast, neighboring
James Goodwillie's lumbering industry and sawmill was one of the smaller
scaled businesses as compared to others of its type in Barnet. It was supported
by $200 of personal estate and its inventory was comprised of 3,000 hemlock
logs and 90,000 other logs. T he mill employed 1 person at the cost of $21
per month and put out a yearly total of $570 of custom work. The Industrial
Censuses of 1870 and 1880 have fewer enterprises in operation, with 16 and
12 listed respectively.
By the time Alexander Jack bought the property in 1870-1871, the various
mills and shops at this Stevens River site were abandoned and in ruins due
to its location miles west of the transportation outlet provided by the
Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad running along the Connecticut
River. (10) The present mill buildings and some remaining machinery
date from the construction by and ownership of the properties by Scottish-born
Alex Jack during the years from 1870-1888. Alex Jack came north to Barnet
from W. Meriden, Connecticut when he was sixty years old, uniting four parcels
in 1870: three were along the banks of the Stevens River and the sites of
the old tannery, sawmill and blacksmith shops. The fourth parcel was legally
joined to the mill property as the millowner's residence for the first time
since the industrial development along the river, an an arrangement which
has survived to the present. The home of James Somers at the time, the residence
had been the home of Lydia Harvey and was part of a farm originally deeded
to Alex Harvey in 1795. (11) The location of Jack's home in close
proximity to the mill privilege enabled him to become the proprietor of
a highly successful steam dyeworks which prospered at least from 1875 until
1884 (12), when hydraulic extractors and other machine work were
housed in the mill building which he constructed. (13) The main block
of the mill was erected for tanning and dying sheepskins for carriage and
parlor mats. This industry was relatively shortlived, perhaps due to competition
from the large factories in southern New England. Alex Jack died in 1887,
at which time his industries appear to be mixed between dying, machining
and blacksmithing. The cidermill building (northwest wing) and blacksmith
shop were most probably added before Alex Jack's death. (14)
Most of the equipment as well as the turbine was purchased during the ownership
of Fenton L. Judkins during the first 40 years of the 20th century, who
had consolidated the present holdings extending east to the Barnet Center
Bridge by 1930. (15) Fenton's father, John L. Judkins, was a fiddler
from S. Peacham who held dances on the second floor during his period of
ownership from 1893-1905. (16) Fenton and his brother, Don, carried
on a wheelwright and carriage repair business until the partnership was
divided in 1905. (17) Don began the Pioneer Electric Light Co. in
1907, generating electricity for the town from the basement of the current
blacksmith shop. He sold out in 1917 to the Eastern Vermont Public Utilities
Company. It appears that Don still had an interest in the property from
1923 until 1927 when he owned a storage building near the mill. It was not
until 1927 that F. L. Judkins was first mentioned as a wheelwright in the
business register, although the business had been in existence for some
time. (18) Cidermaking and boiling cider jelly were other industries
carried on by the Judkins.
The mill was purchased by Ben Thresher in 1947 (19) after Ben had
worked as an employee from 1941 at Fenton L. Judkins' carriage shop, It
has been during his continuous ownership/occupancy of the mill since that
time that it has been able to carry on into the present as a survivor from
a very different era. The cidermaking continued until the 1960's, with the
sawmill and blacksmithing activities servicing area farmers until very recently.
(20) A very informative videotape was produced for Public Broadcasting
in the 1970's which depicts Ben making wood watertubs, horsedrawn sleighs
for winter lumbering and various ironworking and tool creation in the sawmill
and blacksmith shops. The present owners have stabilized the mill and plan
to open it to the public as a working museum in the near future.
Ben Thresher and his mill preserve the organic relationship among tools
and machinery as well as between millworkers as individuals and what they
made. Ben Thresher himself is the underpinning joining this mill and the
scattered population of the surrounding countryside, a rare person who continues
to carry the knowledge necessary to operate a water powered mill of this
kind. This complex of functioning relationships forms the technological
base of regional folklore and has much to reveal in terms of a way of life
that has virtually disappeared. The survival of this complex of social interaction
together with the equipment, original machines, and tools, provides a
priceless relic of industrial, agricultural and architectural history.
