and Their Varied Usage
The average person when thinking of "Millstones" associates
their use with the grinding of corn, wheat and other farm cereals. In this
conclusion they are probable eighty to ninety percent correct.
One of the objects of this paper is to acquaint the average layman with
the varied uses of stones for purposes other than grinding of grain.
As such a larger percentage of stones was used in the milling of grain,
it is fitting and proper that we deal first with that phase of milling.
Furthermore, as the writer engaged in the industry of wheat flour milling,
he is better qualified to write on that subject than the others.
We will, however, endeavor to pass on what we have been able to learn about
the other types of "stone" mills. By the way, we find in consulting
several dictionaries a "mill:" defined as "a machine for
grinding and reducing a substance to smaller particles."
In a paper read before this society in May of this year we described the
methods of cutting millstones from rocks and bowlders in the Cocalico area
of Lancaster County. These stones, known as Cocalico Millstones enjoyed
wide distribution in Pennsylvania, and nearby states, and a number were
exported to Canada.
These Cocalico Millstones, because of their pebbly texture, were used mainly
for grinding grain for feed purposes, although by careful dressing they
could be used in the grinding of wheat for flour. However, for this latter
purpose the French buhrs were preferred.
For the different uses, the stones, whether Cocalico or French buhrs, had
to be "dressed" accordingly.
It s interesting to note that the terminology used in the layout and "dressing"
of stones was that used in common parlance of the farmers and housewives.
The two major divisions of stones were called "furrows" and "lands"
which obviously were farming terms, then the terms "bosom" "waist"
and "skirt" were synonymous with woman's dress. This the expression,
"Dressing the millstones" originated.
The farmer divisions applied to:
Photo Number 1: Dressing the Millstones by the late Benjamin Eby
It can readily be surmised then that there may have existed many hotly contested
theories as to the best methods of stone dressing.
From all available sources of information it seems that despite the various
"drafts" and angles of the "furrows," the consensus
of opinion agreed that one "furrow" to each inch of diameter of
the stone was correct. Thus a thirty-six-inch stone should have thirty-six
furrows; a forty-eight-inch stone, forty-eight furrows, etc., etc.
The actual cutting or "dressing" was done with thin sharp double-edged
chisels for cutting out the "Furrows," and double faced two-pound
"facing hammers" to remove the glaze from the "furrows"
and "lands." These facing hammers, or "bush hammers"
as they were sometimes called, had from twenty-four to thirty-six teeth
at each end. The two earliest types of millstone used in Lancaster County
was described in detail in a paper read before this Society on May 5, 1951,
so we will make no further description of either the Indian mortars or the
Spanish-type millstones which were used on the earliest Lancaster County
farms, but will attempt to describe some of the other types of stone mill.
Phosphate Rock Grinders
These were stones of special construction, the area around the "eye"
being about two feet in diameter, of one-piece coarse sandstone or Cocalico
construction, while the grinding surface from the "waist" to the
"skirt" was of a special corundum exported for the Grecian Archipelago.
The center area, or "bosom" had several deep "furrows"
to do the initial breaking and feed it to the corundum section where the
natural abrasive action did a very effective job of reducing the phosphate
rock to the fineness necessary to be run through a grain drill with a fertilizer
attachment, which was the usual method of applying phosphate fertilizer
to the soil.
The fertilizer grinders at the Martic Forge Collection are forty=two inches
in diameter and about seven inches thick. They are acquired from A. B. Hess,
then proprietor of the Lancaster Chemical company on the Manheim Pike, North
These stones were the first (other than conventional grain buhrs) to be
acquired for the Martic Forge Collection. It was the acquisition of these
stones that "sparked" the writer's interest in a Millstone Collection,
with special interest in stones used for diverse purposes.
Stones have long since been supplanted by steel crushers and grinders in
the fertilizer industry.
These were used to grind flint stone which first went through a burning
and transforming process in kilns, similar to the type used in burning limestone
to convert it to lime.
From the mouth of the kiln the burned flint was shoveled directly into a
Spanish-type-mill. This consisted of a large circular granite basin stone,
about six feet in diameter, in which two granite stones, about thirty-six
inches and twenty-inches thick revolved in an upright position, i. e., on
their edges; these were known as "chaser stones" and by the colored
help as "Buck and Berry;" "Buck" perpetually chasing
"Berry" at opposite ends of a short horizontal shaft driven from
the center of the basin stone.
