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Mill's of Old

Polly Shank

"One hand in the hopper and the other in the sack,
the ladies step forward and gents fall back."

The Mill, Mill stream, dam and race have long been romanced by song writers, poets and articles. "Down by the old mill stream," "When you and I were young Maggis," "Happy as the Miller boy stands by the Mill," and "The wheel goes around with a free good will" were just a few on popular songs sung in the milling days of old.

Otterdale Mill

Locals mill played a very important port in the social life of long ago. Being the largest building in the area, they were often the scene of community meeting and a Parties. It was at Troxel’s Mill that the original settlers of Emmitsburg came together and voted their support of Independence.

In the summertime, the ponds that supplied water that powered the mill were a prime choice for Church and community picnics, but not for swimming. Girls, completely clothed from head to ankle with no flesh exposed, would have surely drowned if they had tried. Boy, who had learned to swim in swimming holes in streams, where un-accustomed to anything but skinny dipping.

Instead, young girls and boys often went off fishing. Men pitched horse shoes, and the ladies set out food in the shade and exchanged recipes. This gave the older boys a chance to invite their special to go boating and little privacy.

In the winter, the mill’s ponds would freezes over for months, providing an excellent ice-skating surface, especially for young ladies, who used it as an opportunity to show off their gracefulness as they skated hand over hand, with their favorite young man.

During the short winter days, boys would gather a big pile of brush and a good size log or tree trunk, which they would light at dusk. The lighted brush pile made light for skating and a place to gather. Talk, and warm weary bones. The log provided a place to rest and a place for the girls to sit while the boys adjusted their skates. Unlike today’s modern one piece skates, we wore substantial shoes laced above the ankle, with skates clamped onto the shoes at the heel and at the wide part of the shoe, all of which was tightened with a key.

The exhausting of the fire signaled the end of the night festivities, and slowly, one by one, exhausted skaters retired to a home nearby to warm them mulled cider and warm ginger bread, and on rare occasions, popcorn, roast peanuts and sweet potatoes or pull taffy. As they filled themselves with the fruits of their labors of summer, they listened as their parents told amusing tales of episodes of their days of old.

In the mills of old, grain was ground chopped and mixed according to the customers needs or wishes. Animals required a different grain from others: Soybeans for dairy cows, oats for horses, corn for hogs, mixed grains for chickens etc. These were mixed with other grains and supplements in a large conical mixer that had a scraping noise all its own. As most animals have a sweet tooth, a hefty amount of sweet molasses was almost always added.

Once the grain was delivered, the miller would turn the wheel that lifted the gate that allowed water in. As the splash and swash of the water pours in, the unbalanced wheel with pings and groan begins to turn. After more water is turned on and the wheel maintains a steady pace the big belt is slipped on and the whole operation begins. It is very noisy; wheels turning, elevators in spouts carrying grain to and fro, from bins to machinery.

The flour is made from locally grown wheat. Large heavy steel rolls peel off the outer layer ‘the Bran’, which is directed to the bran bin. The next set of rolls peels the middling or shorts, which are directed to their own bin. The third roll crushes the heart of the wheat, which is the flour. The flour is sifted through large silk clothes, which vibrate is a slow, but constant motion. The miller had to keep a close watch that all machinery ran smoothly. Any changes of speed or sound meant trouble. The miller ear was on the pulse of the mill.

Corn was ground into corn meal on a stone burn. One stone was stationary the other revealed corn grains were trickled only top center in a steady stream and the speed of the grinding was timed to an Irish rhythm and the smell was good. Some people brought their own special grist which they had sorted carefully and toasted. The raising and lowering of the burr was a tedious operation. When it was lowered, it was in operation driven by a wheel of hand made wooden cogs which were replaced at time. The burr itself was picked each year to keep it sharp and the grooves open.

The office was the business and social part of the mill. It was the only place quiet enough to talk and do business. Here grain was bought and sold. Many farmers borough a large amount of wheat or corn and got the flour and cornmeal in exchange as they needed it. In the winter, the wood stove made the office a cozy refuge from the cold, and the row of chairs invited long and pleasant stays.

Have your own memories of Emmitsburg Mills of Old?  
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

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