(1) Barnet Land Records, 11/219. The William Stevenson farm had been
deeded from Alex Harvey 11/9/1795.
(2) Barnet Land Records, 11/18. These lots are described as the original
rights of John Ellus and John Blount.
(3) Barnet Land Records, 11/319. Shaw is granted the right to draw
from the "floom or mill dam owned by Carrick sufficient quantity of
water to operate machinery to carry on a tanning business in a building
about to be erected near Carrick1s saw mill."
(4) Barnet Land Records, Carrick to Gilfillan on 2/18/1837. Walter
Gilfillan settled on the hill south of the road as seen on the Wallings
map of 1858.
(5) Barnet Land Records, 11/373 & 374. The log cabin and shed
were not mentioned when Carrick purchased the former Stevenson Farm, so
whether they were part of an earlier original homestead is not known.
(6) H. F. Walling, Map of Caledonia County Vermont from Actual Surveys,
York: 1858. The map shows James Goodwillie and James Shaw as neighboring
farmers on the north side of the Stevens River.
(7) As indicated on the Barnet Grand List, which are not reliably
available after that time.
(8) Walton's Vermont Register, Montpelier, VT: E. P. Walton and Son.
James McLaren occupied a farm overlooking his tannery on the hill south
of the west Barnet road as seen on the maps of 1858 and 1875.
(9) Barnet Land Records, Book 21, Page 485. When Isaac Harriman deeds
the 1/16 acre to James Goodwillie in 1865, Goodwillie also owned some land
to the west of this small lot as well as his farm across the river. It is
described as "all land owned in connection with the blacksmith shop
and shop thereon standing". I. Harriman resides in a farmhouse later
owned by the Batchelders across from the sawmill according to the Wallings
map of 1858. The Batchelder House burned c. 1943.
(10) Barnet Land Records, 22/620 deeds "all land formerly used
as a site for a tannery near the house of Nathaniel Batchelder...between
the sawmill yard and Batchelder's barn and the water privileges deeded by
James and William Shaw" to Alex Jack from Shaw and McLaren. The deeded
[sic] from James Shaw (22/621) in 1870 refers to "the site of the old
saw mill now demolished near the house of Nathaniel Batchelder and the old
sawmill yard...between the old tannery site and James Goodwillie's land".
The deed from Goodwillie in 1871 (23/326) transfers the land that formerly
was the site of Harriman's blacksmith shop when he acquired it [in] 1865.
(11) Barnet Land Records, 22/72 and 23/292. This parcel was 1/2 acre
with a "house" and "buildings thereon standing" that
Somers had acquired from Lydia Harvey in 1866. This was perhaps a reunion
of a portion of the original settled farm, as the log cabin pitch across
the road to the northwest was located on the former 150 acre Stevenson farm
that had been deeded from Alex Harvey in 1795.
(12) The Beers Map of 1875 shows "A. Jack Dye and Print Works"
mistakenly located further to the west than was the case according to deed
research. The US Census of 1880 lists Alexander Jack, age 70, as a machinist
who had been born in Scotland, although Walton's Vermont Register lists
Jack as a dyer from 1880-1884. Perhaps the mill was used for several purposes:
the inventory of Jack's estate in 1887 after his death reveals a total of
$144 of woodworking, blacksmithing, machining, dying tools listed as his
personal estate along with "shop machinery and water power" listed
as real estate and valued at $800.
(13) Hamilton Child, Gazetteer of Caledonia and Essex Counties, Vt:
1764-1887. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Journal Co., May 1887.
(14) Barnet Land Records, 27/280. After Alex Jack's death, his widow
quitclaimed the "house, shop, water power, shafting, belting, tools
and cider mill and all fixtures" to several administrators. Local oral
history indicates that the blacksmith shop was a horsebarn located on the
north bank of the river where some of the previous mill owners lived on
farms. Perhaps it is the earlier blacksmith shop operated c. 1865 by Isaac
Harriman on the western portion of the property that was moved?
