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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The 18th Century Gristmill, by Amber Perry

Dexter's Gristmill, Sandwich, MA

Another view of the mill
Good morning! It's me, the "Sandwich" lady, again. I'm thrilled about today's post! How many of you have visited an historic gristmill? What did you think of it? This was my first experience, and needless to say I was riveted. (But anything historic tends to do that to me. *wink*)
Most gristmills are so picturesque you'd think you are looking at something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. You can find 18th century gristmills throughout several states in the east, but not all of them still work. This one does work, however, and it is fabulous!

Outer wheel
While on my "research" tour of Sandwich, MA last spring, I had the privilege of getting a personal tour of Dexter's Gristmill--one of the last still-working 18th century gristmills in the country. It was restored in the 1960's, and is in excellent condition for its age--considering it originally "started operating" in 1654! Yes, you read that right. That's over 350 years ago. Amazing, isn't it?

Not only that, you can order organic cornmeal ground from this mill every fall. But you have to hurry, because from what I understand supplies are limited. (Contact the Sandwich Chamber for more information.)

So, the pictures are lovely from the outside, but what about the inside? How did it work?
The inside! At the top, you can see the large granite millstone.

Well, gristmills are typically near a water source--as this one is. Thomas Dexter built this gristmill next to Shawme Pond, and constructed a small dam near the edge of it. (Pictured at the bottom.)

The dam forces the water to flow over the large outer wheel and cracks it, which moves the large wheels/gears that are inside the mill. (pictured below.) Those inner gears move the large and very heavy millstone (pictured above) which grinds the grain into flour. Pretty simple, right?

Large inner-gear that is moved by the outer wheel.

View of the small dam in front of the gristmill
Mills of this kind would often grind several different grains, even though today this one grinds only corn. Typically, the farmer would bring his grain and give it to the miller to grind, and the miller would retain his "toll" as payment for the work.

I am fascinated by this kind of historic site--I just wish I could have seen it when it was in its prime! But I am very happy that there are people interested in restoring and maintaining sites like this for myself and others to enjoy. I didn't get to see it in action, but it sounds like it is quite a production.

So have you ever visited a gristmill? If so, which one and what did you think?


  1. Never saw one before! It looks pretty interesting, I probably would have spent the better part of a day just looking at it trying to figure it all out and picture it. :)

  2. Amber, I've been to a grist mill in Michigan and have one in my European manuscript. There is one in VA. that I wanted to go to this summer but they run only certain days and I missed out. Maybe next spring. Thanks for the great post!

  3. this was awesome, Amber. We have an old mill in Ithaca, NY but it doesn't still work. It's great to see all the parts assembled, so I can't imagine who wouldn't get geeked out seeing it actually working! :)

  4. Thank you for the virtual field trip, Amber! I, too, am very grateful for those who work so hard to preserve our past.

  5. Very interesting. I would love to visit one sometime.

  6. Hi Amer. Loved your documentary of your visit! The Living History Park in North Augusta, SC had a gristmill constructed last year here just a mile from my house. It is not quite there yet as it is not functioning. We had a guy, Ben Hassett, do the work for us and then hired another to finish what he started! I volunteered a lot but had no say! Sort of disappointed really! But maybe we will have it operational next year!


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