Grist mills were a staple among the farming communities in rural America during the 1700’s and 1800’s. Used to grind grain into flour, these mills were located along rivers and streams, their large water wheels the power source to operate the grinding machinery within. Farmers from the surrounding areas would bring their own grain and receive back ground meal or flour, minus a percentage called the “miller’s toll”.
These wheel-powered mills of America’s early farming days became largely obsolete in the 1900’s when electricity and fossil fuels took over and milling techniques changed, but many of the old grist mills have been preserved in their original state as historic sites, and quite a few operate as museums, state parks, etc. A few still operate, a testament to the superior baking quality and nutritional value of the flour they produce.
The photos that follow are of some of these historic grist mills – enjoy this little piece of farming history!
Located in southwestern Washington state near the town of Woodland, the picturesque Cedar Creek Grist Mill was built in 1876 at the bottom of a narrow gorge by George Woodham and his two sons. It changed hands several times over the years to follow, went through many structural changes including the addition of a blacksmith shop and a shingle mill, and by the latter half of the twentieth century it began to fall into a state of disrepair. It has been restored, and is now a National Historic Landmark and a working museum, showing year-round visitors the inside workings of a grist mill of that time period.
Also known as the Sudbury Grist Mill, the Wayside Inn Grist Mill in Sudbury, Massachusetts is the first working mill to be built as a museum. Commissioned by Henry Ford and designed by renowned hydraulic engineer J.B. Campbell of Philadelphia, work on the Mill began in 1924 by local workmen preparing the waterway from Grist Mill Pond. The mill is water-powered and still operates today, using two separate grinding-stones to produce the corn meal and wheat flour that is used in Longfellow’s Wayside Inn’s baked goods. It is open to visitors April through November, and is a popular picnic spot and photo op.
West Virginia’s Babcock State Park is home to the historic Glade Creek Grist Mill, which was built in 1976 as a re-creation of Cooper’s Mill which once ground grain on Glade Creek long before Babcock became a state park. The mill was created by combining parts from three other historic mills around the state. The basic structure of the mill came from the Stoney Creek Grist Mill which dates back to 1890, the water wheel came from the old fire-ravaged Spring Run Grist Mill, and other parts came from the Onego Grist Mill. The mill is fully functional, providing freshly ground cornmeal which park guests may purchase depending on availability and stream conditions.
The Graue Mill in Oak Brook, Illinois, was built in 1852 on the banks of Salt Creek, and operated under three generations of the Graue family for approximately 60 years. The mill was a major center of economic life during the 19th century and was also used by Fred Graue to hide runaway slaves on their journey to freedom in Canada. It as been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since May of 1975, and is still today an operating grist mill as well as a museum that is dedicated to preserving a link to the pioneering spirit of the past.
Located in Maryland’s Susquehanna State Park, the Rock Run Grist Mill was erected in 1798 by businessman and landowner John Stump. It was a merchant flour mill that ground flour for both the local and international markets. The three-story stone structure was partially restored in the 1960s, and today features a working waterwheel and an operational millstone. The building is open to the public, and corn-grinding demonstrations are held on summer weekends.
Originally built by Ralph Hunt in 1810 as a wool-processing mill, the Red Mill in Clinton, New Jersey, and after changing hands several times over the next 30 or 40 years, it was refitted as a grist mill in the mid-1800’s. It operated as a grist mill under several other owners until 1905, when it changed hands yet again, and ceased grinding flour in favor it graphite, and later talc. It finally ceased operation for good in 1928. Today the mill functions as a museum, housing a collection of more than 40,000 agricultural, industrial and domestic artifacts.
The Mabry Mill in Patrick County, Virginia, dates back to 1903, when it was first constructed by E.B. Mabry as a blacksmith and wheelwright shop before becoming a sawmill, then a gristmill a few years later. When Mr. Mabry died in 1938, the National Park Service purchased the mill and restored it. It’s beautiful location make it one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mill still grinds flour today, and visitors can experience live milling demonstrations, as well as demonstrations on blacksmithing, carding, spinning, basket making and other traditional Appalachian crafts.