(15) Barnet Land Records, 36/87 and 38/138. The portion acquired
in 1922 was 3 acres of timberland bounded on the east by the bridge, west
by land of W. Higgins, north by the river and south by the road. The 1930
purchase by Judkins was a "portion of the premises I [Mary Ann somers]
now occupy" lying between the brook running from the West Barnet Highway
to the Stevens River, the east by land of Judkins, and on the south by the
(16) Interview, Ben Thresher, 4/93. Ben says that John Judkins also
carved his initials and the date "1895" above the stairway to
the second floor.
(17) Frederick Palmer Wells, History of Barnet, VT. (Burlington,
VT: Free Press Printing Co., 1923) p. 511. The Grand List for 1906 verifies
this, with F. L. Judkins listed with 1-1/2 acres, a homestead and shop,
valued at $1400 while Don Judkins has a 2 acre homestead valued at $1000
and 66 acres of pasture.
(18) Walton's Vermont Business Register, (Montpelier, VT: E. P. Walton
& Sons, 1927 and 1930. Barnet Land Records, 36/123 refers to land connected
with F. L. Judkins carriage shop.
(19) Barnet Land Records, 46/283.
(20) Ben Thresher was mortally injured when he was struck be a car
when crossing to the mill from his home in 1994.
MAJOR BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES:
Beers, F. W. Beers and Co. Atlas of Caledonia County, Vermont. New York:
F. W. Beers and Co., 1875.
Byers, N. Gail. Historic Sites and Structures Survey. Montpelier, VT: Division
for Historic Preservation, 11/80.
Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Caledonia and Essex
Counties, VT.: 1764-1887. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Journal Co., May 1887.
Doherty, Prudence. "Development of the Tanning Industry". Draft
of Searsburg Project, Phase II. Department of Anthropology, Univ. of VT,
2/19/88. Document in Archaeology files at VT Division for Historic Preservation.
Grand List, Town of Barnet, Vt.
HAER Documentation of Ben Thresher Mill, (HAER #VT, 3-BACEN, 1). Washington,
DC: Library of Congress, 1976.
Hastings, Scott E., Jr. The Last Yankees. Hanover, NH: University Press
of New England, 1990.
Leffel, J. and Co. Construction of Mill Dams. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press,
Land Records, Town of Barnet, Vt.
Probate Records for the Estate of Alexander Jack. St. Johnsbury, VT: Caledonia
County Probate Court, August 15, 1887.
Schultz, Jackson S. The Leather Manufacture in the United States: A Dissertation
on the Methods and Economies of Tanning. NY: Shoe and Leather Reporter Office,
Thompson, Zadock. History of Vermont, Natural, Civil and Statistical, in
Three Parts. Burlington, VT: Chauncy Goodrich, 1842.
U. S. Census.
Vermont Business Directory. Boston: Briggs and Co., Publishers.
Vermont State Directory and Gazetteer. Boston: Union Publishing Co.
Walling, H. F. Map of Caledonia County, Vermont from Actual Surveys Under
the Direction of H. F. Walling. New York: Baker and Tilden, 1858.
Walton's Vermont Register. Montpelier, VT: E. P. Walton and Son.
Wells, Frederick Palmer. History of Barnet, VT. Burlington, VT: Free Press
Printing Co., 1923.
Yale, Allen. Small Water-Powered Mill Technology. Montpelier, VT: VT Division
for Historic Preservation, October 4, 1990.
Zimiles, Martha. Early American Mills. NY: C. N. Potter, 1973.
Holden, Cile and Steve. Moultonboro, NH. 4/93.
Thresher, Ben. Barnet, VT, 3/92 and 4/93.
FORM PREPARED BY: Deborah Noble, Preservation Consultant, P. O. Box 106,
Concord, VT 05824. Tel: 802-695-2507. Date: June 14, 1995.
DATE ENTERED: April 4, 1996. (Source 127)
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Copyright 2001 by T. R. Hazen