Lovingly restored gristmills preserve the sights, sounds and tastes of pioneer America.
By Pat & Chuck Blackley
As history buffs as well as photographers, we find it nearly impossible to pass by a gristmill without stopping, chatting with the millers and shooting some photos. Top that off with a big bag of stone-ground flour or cornmeal, and it’s a fine day indeed.
Water-powered gristmills, used to grind oats, wheat, corn and other grains into flour, meal and animal feed, were vitally important in the settlement of the American frontier. Situated on reliable sources of running water, mills often became the hubs of villages and cities that grew up around them.
By the mid-1900s, though, large steam- and electric-powered mills had driven most water-powered mills out of business. Many of the buildings were converted to other uses or abandoned. Fortunately, a number of mills were saved and brought back to life by people who cherish this fascinating legacy of our pioneer past. Some have been only partially restored and serve as visitors centers or museums. Some have been fully restored, and they still grind grain just as they did in the old days.
Many mills, like the Littleton Grist Mill in Littleton, New Hampshire, were saved and restored by determined groups of private citizens. Gracing the Ammonoosuc River since 1798, the mill now operates as a working museum. Its grain products are sold in specialty shops throughout the Northeast.
We always enjoy watching millers at work, listening to the clanking of the massive gears and smelling the freshly ground grain. And you just can’t beat the taste of corn muffins and breads made with stone-ground meal and flour. These millers are true artists in grain, working in lovingly preserved masterpieces of American ingenuity.
So can you really blame us for stopping at every gristmill we see?
Photos by Pat & Chuck Blackley
To view mills photography by our very own readers, click here.