Located in Sandwich, Massachusetts, the oldest town on Cape Cod, the picturesque Dexter Grist Mill site dates all the way back to 1637, when Thomas Dexter built his first mill. The original mill was rebuilt in 1654, and this reconstructed mill is the building still located at that site today. The early settlers of Sandwich brought their corn to the Dexter Grist Mill to be ground into meal, their most important food. Corn meal produced by the mill can still be purchased today, and the mill itself is open to the public during the summer months where visitors can watch the wooden mill mechanism at work grinding the corn.
Built in 1823 and burned to the ground many years later during the Civil War, the Wilburn Grist Mill was rebuilt in 1865 and remains standing but inactive today on the banks of the Fall River in Tennessee. The first owner of record of this historic mill was John A. Hagan, who operated the mill for almost 50 years. It changed hands several times before G.T. Wilburn purchased the property in 1924. The property has been preserved by the Wilburn family but has remained inactive since 1984.
This historic gristmill is located at the National Route 66 & Transportation Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma. Built in 1903, it was the only gristmill to ever operate in Elk City, and for years it ground corn for the city’s residents. In 1928, an addition allowed flour to be ground there as well, however the mill closed for good in 1944 due to replacement machinery shortages during World War II. It has been vacant and unused ever since.
Built in 1868 by John P. Cable, the mill at Cades Cove, Tennessee, processed logs, wheat and corn, and was still informally in use when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formed in 1934. Although there were several mills in the area during the time the Cable’s mill was in operation, his was the only one that used an overshot water wheel, which gave it the power needed to run the sawmill as well. The mill is still operational, and corn meal can be purchased at the Cades Cove Visitor Center seasonally.
Located in the Wildcat Den State Park in Muscatine County, Iowa, the historic Pine Creek Grist Mill was originally built in 1848 by Benjamin Nye, an early settler to the area who had also built an earlier grist mill as well as a saw mill further upstream. Unlike many other grist mills, the Pine Creek mill’s wooden waterwheel was located inside the structure rather than outside, protecting it from harsh weather. Sometime after Nye’s death in 1852, the mill’s new owner replaced the wheel with what was then a state of the art modern cast iron water turbine similar to the one in the mill today.
Built in 1682, the Wye Mill in Talbot County, Maryland is the oldest continuously operating Grist Mill in the United States. During the American Revolution, the Wye Grist Mill along with other mills on the Eastern Shore shipped thousands of barrels of flour to the Continental Army. In the 1790’s, Oliver Evans – the “Father of the modern factory” – used the Wye Grist Mill to formulate automation ideas that revolutionized American factories. The mill retains nearly all of its late-18th century equipment, and while no longer operating in a commercial capacity, visitors to the mill can still watch the waterwheel turn the heavy millstones as they grind grain, with millers explaining the milling process.
Also known as Freeman’s Mill or Swann’s Mill, the Alcovy River Grist Mill in Lawrenceville, Georgia is a featured attraction and local landmark located in Freeman’s Mill Park. Constructed between the years 1868-1879 by brothers John Griffin Loveless and Levi J. Loveless, the mill is a superb example of the typical rural gristmills found along rivers throughout Georgia in the middle nineteenth century. In its heyday, Freeman’s Mill ran 10 hours a day, year round and produced 40 barrels of wheat flour, 14,400 pounds of corn meal and 54,000 pounds of feed per year. Ownership of the mill has changed several times over its history, and is now owned by the county in which it resides.
Along the Pequea Creek in the Amish country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the scenic Herr’s Grist Mill was built in 1739 by John Herr. In the years that followed the construction of the mill, a small village sprouted up along Pequea Creek, supporting a general store, blacksmith shop and forge, a winery and distillery. Although the mill ceased operation in 1929, people still come from all over to visit this historic landmark with its remarkable stonework and functioning waterwheel, along with shops and other attractions that make up Mill Bridge Village.