Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Page Begins Here

An Example of a Mill Field Trip Activity (Pre-Tour) Package

An Example of a Mill Field Trip Activity (Pre-Tour) Package
Theodore R. Hazen,
Master miller (mill operator), Millwright,
Curator of Molinology, Site Supervisor, and Lead Interpreter,
Pierce Mill, Rock Creek Park,
National Park Service, 1987.

Peirce Mill Pre-Tour Package
National Park Service
Rock Creek Park, Washington, D. C.
Peirce Mill.
Wednesday to Sunday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
(202) 426-6808.


The goad and mission of the National Park Service is to promote and regulate the use of federal areas known as National Parks and to conserve the scenery and the national and historical objects and wildlife within and to provide for the enjoyment of them in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Milling in Rock Creek:

Peirce Mill is administered by the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior (National Capital Region), is listed on the National Register of Historical Places which recognizes it to be a significance to the nation, state, and or community. It is located in Rock Creek Park at the intersection of Beach Drive and Tilden Street, Northwest, Washington, D. C.

Peirce Mill is a national historical landmark in our nation's capital. It is the last of eight mills that existed along Rock Creek within the District of Columbia, and of 26 mills along the entire Rock Creek which includes the State of Maryland. Peirce Mill was built during the early years of the city and is an interesting survivor of an era in the 19th century when American was dependent on water powered mills for providing flour from which bread was made.

Milling Along Rock Creek
(Text from a folder by the same name):

The mills of Rock Creek are symbols of the 1800's when American was predominantly rural and her major industries were devoted to transporting, processing, and selling the produce of the land. They represent an era, before the widespread use of steam, when man supplemented his own strength with that of domestic animals and with the natural forces of wind and flowing water. They signify a time when Washington was a "city of magnificent distances," a cluster of aspiring villages, the quite Capital of an optimistic, vital, and growing United States.

Transporting the flour to the port of Georgetown and other markets was slow and indirect. Few Roads twisted down the steep valley walls, and those that did cross the creek were easily subject to flooding. Gradually, roads were constructed into the valley to provide access to the mills along the creek. Each road generally was named after the mill it served.

More than 20 mills were operated along Rock Creek from 1664 until 1925. Most were grist mills producing flour that did custom grinding for individual farmers. Several mills, however, were merchant mills that sold flour commercially. Besides the grist mills, there were bone and plaster mills, a woolen mill, saw mills and several lime kilns.

At least eight mills were on Rock Creek in the lower valley from the Potomac to the District of Columbia - Maryland line within the current boundary of Rock Creek National Park. Other mills located north of Rock Creek (in Maryland's Rock Creek Regional Park) included Jones Mill, Duvall Mill, Bowie Mill, Plyer's mill, Beall's Mill, Viers Mill, Beckwith Mill, Horner Mill, Elger Mill, and Muncaster Mill. The Muncaster Mill (a grist mill, and a wool carding mill, and a separate a saw mill building) was the last commercial mill that operated on Rock Creek until it closed in 1925

With new developments in technology during the late 1800's, milling along Rock Creek gradually came to an end. Steam replaced water as a source of power for manufacturing. The use of millstones for grinding grain gave way to improved metal rollers. Other adaptations and improvements made the old mills obsolete. However, the road names still remain and Peirce Mill survives as a benchmark to gauge the changes that have taken place along Rock Creek and to measure the distance between yesterday and today. The eight mills which were located in Rock Creek National Park are briefly described.

(1) White's Mill and (2) Peter's Mill. Little is known of White's Mill, other than the fact that the tract of land next to Rock Creek, between Military Road and north of Blagden's Mill, was granted under the name of White's Mill Seat in 1634, and as Peter's Mill Seat in 1800. They were two separate mills constructed at different times. Because of the creek's geography, this section offered the greatest water power. There is no evidence that the mill was in operation much after 1800. Peter's Mill must have been washed away in a flood. The remains of the mill race and the foundation of the mills were obliterated during road construction in the early part of the 20th century for the building of Rock Creek Park.

(3) Blagden's and Argyle Mills. These mills were on the west bank of Rock Creek a few hundred yards north of where Rock Creek and the Broad Branch tributary meet. The date of their construction is unknown (circa 1790-1800), but the mills were in operation early in the 19th century. One of the mills produced wheat flour and the other produced rag paper, and then later fertilizer from bone. The mills ceased operations in 1889. The mansion of Thomas Blagden, a smaller house for the miller, icehouse, barn, carriage house, and other structures were located nearby. The mills were torn down with the building of Beach Drive in the 1890's.

(4) Pearce, Pierce, Peirce and Shoemaker's Mill. Pierce Mill is the only survivor of all the mills that operated on Rock Creek. The current mill was built by a millwright and Quaker from Pennsylvania, Isaac Pierce, in 1820.. There were two prior mills, Reed's Mill (1747), and Deakin's Mill (1790). Over time Isaac built a spring house (1802), a potato house (1804), whiskey distillery (1811), an icehouse, several barns (1810), a carriage house and several other buildings, including a mansion (Coverdale), and the Pierce-Klingle Mansion. In the early years Pierce's sawmill (1810), south of the present grist mill, shared the same mill race. Pierce Mill operated commercially until its main shaft broke in 1897.

