Bucks County Herald

Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here

An old mill rejuvenated

A mill, built in the 1830s has been brought back to life thanks to the monetary and volunteer support of the Friends of Washington Crossing Historic Park.

The northern section of state-owned Washington Crossing Historic Park is about a mile south of New Hope. River Road (Pa. Route 32) bisects the park, with the Thompson-Neely House and the Delaware River on the east and Bowman’s Hill Tower and the nonprofit Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve on the west.

A long-idle grist mill that once used water from Pidcock Creek to power its grain operations sits at the foot of Bowman’s Hill next to River Road. The mill was built in the 1830s as part of the Neely farm and remained in the family until 1880. Pennsylvania later acquired the land and founded the park a hundred years ago.

Although it was closed by the state 40 years ago, the mill is running again thanks to support by the Friends of Washington Crossing Historic Park – monetary and volunteer support.

Three volunteers led the project with help of many others. Glenn Blakely, Ray Casper of Langhorne and John Godzieba, Friends president, met me at the mill recently to show what has been done. They were not experienced builders – Blakely has owned Isaac Newtown’s restaurant in Newtown for 26 years, Casper has a manufacturing business in Trenton, and Godzieba is a lieutenant with the Middletown Township Police and the perennial George Washington for re-enactments.

But the volunteers learned, with the help of a Colonial Williamsburg millwright, the wheel maker, Tom Fischer, a historical restoration builder from Newtown and the International Mill Society. Charles Yeske, director of Bucks County Parks and Recreation, is the organization’s president. The Stover-Myers Mill in Tinicum Township is in his bailiwick.

The old wooden water wheel had fallen and rotted – it needed to be rebuilt, but before that could happen, the builders had to take it apart. That meant carefully dissassembling the wooden parts, saving them for a pattern and sending them to millwright Ben Hassett,in Kentucky, one of only two in the country qualified to do the job.

Starting about a year ago, the builders removed hardware, piece by piece, cleaned it and saved it for reassembly. Some had to be discarded and replaced. The old wood was shipped south and the rebuilt wheel, 16 feet in diameter, arrived back at the park in February.

Production of the new wheel cost $80,000 plus about $70,000 for “extras.”

The parts had to be reconnected, in an amazing construction of gears and pulleys that transfer power to do the grinding, the lifting and loading, making it possible for one person to operate the grinding process – from grain to flour.

At the park, a passageway to divert water from the creek, had to be created and a small reservoir had to be dug. The builders installed pumps near the mill to bring the water up to the small pond, at an elevation higher than the water intake opening in the mill.

After hundreds of hours of labor, sometimes well into the night, especially by Blakely, the builders had the mill functioning.

The builders showed the milling process, from water entering through a sluice gate to the bagging of flour.
Before it arrives on the top floor of the mill, corn “grist for the mill,” is husked, then dried over several months and bagged.

A large gear-wheel is mounted on the same axle as the water wheel and it drives a smaller gear-wheel on a main drive shaft running vertically from the bottom to the top of the building. The gearing system forces the main shaft to turn faster than the water wheel.

The bagged corn is poured into a hopper above two layered grinding stones, each weighing more than 2,000 pounds. The bottom stone is permanently fixed; the top stone, the “runner” stone, is lifted into place by a crane and onto a spindle set in motion by a system of gears moved by the power from the waterwheel. The distance between the grindstones determines the consistency of the flour.

Grooves in the runner stone direct the milled grain into a chute that sends it to the mill’s ground floor, where it is collected in sacks. An elevator carries the bags to the top floor and the mill’s main entrance, ready for shipment from a loading platform.

The restoration of the water wheel is a major accomplishment and the mill is expected to become a regular stop on tours of the Delaware Valley’s historic sites. It is a marvel to see, all of its workings visible, a work of art as well as craftsmanship and engineering.

But alas, there is more to be done and it will cost about $60,000. Pidcock Creek once supplied water for the mill but now, a raceway needs to be built to carry water 2,000 feet, from a large pond at the top of Bowman’s Hill down to the mill. The pumps and their small supply pond are destined to go eventually in order to have a more natural passage to the sluice gate.

Godzieba credited events at the main Washington Crossing Park area for raising money for the mill restoration. Brewfest, which Godzieba and Blakely started seven years ago, supplied most of the money. All Brewfest funds go back into the park, since volunteers run the event.

Godzieba pointed out that the park is marking its centennial this year, making the next Brewfest especially important.

The eighth annual Washington Crossing Brewfest is scheduled for Oct. 28. Tickets are available by clicking HERE.



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