Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sepia Saturday #80

"There's a mill in our town ..."

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 1900
William 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 1916
It 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 1950
In 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 today
In 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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  1. How nice to see this old building with so much history still exists, and looking not too different from how it was in its heyday. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. This reminded me of an old mill near my hometown. Its still there but not as old because it's in the Midwest.

  3. I love old mills, wherever they are, and it’s wonderful to see them restored in this way.

  4. We have an old mill near us but sadly it isn't as well preserved as this one.

    Sepia Saturday

  5. The mill looks great now. What a joy to see such a nice preservation.