(5) Adam's or Columbian Mill. Along Rock Creek within the bounds of the present zoological park is the Columbian Mill site. It is historically important because of its association with John Quincy Adams, the sixth United States President. At least two mills were on the site, a plaster mill and a wheat flour mill. Nothing is known about the plaster mill, but the wheat mill was a 4-story brick structure, 50 by 54 feet, with 5 pairs of millstones and a 16 foot diameter breast shot water wheel. Adams, seeking a good investment for his declining years, purchased the mill. Because of poor management and the mill's poor location on the creek, Adams continuously lost money until the last year of his life when his brother-in-law took over and succeeded in producing a small income, basically operating the mill on a brake-even business. The mill operated until 1867. By the turn of the century, every trace of the mills had disappeared with the creation of the National Zoo.

(6) Lyon's or Federal Mill. This merchant mill perhaps did the most business on the creek. The mill was built in 1780 and was across from the eastern boundary of Oak Hill Cemetery. It was approached from Georgetown by Mill Road and a bridge. The Mill Seat was about 65 acres and had during its heyday a barn, smokehouse, icehouse, carriage house, stable, and two stone houses. The mill itself was a sturdy structure of brick, stone, and wood. The foundation was native blue stone and above it were two brick stories. The mill race, the longest of any on Rock Creek, ran for almost 1/2 mile which powered two water wheels, one on each end of the mirrored sided mill. The mill ground its last flour in 1875. Then it was used by the citizens of Georgetown as a dance hall until the structure collapsed.

(7) Parrott's Mill. Little is known about Richard Parrott's Georgetown Wool and Cotton Factory located approximately at the present corner of 27th and Q Street on the Rock Creek. The mill, on the same road which served Lyon's Mill farther downstream, carded wool and spun cotton. Parrott was still working his mill in 1820 and supported a household of five people. His home "Elderalie" was north of Georgetown in what is now Montrose Park. Nothing remains of Parrott's Mill.

(8) Patterson's Paper Mill. On the east bank of Rock Creek just beyond the boundary of the Federal City at P and Boundary Street (Florida Avenue) was the Patterson Paper Mill, later renamed Columbia Paper Mill. The mill's front door faced the main road from Georgetown to Bladensburg where it forded Rock Creek. The mill was built about 1800 and by 1820 was 120 feet long, and 3 stories high. A survey in 1868 showed a single water wheel and virtually no mill race. The mill was powered by a smaller stream that fed into Rock Creek at the mill's location.

Pierce Mill, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D. C.
(Text from a Parks and History folder by the same name):

In June 1985 the new miller opened a value and water splashed down the mill race outside to fill the buckets on the water wheel's rim. The wheel began to turn and inside the mill the teeth of wooden gears engaged, causing the main shaft that powered the grind stones to revolve. Kernels of grain dropped from a chute into the hole of the top runner stone to split between the grooves. In the basement the miller tested the trickle of flour falling from the sifter. In those minutes the machinery of Pierce Mill rumbled into life. It was a grand reopening.

Visitors to Pierce Mill today can watch the miller control the creaking gears and massive stones. They can purchase sacks of corn meal or flour that will unlock the flavor of times gone by. A living museum, the mill represents part of the 1820's economy of America, an era when men trapped power from wind and water. The handsome stone building is the last of eight mills that once drew power from waters along Rock Creek.

The mill's owner, Isaac Pierce (whose name was often spelled Pearce or Peirce), left his Quaker parents in Pennsylvania to seek his fortune in Maryland. After the American Revolution, he worked for Abner Cloud as a millwright, building and repairing the mill's machinery upriver from Georgetown. Isaac married Cloud's daughter Betsy (Elizabeth). The first census of 1790 enumerates their modest family group: tow children and several indentured servants or hired hands. After Maryland ceded 60 square miles to form the new Federal city, Isaac bought 150 acres along Rock Creek from William Deakins, revolutionary patriot. By 1800 Isaac's holdings stretched from what is now the upstream side of the National Zoo to Chevy Chase. In 1820 his household listed nine children, 11 slaves, and four servants.

The Pierce Plantation engaged in a number of profitable ventures - farming, fruit trees, the making of peach brandy (and rye whiskey), flour milling, and animal husbandry. The spring house (located in the Tilden Street island) led spring water through a trough to cool milk and butter. The carriage house has become the Art Barn, while the distillery is a private residence across the street. The sawmill, miller's house, and barns have disappeared, but the well-preserved flour mill remains.

Early Automation:

A mill stood there when Isaac Pierce bought the property in 1794 and a succession of millers ran it. In the 1820's Isaac and his stone mason son Abner rebuilt the mill, using blue granite quarried in the Broad Branch area nearby. In the interval change had come to the milling industry. Early mills had relied on the miller's strength and is burly helpers to hoist sacks of grain aloft, as well as clean, sift, dry, and bag the flour. In Delaware an ingenious millwright named Oliver Evans devised ways to overcome the heavy labor of his trade. He rigged auxiliary gears to transport grain and to work cleaners and sifters. In 1795 he published "The Young Mill-Wright's and Miller's Guide." The machinery in Pierce Mill reflects many of Evans's ideas - ideas that reduced manpower needs by half.

