Saturday, March 21, 2015

Looking for the Old Mills of Waterford, Vermont

A grist mill equipped for custom grinding; four customers could have their grain ground at once here.
Waterford's once-famous song said:
-- "A very fine place
Adorned with majesty and grace
Situated under Rabbit Hill
With a tavern, store and a clover mill."
Thanks to the 1875 Beers Map of Waterford, we know many of the locations of the mills that operated on water power at that time. But we're looking for photos if available, as well as business records.

Waterford's share of mills in the 19th century might surprise today's visitor. In Zadock Thompson's 1820 Gazetter, there are four mills mentioned: two oil mills and two clover mills.

"Oil mills" pressed linseed oil from flax seeds -- and linseed oil was an essential of house and barn paints. According to Hayes's 1907 history of Rockingham, Vermont, that described the oil mill at Bellows Falls, here is how it worked: "The flax seed was poured upon a large stone floor, on which two immense stones, like grist-mill stones, set on edge, were made to revolve around an upright shaft, like wagon wheels turning in a circle, thus crushing the seed. It was then shovelled into a large iron barrel about six feet long made to revolve in a fire-place over a wood fire until the crushed seed was thoroughly cooked. It then went into smaller strong iron barrels which had one movable head, and these in turn were put into a large log hollowed out with solid ends. A press set in motion, with cog wheels and screw, forced the movable heads of each barrel inward and the oil flowed out into the log trough, and from that into receptacles to be shipped to the market. The cakes of oil meal remaining were ground up and used for feed. In the old mill an arch for boiling the oil was used."

Clover mills hulled the seeds of red clover, a planting method brought by English settlers to made fields more fertile. New England's chilly, stony soil wasn't kind to the seeds, so the hulls had to be removed to make sure they would germinate.

Just 4 years later, in 1824, there were 13 mills noted in Waterford: six sawmills, one gristmill, two fulling mills (part of the wool fabric process), two clover mills, and two "other" that were probably the oil mills.  A later historical note says that one clover mill was changed to a [potato] starch mill.

And in 1840, the town included eight sawmills, according to Defebaugh's 1907 History of The Lumber Industry of America.

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