The Millwright’s Apprentice

The tools of the trade for the Millwright’s Shop
18
Jul

Welcome to “The Millwright’s Apprentice”

First, it will not be amiss to acquaint the reader with the author and purpose of this blog. My name is Gabriel Christy; I work at Newlin Grist Mill, a 1704 water-powered grist mill in southeastern Pennsylvania. I’m a member of a team of staff and volunteers researching and interpreting an 18th century millwright’s shop. Over the coming months the Millwright’s Shop will be rebuilding, repairing, or reproducing various pieces of mill equipment and tools with the goal of recreating a mill from the 1740s to 1760s. This blog will be a platform to document the process, research, findings, and, more broadly, how mills served as a nexus of trades and skills for rural Pennsylvania communities in the first half of the 18th century. We’ll start with a brief background of our mill and the Millwright’s Shop.

Nathaniel Newlin’s Gristmill in Glen Mills, PA.

Nathaniel Newlin’s Gristmill in Glen Mills, PA.

The story of our Mill

In 1683 the ship Liver, of Liverpool, dropped anchor in the Delaware River.[1] On board was Nicholas Newlin and his family, Irish Quakers who had recently purchased 500 acres of land in William Penn’s new Quaker province. They set out into Chester County to establish themselves and build a new life in this world of opportunity.[2]

In 1704, construction was completed on a grist mill for Nathaniel Newlin. [3] In 1739, this mill doubled in size, allowing the Newlins to enter the lucrative export market, selling flour and ship-bread (what today we would refer to as hard tack) everywhere from the Caribbean to Europe. This not only created an important center for commerce in the region, but a lasting source of income for the family. Over the next three centuries the mill underwent numerous changes, including at least four different owners. It saw continuous operation until shutting down in 1941.

Then in 1956, E. Mortimer Newlin (a descendant of the original Newlins) purchased the mill and began its restoration. By 1960 the mill was back in operation, this time as a heritage site, preserving the history of 18th century rural life in Pennsylvania and 160 acres of natural lands, including trails, forests, meadows, and waterways. It continues under this mission today, serving as an educational center, site for historical and environmental exploration, and recreational space.

The Millwright’s Shop

Mills, like all large machines, require constant maintenance. It has come time to restore our water wheel, water box flume, and various smaller mill implements. This process began with research into early 18th century mills. As this research progressed, it soon became clear how little is known about mills from this period, and the study expanded to include 17th century English mills, and eventually into the tradesmen who built mills in mid-18th century Pennsylvania.

The tools of the trade for the Millwright’s Shop

The tools of the trade for the Millwright’s Shop

But out of this seemingly never ending research, an idea coalesced: create an early to mid-18th century millwright’s shop, focusing on the restoration and reconstruction of our mill, its equipment, and other repairs to our twelve historic buildings and ten ruins. As pieces of the mill wear out, they will be replaced with historically accurate reproductions, built by hand with tools appropriate for the period. This will allow us to use both the Millwright’s Shop and the mill as an experimental archaeology study to determine how milling equipment functioned and evolved throughout the first half of the 18th century.

In addition to performing repairs to the mill, this shop is part of a broad furnishing plan to more accurately represent the trades and material culture which would have been associated with a colonial mill. All of the tools and equipment in the Millwright’s Shop will be reproductions of those available at the time based on archaeological evidence, illustrations, and period descriptions. This will allow us to not just produce items that look historically correct in the mill, but to study the process of their manufacture and document our findings within this blog.

Volunteers assisting with the prep and layout of stock for the Millwright’s Shop’s workbench

Volunteers assisting with the prep and layout of stock for the Millwright’s Shop’s workbench

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Millwright’s Shop will also exist as a space for the community to engage with the often hidden restoration process and assist with research and woodworking projects. We have had volunteers help with everything from lime washing walls to building tools, and they continue to help with all of the shop’s projects. If you are interested in volunteering with us, contact information will be listed at the end of the blog, or you can click here.

The Blog

As the Millwright’s Shop develops we will be tracking the progress on this blog, providing (hopefully) bi-monthly updates that will cover all aspects of the shop. This will serve not only as a repository for information, but as a forum for discussion of the trades and economy of the period. As mills served as a nexus for communities, I hope this too can serve as a nexus for those interested in their history and construction. We will also invite guest authors, conduct interviews with experts, and perform collaborative studies to better cover every aspect of an 18th century millwright’s life.

Finally, a note on language in the blog. We will do our best to ensure that it is readable for the modern public, but there will inevitably be terminology or spelling which is no longer in common use. For these instances we will be creating a glossary of terms used in the blog, this will not only help to educate those unfamiliar with 18th century trades terminology (it’s even confusing for those of us who read it regularly) but also serve as an ever growing, and freely available, reference dictionary for those studying the period. Whenever a term from this glossary is used in the blog, it will be hyperlinked to the glossary for quick and easy reference.

Interested in Getting Involved?

  • Are you interested in volunteering in the Millwright’s Shop? No experience is necessary, just a willingness to learn.

  • Are you interested in helping us with research or guest writing for the blog?

  • Or would you like to support the millwright’s shop by drinking a delicious beer? “Plane Straight Ale,” a historically-inspired English ale produced in cooperation with Twin Lakes Brewing Company is available as a gift for donating to the Millwright’s Shop at Newlin Grist Mill.

If any of these apply to you, or if you would like to learn more, contact us at:

Newlin Grist Mill

219 S. Cheyney Road

Glen Mills, PA 19342

info@newlingristmill.org

Tel. 610.459.2359


Footnotes

[1] Sheppard, Walter Lee. 2009. Passengers and Ships Prior to 1684. Heritage Books.

[2] Interior, United States Department of the. 1972. “National Record of Historic Places Nomination

Form Newlin (Nicholas) House.” Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 26 April. Accessed July 2, 2019.

http://www.dot7.state.pa.us/CRGIS_Attachments/SiteResource/H000710_01H.pdf.

[3] Newlin Grist Mill. 2014-2015. Our History. Accessed July 2, 2019.

https://www.newlingristmill.org/our-history.

Bibliography

Interior, United States Department of the. 1972. “National Record of Historic Places Nomination Form Newlin (Nicholas) House.” Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 26 April. Accessed July 2, 2019. http://www.dot7.state.pa.us/CRGIS_Attachments/SiteResource/H000710_01H.pdf.

Newlin Grist Mill. 2014-2015. Our History. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://www.newlingristmill.org/our-history.

Sheppard, Walter Lee. 2009. Passengers and Ships Prior to 1684. Heritage Books.

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