Like the mill's business, the Pierce family grew, flourished, and then faded. Isaac's son Joshua Pierce went in for horticulture, supplying trees and shrubs to locations in the capital. He built a fine stone house, later called Klingle Mansion, on land given by his father at Linnean Hill near Porter Street. In 1841 Abner Pierce inherited the plantation and in turn deeded it ten years later to his nephew, Pierce Shoemaker, who managed the farm along with his jewelry business (in Georgetown).

Rise and Fall:

In the 1860's were boom times for the mill as Washington's population expanded. But in the 1880's new, steam-powered mills with iron rollers began to mass-produce cheaper, whiter flour. In 1890 farsighted citizens led Congress to preserve Rock Creek's valley as a city park, adding the mill site two years later even while the mill continued to operate. Alcibiades White, miller, described the mill's last day in 1897:

"I was grinding a load of rye for a neighbor when the main shaft of the mill broke. I was about half through with the work, and the neighbor had to haul his unground rye away, and I guess he never got it ground. That was the last time time the mill operated."

Under park auspices, the mill became a picturesque tea shop, serving "Harding waffles." In 1934 the Secretary of the Interior asked that the mill be restored and it functioned through several National Park Service restorations until the miller retired in 1980.s The grind stones were still until the new miller opened the doors again in 1985.

Isaac Pierce left the fruits of his long, industrious life to his children. It was his dearest wish, he wrote in his will, "that my children will.....endeavor to keep and promote...... harmony and peace." Something of that spirit is found at Pierce mill in the balance of stone work and the building's symmetry. Welcome to Pierce Mill.

T. R. Hazen drawing of Peirce Mill used in site folder.

How Does It Work?

Gravity is the miller's partner. The grain that is carried upward by water power will pass back through the works by gravity. The entire mill process is connected from beginning to end and so balanced that the miller, moving one of his stones by hand, causes all other parts to respond.

-Miller dumps grain into receiving hopper on the first floor.
-Water flowing down mill race makes water wheel turn.
-Wooden gears in basement engage to turn the main shaft.
-Scoops on continuous belt carry grain to attic where wire cylinder strains impurities and shakes grain into chute.
-Chute carries grain to bin on second floor that feeds grindstone.
-Top runner stone on the first floor revolves one-sixteenth inch above.
-Flour drops off edge of stone and passed into chute.
-Elevator carries flour to attic where hopper boy stirs and cools.
-Chute carries flour to bolter on second floor, then to bin where it is bagged.

Pierce Mill has three pairs of grindstones: two French buhr (quartz) for grain, and one granite (Berks Country, Pennsylvania, conglomerate) pair for corn. Stones never touch but the grooves chiseled into the surfaces of the stones intersect to chop the kernels. The miller's hand, feeling the flour, tells him when the stones are correctly adjusted.

Pre-Visit Preparation:

Before touring the site, it is advised that teachers review and discuss the following information with the students.


The mill was built by Isaac Pearce in about 1820. He owned almost 2,000 areas of land stretching from the National Zoo north to Military Road, east to Rock Creek and west to Connecticut Avenue and Chevy Case. On this land Isaac, his wife Betsy, and nine children along with helpers totaling twenty seven people cleared land and constructed many buildings which may still be seen including a carriage house, whiskey distillers, spring house, mansion house and Klingle Mansion.

Mr. Louis Pierce Shoemaker, great grand-nephew of Isaac Pierce and son of the last mill owner, reminisces in a 1909 article about the mill:

"Large quantities of corn, wheat and rye were hauled by teams to the Pierce Mill and the Blagden Mill from Georgetown and ground into flour for the Washington Market...... At Pierce's Mill it was a daily occurrence to see from ten to twelve teams and a number of boys on horseback from the surrounding country with grist."

The energy used to run the mill is water. Water power systems have both advantages and disadvantages. The energy is free, id does not pollute, and it is returned to the stream unchanged, and is actually improved by adding oxygen to the water from the turning water wheel. During periods of drought, or flooding events the grinding activities is either reduced or halted, and during the cold winter months ice on the water wheel would cause the mill to stop grinding altogether.

Peirce Mill provides visitors with a view of the past before the steam engines, gas engines, and electric motors existed along with the various kinds of pollution they can bring to our air and waters. From a visit to a 19th century flour mill, they can see, hear, and feel how people lived and worked during this era.

Relevant Words Used in Milling:

To prepare your class for their visit to Peirce Mill, we have completed a list of terms that will be useful before, during and after their visit.

- The process of removing or separating various portions of the ground grains into their different parts. The process is called sifting and the machine is called a bolter.

- the outer covering or skin of most grains, wheat, corn, rye, and oats.

Control Gate
-this is the water wheel gate directly behind the water wheel that controls the turning on and off of the water wheel and regulates its speed.