After an intricate refining process the finished product was shipped to
Philadelphia or Baltimore, where it was used in the making of early American
The granite flint mill at the Martic Forge Collection was obtained from
what had been the Whitford Flint Mill on Broad Creek, in Hartford County,
Maryland. The site of the flint mill is now inundated by the waters of the
As far as known this type of mill is no longer used in the United States
today for this purpose.
there were undoubtedly many sizes and types of stones used as oat hullers
in the early days of the colonies and directly after the Revolution as "oatmeal"
was one of the main cereal foods to be manufactured. (2)
Not being familiar with the various types, I must confine myself to
the description of the only pair seen and now a part of the Millstone Collection
at Martic Forge.
The pair of stones, acquired from the W. F. Russell Estate, near Pomeroy,
Sadsbury Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, were imported form England
about 1740. There are of a very hard close-grained sandstone, forty-eight
inches in diameter.
Removing the hull from the oats required a very simple "Dressing"
on the stones. (3) In fact, the "bed" stone had no furrows
at all- simply a level surface, roughened with a single-pointed pick; the
runner stone had but four very shallow furrows run from the eye to the "skirt"
to propel or roll the oats over the surface of the stones thereby loosening
and removing the hull from the kernel of the oat berry and after going through
the stones the product was run over a fan and separator to remove the hull
or chaff from the "groats" as the finished product was called.
Photo Number 2: English Oat Hullers, Imported from England about
1740; used to make oatmeal for Washington's Army at Valley Forge, 1777-1778.
From the W. F. Russell Estate, Chester County, Pennsylvania.
History records that this mill ground the grain and feed for the men and
horses of Washington's Army at Valley Forge in the historic winter of 1777-1778.
The stones used to grind cork are known as Derby Peak Stones; they are
exported for Grindleford, Derbyshire, Scotland, and are of close-grained
The furrows are cut deep at the bosom, tapering to almost one-eighth inch
at the skirt. The eye of the runner stone is necessarily large so to permit
the broken pieces of cork to enter between the stones where it is granulated
or pulverized. There has not been, as yet, any method discovered to granulate
and pulverize cork which is superior or equal to the stone method. Therefore,
stones are used almost exclusively for this purpose according to the latest
information available to the writer.
Photo Number 3: A Typical Cocalico Bed Stone, around for grinding
The above description of cork stones was procured form the only source known
to the writer. These stones were obtained through the courtesy of the Armstrong
Cork Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for the Martic Forge Collection.
Because of the unusual construction and composition of the buckwheat
grains, it required very light stones to do the work of grinding the grain.
In fact, it had more of a "hulling" process. The stones were usually
about three feet in diameter and about five or six inches thick. (7)
The "dressing"was entirely different from the conventional wheat
or corn stones. A very unique dressing is found on a pair of stones obtained
from the former McCrabb Mill on Fishing Creek, Drumore Township (now at
the Martic Forge Collection). The best way to describe this dressing is
that it is boxlike or in squares. Another pair of buckwheat stones of flint
composition, found at Frey's Mill, near Alinda, Spring Township, Perry County,
have a very beautiful scroll-like dressing.
Buckwheat stones were quite widely used in the early days of Lancaster County,
especially in the northern section. Their use has long since become extinct.
Clover Seed Hullers
These consisted of two stones, one convex and the other concave, because
of the light weight of the material to be processed. The stones were of
the under-runner type, i. e., the lower stone revolved while the upper stone
remained stationary. To further facilitate the passage of the clover between
the stones, the runner stone has coarse spirals from the "eye"
to the "waist;" at the "skirt" of the stone were many
corrugations which rolled or hulled the tiny seeds from the clover heads.
The eye of the upper stone was necessarily much larger than a grain stone,
usually from fifteen to eighteen inches in diameter.
The author was never able to locate any stone clover seed hullers in Lancaster
County. The pair in the Martic Forge Collection was located near Newport,
in Perry County, Pennsylvania, from the estate of Jim Crow, who had collected
two pairs. The other pair was obtained by the Landis Valley Museum. Both
pairs are of red sandstone and present a very pleasing appearance. They
are forty-five inches in diameter.
Steel separators having entirely supplanted the stone clover seed hullers.
Tannery Stones were in the group of single stones, i. e., they worked "Solo."
