That was the phrase that immediately danced through my mind as a college freshman upon my initial visit to the small rural community which I would eventually come to call home. The year was 1983. Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" had been the university drama offering that fall, and I was on my way to my future sister-in-law's house for a home-cooked Sunday dinner when we passed by the little town's oldest and most well-known landmark: a gristmill.
Laughlin's Mill circa 1900William Laughlin built the gristmill on the banks of the Big Spring around 1763. At that time, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania was on the extreme edge of the colonial frontier and the settlers' relations with the natives were strained, at best. The early colonists hadn't been overly fond of the corn flour which the Native Americans ground, so they'd chosen to bring wheat, rye and other cereal grains with them when they came to the New World. Mr. Laughlin provided a much-needed service for an agrarian population, building his mill with a dam which had a six-and-a-half foot head. This provided power equivalent to fifteen horses to turn the waterwheel and operate the grindstone.
Laughlin's Mill sometime after 1916It wasn't long before Laughlin had competition. By 1770, there were three gristmills on the Big Spring; by 1784, there were five. A century later, two of those competitors were refitted with rollers which milled flour faster and more efficiently. Nonetheless, Laughlin's Mill continued to be operated by the next three generations of family, until 1896.
Laughlin's Mill circa 1950In 1896, the Laughlin family sold the mill to the town's water company, which removed the internal milling machinery and replaced it with a water-driven turbine. The power generated from the turbine was used to drive the hydraulic pumps which fed the town's water mains.
Laughlin's Mill todayIn 1916 the original look of the mill was restored by private funding. More recently, the water wheel was restored with the help of high school faculty and students.
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