Corn - a plant or cereal grain whose kernel is used to produce corn meal and grits.

Corn Meal - this is freshly ground kernels of corn, either white or yellow, into the texture of meal. It is sold bolted or unbolted, which means whether or not the corn bran is removed.

Corn sheller or shelling - the process or act of removing the kernels of corn off the corn cob.

Custom Mill - this is the technical name by which "grist mills" do business. They grind grains and take a portion in payment or barter called the "toll."

Damsel - a wooden or metal rod with raised edges or flutes that vibrates the shoe so the grain feeds into the millstones.

Elevator (Cups) - a continuous moving belt with small cups attached to raise grain or ground flour to the upper floors in a mill or grain storage elevator.

Grist Mill - a building used for the grinding of grain, mostly corn and wheat. It is brought to the mill by farmers.

Grain - the seeds or kernels of cereal grains, such as wheat, corn, rye, barley and oats.

Graham Flour - this is coarsely ground wheat flour that has not been sifted. It is a type of flour advocated by the Reverend Sylvester Graham, and what is used traditionally to make graham crackers.

Grits - the ground portion of corn used for cooking as a cereal.

Head Gate - the water wheel gate located at the mill dam that allows water to enter the Head Race. Sometimes it is called Flood Gate.

Head Race - the portion of the water channel (or Mill Race) that delivers water from the creek or dam to the water wheel.

Hopper -an open wooden container mainly four-sides (like an upside down pyramid) with a hole in the center to feed grain through.

Merchant Mill - a mill that grinds wheat and produces white flour for profit and export.

- a machine or building in which grain is ground.

Mill Dam - a body of water dammed up to supply water to a water wheel.

Miller - one who operates a mill and grinds grain into flour and meal.

Mill Race - The water wheel channel that carries water to and from the water wheel. It contains a system of gates and a trash rack to filter out debris from damaging the water wheel.

Millstone Dresser - one who works for the miller or mill owner. He maintains and regrooves the millstones so they can better grind grain into flour and meal.

Millstones - these are large round stones used to grind grain, most often it is corn or wheat into meal or flour.

Millwright - a craftsman who plans, builds, and repairs mills and the water systems.

Shoe - a shallow wooden tray or trough beneath a hopper that feeds grain into the millstones.

Sifter - a device used to separate portions of the ground grain using different mesh screens. Most often a sifter is a vibrating wooden box with a flat screen that separates the flour from the middlings, germ and bran. Also see: Bolter.

Storage Bins - these are storage compartments used for grain before it is ground. Often mills have many storage bins to store grain in before (receiving bins) and after it is cleaned.

Tail Race - The portion of the water channel (or Mill Race) that carries water from the water wheel and returns it back to the stream.

Vat - the large circular wooden covering over the millstones.

Water Wheel - a large wheel with buckets or paddles that is filled or turned by the water. It turns and drives machinery in a building. The types of vertical water wheels are: The Undershot Water Wheel is one in which the water strikes the paddles at the bottom to turn the wheel. This type of water wheel is mainly used on tidal powered mills and boat or floating mills. The Breast Shot Water Wheel is one in which the water fills the buckets just below, at or just above the axis of the water wheel shaft. This type of water wheel was the most common used in American industry until the 1840's when it was replaced by the water turbine. The Overshot Water Wheel is one in which water fulls the buckets at the highest point to turn the water wheel. This type of water wheel did not become popular until after the American Civil War. Each of the vertical water wheel types has several variations. The main types of horizontal water wheels are: The Greek or Norse Wheel. This type of water wheel is one in which short blades rotate from a central vertical shaft. The runner millstone is turned by the vertical shaft and it operates by direct drive (no mill gearing). This type of water wheel was adopted from the Persian horizontal windmill that goes back some 3 thousand years. The American adopted the Greek or Norse Wheel to the Tub Wheel. In America the water wheel was enclosed in a hoop or bottomless tub. This cut down on the waste of the water. Then in the 1840's French engineers took the American Tub Wheel and developed the modern Water Turbine. The Water Turbine was an all metal water wheel were constructed using shapes and forms that the standard millwright could not fabricate by hand. These types of water wheels are still used in hydraulic dams today to make electricity.

Wheat - a plant whose seed is ground to produce flour mainly for the making of breads and cakes. There are a number of types of wheat and that type of wheat is often better for a single purpose. Different types of wheat is often blended together to include a wide range of uses - all purpose flour.

White (Wheat) Flour - freshly ground wheat flour that may be sifted many times to remove the middlings, bran and wheat germ.

Whole Wheat Flour - this is freshly ground wheat in which the bran has been sifted out.

Guidelines for Your Visit:

-Appointments are required and should be made as far in advance as possible to assure availability. Generally at least three weeks in advance.

-Group size limit is 25. Groups of more than 25 students need another time slot. This is because of the health and safety standards, limited space in which to move a group through the mill, so they can all see and witness the mill in operation and hear the interpreter.

-Please: We wish at one adult accompany each group of 10 to 12 students. This means a standard group should have two to three adults accompany them on their tour of the mill.