Most persons, when seeing a tannery stone, are apt to think it a big stone
cog wheel for that is what it resembles; having large cog-like corrugations
cut on the outside circumference.
When in use these heavy stones were run in an upright position over the
dry tan bark, which was spread on a corduroy like flooring where the bark
was broken into fines pieces for use in the tanning vats. (9)
Tannery stones varied in size from three to five feet in diameter, and from
one foot to eighteen inches in thickness.
The tannery stones at the Martic Forge Collection was found near a spring,
lying in a clearing near Schoeneck. The oldest resident in the vicinity
said it had been lying there all of his lifetime. But its history is unknown.
Distillery and Hemp Stones
In early Lancaster County history distilleries were very numerous. Before
the start of the dairy industry and the fattening of steers on county farms,
many farmers utilized their corn crop by setting up a still and converting
their corn into whiskey. To prepare the corn for fermentation it had to
be ground or crushed. (10)
Distillery stones as used on farms were cone-shaped, usually about thirty
inches high and thirty inches at the base of the stone, tapering to about
twelve inches at the top.
A hole about six inches in diameter was cut in the center of the stone,
from base to top, for insertion of an oak shaft, which extended through
the stone and was mortised to an upright shaft, which could revolve in a
sprocket set in the center of a stone circle with a coping around the edges.
This stone base was usually masoned; although there may have been a few
single stone basins, i. e., a basin cut from a single rock.
The distillery stone was run on its side with the base on outside of the
basin and was revolved by horses, mules or oxen.
Hemp stones were very similar to distillery stones and were operated on
the same principle. However, instead of having a stone bed, a flooring of
oak planking was used as the crushing floor. The object was to break the
reed or stalk of the hemp plant, so that the coarse linen-like fiber could
be "shaken" or separated from the reed or stalk.
One of the hemp stones in the Martic Forge Collection was found at the location
of what had been Eckman's Mill, on Mill Creek, near Lyndon, a few miles
south of Lancaster. One of the distillery stones in the collection was obtained
at the original Bausman farm, west of Millersville, in Manor Township. It
is initialed presumably by the maker, and bears the date of 1752.
Photo Number 4: A set of Dye Stones, used to grind native herbs
and berries for dye. From Juniata County, Pennsylvania.
A set of dye stones in good preservation presents a very artistic and
beautiful appearance, because of the pitcher-like shape of the base stone.
The runner stone was usually hand-operated which would indicate that the
stones are not very large. The runner stone ranged from twelve inches to
eighteen inches in diameter, and from four to six inches in thickness.
These stones were usually smooth-faced and depended on the revolving action
and weight of the runner stone to crush the plants or berries from which
the dye was to be extracted. The "juice" or dye ran out the protruding
spout of the basin like base stone into crocks or other vessels. The sides
of the basin stone were as high as the runner stone.
Photo Number 5: A Set of Stones used to wet-grind clay for the
potter's use; over 100 years old. (Large stone, n which they are placed,
is in no way associated with the grinders.)
Although there may have been some dye stones used in conjunction with the
early woolen mills in Lancaster County the writer was never able to locate
any, and those seen in museums were from other countries. The one at the
Martic Forge Collection was found at the site of a former woolen mill in
Juniata County, Pennsylvania.
in addition to the stones already described, there were "pony stones"
used as secondary grinders in some flour mills; cider stones, used in the
process of cider making. Pottery stones, used to wet grind clay, for potter's
use; large six- to seven-foot stones, ten to twelve inches thick, used in
foundries to polish castings.
The stones listed in the preceding paragraph are represented at the Martic
Some stones for other purposes, not as yet represented but which we hope
to acquire, are coca stones used still for grinding coca beans; gypsum stones,
used to grind gypsum or "land lime" (use now extinct); large oil
stones, formerly used to crush the seed of flax in the process of making
linseed oil; graphite grinders, formerly used to grind graphite rock, paint
pigments, etc. Also stones for grinding various spices.
We have enjoyed collecting from Lancaster and nearby counties the various
stones described on the preceding pages..........
