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Milling Around

American heritage is richly filled with the dedication of hard-working laborers including millers. Not surprisingly, much of the historical success of our country stems from several fading skills and occupations, including milling.

The work ethic our forefathers demonstrated and their contributions to society, as stated in 1969 by Jane Jacobs in The Economy of Cities, really is impressive: "In the nineteenth century, saws and axes made in New England cleared the forests of New England broke the prairie sod, New England scales weighed wheat and meat in; New England clothed businessmen in San Francisco; New England cutlery skinned hides to be in Milwaukee and sliced apples to be dried in Missouri; New England whale oil lit lamps across the continent; New England blankets warmed children by night and New England textbooks preached at them by day; New England guns armed the troops; and New England dies, lathes, looms, forges, presses and screwdrivers outfitted factories far and wide."

Luckily, working conditions have vastly improved throughout the last century but value remains in maintaining that similar work ethic. Since American Blankets has a slight investment in old mills because our own business originated in one, we thought it could be fun to explore a few of the historical spots from which our country sprung in humble beginnings. Our mill is no longer in the textile business, but we still stay true to the purpose of keeping those young ones warm at night. Let’s take a look at some other old local wind and water mills here in Massachusetts: Traditional Wind Mills There are two main types of mills -- wind or water powered. The majority of mills in the United States were created for the task of grinding grain. However, other primary purposes of mills were to card wool or saw lumber or make textiles.

The Old Mill, Located in Nantucket Town, Massachusetts

Apparently, The Old Mill is the oldest and largest operating wind-powered mill in the entire United States. Donated to the Nantucket Historical Association in 1897, it provides tours to the general public while preserving its historical quality. This landmark largely serves as a reminder of where our country has been and how we continue along the pathway of discovery.

The little story of this mill features a wandering seaman named Nathan Wilbur. One day, he realized that the windy island of Nantucket had a lot of grains in need of more efficient grinding. In his frequent travels, he had noted the quality structure and mechanics of Holland windmills. So he devised a plan to emulate those traditional mills and constructed The Old Mill in 1746. Although the Nantucket residents initially thought Nathan’s attempt was an unprofitable joke, they quickly recognized its benefits. Currently, the mill operation produces around 5,000 pounds of meal from corn during the summer season.

Eastham WindmillLocated in Eastham, Massachusetts

You’re looking at the oldest windmill on Cape Cod! This historical structure was originally built in 1680 in Plymouth. Since then, it has relocated several times but maintains its position as the last working gristmill on the Cape. Furthermore, every year after Labor Day, residents delightfully throw a weekend of celebration called the Windmill Weekend Festival. Why not? The mill is open to the general public during the summer months of July and August, specifically from 1-5pm weekdays and 1-5pm on Sunday.

Traditional Water Mills

With the approach of the 19th century, water-power became the leading energy source and overpowered the existing competition of wind power. In addition to grist mills, this advancement allowed for expansion into other milling opportunities like textile, sawing, and carding. These water mills exude more of a simple, countryside scenic feel like the provincial town that Belle from Beauty and the Beast sings about.

Dexter’s Grist Mill. Located in Sandwich, Massachusetts

This mill has seen an incredible amount of change in its lifespan. From owners to functions to materials. But now it has been restored to its original state of authenticity with lots of character -- a makeover to look old again.

The Dexter Grist Mill story began in 1640 when the miller Thomas Dexter purchased this land to construct and run his mill. Until being sold in 1700, it remained within the family line, passed down from one generation to the next. Then it was torn down in 1830 only to be replaced in 1856 with an iron turbine (wheel) which since then has been used for a wide variety of industries such as carding wool, treating woolen cloth, wheelwrighting, producing jewelry boxes, pounding clay to producing glass, cards & tags.

From an early start, the Dexter Mill has been subject to debate and alteration. In 1653, the town held a meeting about reconstructing the mill because of damage from a nearby broken dam. In 1961, the Dexter Mill was finally restored to its original state, complete with an authentic wooden wheel and parts in an effort to preserve its historic nature. Now is available for public touring (check out more images and details of the interior & exterior at this site).

Stony BrookLocated in Brewster, Massachusetts

This lovely little water mill is conveniently situated near another windmill (Brewser). Exuding an aura of quaintness with its wooden shingles, the one-story mill location overflows with beautiful green shrubbery and flowers. If you choose to visit, you can learn about the different parts that help a watermill function like the sluice gate, millstones, and the waterwheel. Of these functions, the large wheel is the most recognized aspect of a watermill. About 15 feet in diameter with 4 foot wide wooden paddles, water hits the wheel from the top and pushes the wheel forward to generate power.

Now Massachusetts, let alone the entire world, has so many alternatives to water power. The majority of remaining mills have long since been place on the back burner as profitable sources for companies. Yet they remain an integral part of how our society’s development. We can never forget to look back at where it all began.