-Have the students wear comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for the time of the year. The mill has limited heating and no air conditioning. Please avoid loose fitting garments and things such as long scarfs, strings on gloves, and any thing that might get caught in passing operating machinery.

-Please arrive promptly and allow 45 minutes to 1 hour for the tour. Because we schedule groups one after the other being more than 10 minutes late may mean the automatic cancellation of your appointment. Please have the bus driver know the route to the mill before hand so you don't get lost. Allow extra time for traffic and congestion.

-Please be courteous. Allow extra time before the appointment time for the students to use the restroom facilities. The scheduled tour time does not allow for a bathroom break.

-Parking is available in front of the mill and across the street. Please use caution when crossing Tilden Street or use the underpass underneath along Rock Creek to the mill.

-A large picnic grove with restrooms is available across from the mill in Picnic Grove number one. Please contact the Nature Center for its availability and to make reservations. Food services are not available in the park.

-Please advise students not to touch any equipment, machinery, (and or taste) grain or grain products unless instructed. This message will be repeated by the Miller, Park Ranger or Tour Guide.

-Please advise us of cancellation so that we may better serve the public.

-Please have students wear name tags with first names and name of the school printed.

What will be seen at the Mill:

1. Outside of the Mill.

-Welcome, introduction and safety message.

-Water Wheel turning. Remember mills operate on the availability of the water levels. Mills may not operate during or just after heavy rains or flooding, and during periods of cold weather during the winter months because of freezing and ice buildup on the water wheel.

-Mill building - its construction and methods of building mills.

-Other buildings - the Carriage House, Spring House, and Whisky Distillery.

-Mill Dam - commonly a source of water to turn the water wheel and mill machinery.

2. Discussion outside of the mill.

-Mills along Rock Creek.

-Types of mills, wind, stream water and tidal powered mills.

-How the water wheel works, the hydraulic cycle, and use of water power. A natural renewable resource. The water wheel improves the quality of water in the stream by adding oxygen to the water that improves aquatic life. Types of mill dams, and the parts of the hydraulic system for the mill and other mills along the stream.

-Mill doors, use of mill doors, Dutch doors and the reasons why.

-Repeat safety message before going inside of mill.

3. inside of the Mill:

-The wood stove. How the mill is heated. The Miller's Office. The miller's costume and the miller's apprentice.

-Hands-on activities. (1) Wheat failing and winnowing. This has limited availability because of the problems in getting freshly cut wheat. (2) Corn shelling. Each student gets an ear of corn and is able to shell the ear of corn. Discussion on the uses of corn cobs. (3) Hand grinding of grains, corn, wheat (hard and or soft), buckwheat, or rye. (4) Hand sifting of ground grain material. Discussion on the various size particles that make up a kernel of grain. The evolution of the hand sifter to mill powered sifters. (5) Sacking and tying of the Miller's Knot, for the left and right handed. Learn how to use a metal twist tie to close a flour sack. Learn how to use a sack holder. Then learn how to sew a grain sack shut. (6) Make a miller's hat out of two simple pieces of cloth. Learn about other simple pieces of clothing the miller's wife made such as aprons. (7) Learn how the basement or corner fireplace was used to heat branding irons to brand barrel heads. Branding of a barrel head and pieces of wooden shingles. Learn how to use a barrel stencil. (8) The evolution of flour containers. The cloth flour sack and wooden flour barrel. Then the later paper flour sack and how the sack closures changed. (9) What items did the miller keep in the miller's desk. Early writing instruments. Learn how to make goose feather quill pens and how to write with them. How did the miller keep his various records. Learn how to use a "tally board." (10) Wooden scoops, shovels, paddles, learn about simple tools that the miller used in operating his mill. Why were they mainly made out of wood? A superstition that prevented dust explosions, and easy made when they wore out or broke.

-Model of mill in operation and cut-away drawing of mill.

-Operation of flour mill. Elevator cups, wooden gears, and all of the machinery moving. Grain being fed into the millstones to be ground. The ground meal coming out of the chute in the mill's basement. Feeling and smelling freshly ground meal or flour. The students will see the various products in prepared displays tubes.

-Operation of the sack hoist in the milling process. The use of the basement fire place to heat branding irons for marking the barrel heads. Stopping the mill.

-Film show - a presentation showing mills in operation, and or about grains.

-Discussion on the use of "dry" coopers flour barrels in the milling process to package products. The difference between a "wet" and a "dry" cooper. How were the wooden split ash hoops made and hole the flour barrel together. The various ways to move a barrel, and how to open and close a barrel head. What sort of mill used wooden flour barrels? The different type of products for various barrels, etc. What happened to the flour barrel? The standard method for measure the mills output or production.

-Closing remarks, thank you for your visit, and questions and answers (if time allows).