Note: This paper read before the Lancaster County Historical Society,
Journal of Lancaster County, Volume 55, Number 5, Lancaster, Pennsylvania,
1951. No copyright proclaimed.
For More Information Read: Inspired by Paul B. Flory's "Millstone
Collection," Jon Sass, from England, was working as the miller
in the newly constructed commemoration post windmill at Flowerdew Hundred
Plantation, Hopewell, Virginia, wrote, "The Versatile Millstone
Workhorse of Early Industry," by Jon Sass, who discusses the uses
of millstones over the centuries using text, photographs and drawings. Includes
flint, grain, hemp, chocolate, paint, querns, tan bark, edge runners, saddle
stones, and many other uses of millstones; hints on millstone dressing;
fully annotated, 80 pages, glossary, bibliography, 40 figures., the Society
for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM), 1985.
Modern Footnotes and ones Created after the Author:
(1) One of the most historical millstones is laying forgotten in the
Dumbarton Oaks section of Rock Creek Park, Washington, D. C. George Washington's
threshing stone from his Threshing Barn was removed from the multi sided
barn site and placed learn a water wheel mill that once was a feature of
Dumbarton Oaks. The cone-shaped round threshing stone is laying next to
parts of a cast iron Fitz I-X-L Steel Overshoot Water Wheel. The cone-shaped
threshing stone revolved around on a bed of plaster of Paris, laid on the
lathe on the floor, powered by two horses in the barn's basement. Dampness
and moisture from the horses below cause the floor of the barn to collapse.
This type of millstone could also be used to process hemp. It became forgotten
and a lost artifact when the passing of federal laws (with pressure form
the wood paper industry) turned the use of hemp for fiber into marijuana,
a hallucinogenic drug. I have seen a number of these cone-shaped stones
from the Bunker Hill Shepardstown area of West Virginia, but none is more
historical than the one that was in George Washington's Threshing Barn.
(2) Some of the problems with the manufacture or grinding of oats is
the moisture content in the grain. This effects its ability of it to be
bolted (sifted) and for storage, long or short term.
(3) The common practice was to run or place the oats in a kiln so
the hulls can be cracked open and then the oats could be run through the
oat hulling stones. So mills that ground oats had traditionally kilns next
to the mill buildings.
(4) The hulls of oats is a waste product, it is a non-food product
and cannot even be used as rabbit bedding. It is too scratchy even for the
(5) This is a common claim, that "this mill" ground the
grain and feed for the men and horses of Washington's Army at Valley Forge
in the historic winter of 1777-1778. It seems that almost every mill standing
and operating at this time has made the same claim. The Wye Mill, (circa
1671) Wye Mills, Maryland, and the Linchester Mill (circa 1681) Linchester,
Maryland, are only two on a long list of mills that have made the same claim
over the years.
(6) Portugal is the world's largest producer of "natural"
(7) The furrows on a buckwheat hulling stone look like a spider web
pattern or bat wings.
(8) The milling of buckwheat has changed over the years. It has been
many years since mills have hulled buckwheat to remove the hull so only
the seed or "groat" remains. During the twentieth century, three
methods of milling buckwheat exist. One method, is to mill whole buckwheat
seeds with a pair of millstones. The hulls are sifted out in the bolting.
A second method, is to run the buckwheat through a pair of "break rollers,"
then bolt out the hulls from the chop. The chop is then milled on a traditional
pair of millstones or a vertical burr mill.Vertical burr mills have problems
milling whole buckwheat seeds because of the hulls. The third method, is
to mill the buckwheat completely on several roller mills. Roller milling
of buckwheat does not effect the marketing or selling of this product.
(9) The Hazen Tannery in Chautauqua County, New York, is mentioned
in one of the family histories, "Uncle Silas worked for him that winter
and continued on to work for 14 dollars per month. That was the common wages
for a year. That same fall, he built a bark mill and hide house. As harness
leather was worth 35 cents per pound, there was a good interest on the investment.
He bought heavy harness hides and a bark mill from Buffalo. Uncle Samuel
did his team work. He bought 2 cows and 10 sheep. After hiring so much it
drained on his capital. They saved the ashes and made black salts. They
cut down more timber that winter, besides getting out timber for the tannery."
Silas was born in 1765, more than likely this bark mill from Buffalo, is
a metal grinding mill. The Hazens were early settlers of Mina Corners, New
York, and operated their tannery until a second fire cause many of the family
members to leave the area. The above in quotes is from, "The Hazen
Family," by Benjamin F. Hazen for the Hazen-Barrett reunion held in
Clymer, N. Y. in 1906.
(10) Rye was also ground, and the fermenting process used good "spring"
water to produce rye whiskey. Also fruits were used to make brandy, such
(11) The operated similar to hand querns for grinding grains.
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