-Other participating activities are currently being developed. Such as spinning and weaving demonstrations, rope making, wooden wedge making, elevator cup making and repair, leather belt lacing, millstone dressing, baking and cooking, etc. (1) One example which has been developed is an auto scavenger hunt. The entire mill in operation has been audio sound recorded. A portion of that tape is played for students. Then the entire mill is turned on and the students have to discover what part of the mill was head in the sound recording and why. (2) A Day in the Life of a Miller. This is a day long program where a single group of students spend the entire day working with the miller. This is an in depth program where students learn every aspect of the life of the miller, how the mill operates and the cultural effect on the community through stories and folklore. Length of this program is approximately 5 hours. (3) Applied Mechanics Program. Students will learn about the basic mechanical principles of simple machines and how they are used in the Oliver Evans automatic flour mill. These are the lever, the wedge, the plane, the screw, pulley, and axle. Students will learn how to measure the horse power of a stream to determine if a mill can be built there or not. They will use a second hand on watch and a small floating object with a few numbers plugged into the basic formula for horse power. (4) Milling of Grains. This is a program where the teacher request that a certain grain be ground, such as corn, wheat, rye, oats or buckwheat. (dependent upon seasonal availability). The program revolves around the milling of that particular grain, from his harvest, milling, products, cultural and regional effects, and folklore, etc.

-(5) Discussion of the sequence of events needed to produce flour in the nineteenth century. The events are as follows:

1. In the eighteenth century tobacco growing wore out the soil for growing that cash crop. Farmers looked for other crops to grow. Wheat began to replace tobacco as Oliver Evans developed his system of automated flour milling.
2. The Pierce Plantation consists of apple and peach orchards, nurseries at various locations here and in Washington. They have cattle and the bulk of their land in Rock Creek is used for lumber and logging. The surrounding land around the park today was devoted to large estates rather than to agriculture. So this means that the large flour mills of Rock Creek (Lyon's Mill, Adams Mill, Pierce Mill and Blagden Mill) has to haul their grain that they ground from outside of the District of Columbia.
A farmer grows fields of wheat and corn.
3. The farmer harvests the wheat and corn. How the grain get to these mills. One method, is the seaport of Georgetown. Flour would be sold there in barrels, so grain would come down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to feed the large flour mills of Georgetown. There would be grain dealers located there. When the wagons hauled the grain to Georgetown, they could return with loads of grain.
4. Grain was hauled to these mills from Maryland and Virginia. Grain was hauled to Pierce Mill from Bladensburg. There are records of that.
5. The farmer transports the wheat and corn to the mills of Rock Creek to be ground. This is referred to as "custom milling" where the miller gets paid a portion of the grain in payment for grinding, called a "toll." This is usually 1/8 for wheat and 1/6 for corn. The miller's had a "toll dish" to measure out their "toll."
6. Another method that the miller gets the grain that he grinds is to buy the wheat and corn from the farmer. This would be the same as buying grain from the grain dealers in Georgetown. The method of operation is "merchant milling" were the miller makes a profit or loss upon the sale of flour. Flour would be sold to flour and grain dealers in Georgetown and stores that sell flour in the Washington and Maryland area.
7. The grain is hauled to the mill. There the miller weights and inspects the grain. The miller then cleans the wheat and corn, and stores it in the mill.
8. Then the miller grinds the wheat and corn. If the miller is to grind wheat, he may wish to temper and condition the wheat. This improves the milling of the wheat and makes it easier for the millstones to removes and separate the bran from the wheat kernels. The miller may also blend different types of wheat together to improve the baking quality of the flour. Soft wheat which is grown here in the east has more white endosperm. If you cut a kernel in half, it is white inside. It is low in gluten which makes bread rise. It is better for making cakes and pastries. Hard wheat which is grown in the Midwest is better for making bread because it is higher in gluten. If you cut a kernel in half it has very little white endosperm and is mainly brown in color all the way through. Mixing the wheats together (50/50 or 25/75 percent) makes the flour good for all-purpose.
9. As the wheat and corn is ground by the millstones is is almost flour or meal. It referred to as "chop." It still needs to be "sifted" or "bolted." Then it becomes flour when the bran or other parts are sifted out or removed. Why is this done? To remove parts of the grain that may absorb moisture and make the flour or meal spoil quicker. It also makes the texture more even and consistent. Your mother sifts the flour at home before she bakes with it to make her bake good more consistent.
10. The miller packages the flour into wooden barrels. Each barrel holds 196 pounds of flour. How long would it take your family to use that much flour? The flour is also sold in cloth sacks. Housewives use the empty flour sacks to make towels, shirts, dresses, and the heavy printed portions often becomes underwear. Jockey underwear got its name from "Jockey Oats." The miller or mill owner may sell the flour to a local general store. The local general store can use and sell large quantities of flour, so they do not mind buying flour in barrels or 100 pound flour sacks. The storekeeper sells it to consumers in smaller amounts. Sometimes the housewife takes her smaller sack to the store to be refilled. Does anyone use refillable food containers today?

-(6) "The Resources Needed in Flour Production." A review with students the meaning of various economic terms:

-Production - putting resources together to make goods or provide a service.
-Natural resources - those things found in or on the earth. They may be wind power, water or stream power, and tidal power.
-Human resources - people doing mental or physical work. The millwright had to find a stop or location that a mill could be built. He designed the building and the machinery that would go into the mill. The mill owner specified what type of mill he wanted, what types of grain it would grind and how much per day it could produce. The miller along with the millwright and the millstone dresser maintain the mill and keep it in operation. At times the millwright may use a carpenter to make replacement wooden gear teeth and cogs. He may use a stone mason to make replacement stone bearings, and the millwright uses different types of wood to make other replacement parts for the mill. The miller and his apprentices or helpers operate the mill. They grind the grain and package the flour and meal for sale. The miller keeps the records of the daily grinding of the mill and how much flour it produces. From every 100 pounds of wheat, the percentage of white flour is 72 pounds. There is about 4 pounds of bran and the rest is middlings and wheat germ. You can now figure out how much wheat has to be ground to produce one barrel or 50 barrels of flour per day.
-Capital resources are resources made by people and used to produce other goods and services. (Money is not considered a capital resource.) The miller or mill owner has to purchase the flour barrels and flour sacks. They also have to buy lubricants to maintain the gears, and bearings in side of the mill. The dust from wheat is more explosive than gun powder and 35 times more explosive than coal dust. Because of the problems with dust explosion and the danger of fire, mills rarely operate at night, so there would not be a great expense for candles.
-Using the sequence of events in flour production, the class give examples of some of the human resources (farmer, miller, wagon driver or teamster, blacksmith and carriage maker, cooper or barrel maker, spinner and weaver, the shopkeeper or grocer), the natural resources (land, water, grain or seeds, etc.), and the capital resources (wagon, mill and milling machinery, flour packaging material (barrels and cloth sacks) harvesting equipment, bins for flour in store, etc.).
-What animal resources are used in the production of flour. Horses and mules would be used to haul the grain and grain products to and from the mill. The mill is not animal powered but the mill uses animals never the less, for rodent control. Dusty is a common name for the miller's helpers and the miller's cat. The lubricants that are used to make the mill operate come from animal fats and bees wax.
-Then there is the problem of disposal of the waste products of the grinding process. The bran, and middlings. What do you do with them. What are they packaged in and where do they do go? Traditionally they were considered "offals," and were dumped into the creek. Would they be ploughed back into the farmer's fields or used for animal feed.
-The average cost of a barrel of flour ranged from $4.50 to $11.00 dollars a barrel. The average cost of labor a day would have been $1.00 dollar per day, and for a child, less than a dollar a day, perhaps 50 cents. The price of a bushel of corn or wheat today, is basically what is has been for the last 100 years. During that time (in the last 100 years) the miller may have charge the farmer (of he was not collecting a toll) 11 cents to 34 cents per hundred pounds to grind wheat. So in a barrel or sack of flour, the most expensive cost item, is the cost of the container itself. The miller can buy thousands of cloth flour sacks to get down the individual cost "per sack" but what do you do about wooden flour barrels? They can not be stored in the mill or other outbuildings like flour sacks?

-Please inform us if there are particular objectives of the group.

Post Site Review Information:

Discussion Questions:

The following are a list of questions which might be useful after the students visit to the mill.

1. What are the size of flour mill buildings today compared to 1820?
2. How would a flour mill be powered today?
3. Where are mills found? Do they have to be near water? Where are they located?
4. Do they still use millstone for grinding grains?
5. What do you think would happen if all flour mills today were like the Pierce Mill?
6. Explain how you get the bread you eat today?
7. How does water make a water wheel turn? What other sources of energy are there besides water?
8. What are the advantages and disadvantages of wind power?
9. What are the advantages and disadvantages of tidal power?
10. What are the advantages and disadvantages of steam power?


After you have returned to your classroom, you may wish to become involved in an activity relating to your visit to the mill. Some suggestions include:

1. Draw pictures of a mill, its water wheel, or your favorite part. Sketch the exterior of the mill, or sketch specific parts of the mill that are used to make flour.
2. Have a lunch, breakfast or dinner like adults and children would have in 1820.
3. If you made bread from a mill in 1820 what kind of bread would it be? What else would you have to eat with the bread? The main course of every meal would be a grain related product, why?
4. Have the class make corn bread and taste the difference to a modern prepared corn bread mix.
5. make corn meal the old-fashioned way by obtaining dried corn on the cob, shelling it by hand, and grinding it by pounding it between two rocks. How hard would that be? What would the baked products be like from this process?
6. Compare whole wheat bread, graham bread, and white bread by looks, taste and smell, and feel. Do the marshmallow test, close your eyes and squeeze a loaf of whole wheat bread and a loaf of white bread. Can you tell which loaf is which?
7. Make a model of the mill and or diorama of the hydraulic system.
8. Learn a mill song, poem, or write a play about the miller and his life.
9. Make puppets. One for the miller, miller's helper, the farmer, the miller's wife, the mill cat, and a taking sheave of wheat, flour sack or loaf of bread. Create a play for your puppets.
10. The mill has 50 to 70 handouts that the mill has created. These include: connect the dot, mazes, color and cut out buildings, question and answer, etc. Ask about copies for your grade level and age group.
11. What information can you find in your local library, historical society, older member of the community, and on the internet about old mills.
12. Visit other old mills with your family members on vacation, etc.


-Howell, Charles and Allan Keller, "The Mill at Philipsburg Manor and A Brief History of Milling," Sleepy Hollow Restorations, North Tarrytown (Sleepy Hollow), New York, 1977.
-Kovash, Arlene, "Cooking with Stone Ground Flour," The Book Mill, Corvallis, Oregon, 1981.
-Wheat Flour Institute, "From Wheat to Flour," the Wheat Flour Institute, Washington, D.C., 1976.
-Smith, Elmer, "Grist Mills of Early American and Today," Applied Arts Publishing, Lebanon, Pennsylvania, 1982.

"Previous" Pre & Post-Site Material for Pierce Mill

Pierce Mill provides children with a view of the past before steam engines, diesel engines, gas engines, and electric motors existed along with the polluted environment they bring to our air and water. From a visit to a nineteenth century grist mill, they can receive a glimpse of how people lived and worked over one hundred years ago. Pierce Mill, an intriguing relic of the Pierce Plantation, symbolizes the days when American was chiefly rural and very dependent on water powered mills for producing the flour from which its bread was made.

A water powered mill is able to evoke strong images of the past as exemplified by the following lines:

"Poets have dreamed on the margin of the mill pond and sweet memories have clustered about this scene of quiet industry; the song of the mill wheel........and the dusty miller leaning over his half door was ever a restful and pleasing feature........."


To prepare your class for their visit to Pierce Mill, we have complied a list of terms that will be useful before, during, and after their visit to the mill.

Terms Related to the Mill:

Corn on cob, dried corn on cob, corn kernels.
Corn shelling.
Corn meal.
Wheat, wheat chaff.
Flour, whole wheat and white.
Toll (Miller's toll).
Custom and merchant mill.
Grain elevator.
Mill stones, run of stones or bun.
Mill pond.
Mill dam.
Mill race.
Water wheel.
Bolting reel.
Stone mason.
Saw mill.
Spring house.

What will be seen at the Mill:

The children should be shown the water wheel outside the mill before coming inside.

1. Corn sheller demonstration. (A) Corn on cob (dried). (B) Corn kernels. (C) Corn cob.
2. Balance beam scale.
3. Receiving bin. (A) Value in bottom. (B) Grain elevator.
4. Hopper & barrel covering mill stones. (A) Mill stones. (B) Boom for moving mill stones. (C) Opening for flour into basement.
5. Corn mill in operation. (A) Corn feeding into stone. (B) Stone turning.
6. Shaker sifting corn meal. (A) Corn meal falling on to shaker. (B) Corn meal & bran being separated.
7. Feeling the corn meal.
8. Gears being turned by the water wheel.

Discussion Questions:

The following are a set of discussion questions to be used after (or before) the children's visit to Pierce Mill.

1. How would a flour mill be powered today? Do we still use water wheels?
2. How does the water make a water wheel turn?
3. Is a water powered flour mill pollution free? does it produce less pollution than a modern mill?
4. How do modern mills grind flour or corn meal today? Do they still use mill stones?
5. What is the difference between white flour and whole wheat flour? Which kind is better for your health?
6. Do you think that we eat a lot less bread and corn bread today than they did in the nineteenth century?
7. What do you think would happen if all flour mills today were like Pierce Mill?
8. In what ways do you think people lived differently in the nineteenth century from the way we live today? Which way would you rather live? Why?
9. Explain how you get the bread you eat today.
10. How did the Indians make corn bread?


After you have returned to your classroom, you may wish to become involved in an activity relating to your visit to Pierce Mill. Some suggestions follows:

1. Draw pictures of the mill or the water wheel.
2. Make a diagram of the mill or build a model water wheel.
3. Have a lunch like in 1820. (corn meal much fried in butter with maple syrup).
4. Make white flour from whole wheat flour by sifting out all the bran and bleaching it in the sun.
5. Have the class make corn bread.
6. Make corn meal by obtaining dried corn on the cob, shelling it by hand, and grinding it by pounding it between two rocks, bricks, or the side walk and a brick.
7. Make and compare bread from whole wheat and white flour.
8. Have something different made out of corn meal every day for a week. (corn meal mush, fried corn meal mush, corn griddle cakes, corn batter cakes, corn bread, spoon bread, corn fritters, hush puppies, corn pudding, etc.).

Bibliography for Teachers:

Edgar, W. C., "The Miller and his Mill," The Chautaquan, 16 (1892-1893), 187-173.
Brooks, Anita, "The Picture Book of Grains."
Burt, Olive, "Let's Find Out About Bread."
Elting, Mary, "The Mysterious Grain, Corn."
Evans, Oliver, "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide."
Frenton, Carrol Lane, "Plants that Feed Us."
Limburg, Peter B., "The Story of Corn."
Petersham, Maud Fuller, "Story Book of Corn."

Disclaimer: The above information no way reflects the present programing and or demonstrations available at Peirce Mill today. It reflects a time long ago, which is now for the most part classified as "once upon a time," now extinct, forgotten, broken, unloved and uncared for, in a part of the past, in a galaxy far, far away.

Return to HomePage

Copyright 2002 by T. R. Hazen