Monroe Learns About Millstones
As winter approaches, I thought I should take advantage of the warm autumn day and venture outside of the Mansion. After skirting the perimeter of the property, I looked for a place to take a nap. I scurried through the brightly colored leaves on the Ninth Street side of the Mansion and spotted the ideal location for a nap under the sun. The grooves in the millstone made it easier for my vertical climb. I stretched out across the warm top of the millstone and in no time at all I was in dreamland.
Perhaps it was the location, for my mind was creating images of millstones from an earlier time. The role of millstones has certainly changed. Now used as decorative additions to the garden, from the time of the earliest settlers to the late 19th century they were vital to the economy of the community.
William Penn had the foresight to bring a miller, Caleb Pussey, with him on the Welcome on his first trip to America. Also on the ship was the framing for a mill. Bread was the staff of life of early settlers and farmers depended upon millers to grind their grain into flour.
During the American Revolution, George Washington ordered the removal of the run stones from mills in areas near British troop encampments to prevent flour going to the enemy. The stones were identified with tar markings and returned to their mills of origin after the war.
Jacob and Daniel Stroud realized that mills would be essential to draw people to their new town. By the 1800s, gristmills dotted the map of what is now Monroe County. Huge wheels powered by water moved the gears that made the top millstone move. The grain was crushed between the top stone known as the run and the bottom stationary stone called the bed stone. The miller would set the distance between the stone according to the grain he would be grinding. The farmer’s wheat would need less space than his corn.
The grooves on the millstones were called “furrows” and the flat surfaces between them “land.” The millstones were maintained by an artisan known as a dresser. He would rough up (dress) the stone every few weeks. He used an iron pick and hammer to do this. Slivers of metal and pieces of stone were often driven deep into the back of his hands.
The early millers kept a portion of the grain they ground as payment for their service. Any excess they traded for other supplies for their families. Most millers were outgo-ing people and their mills became gathering places to socialize and catch up on local news while farmers waited for their flour.
The 1875 19”x23” maps of Monroe County townships and towns offer evidence of grist and other mills and highlight the importance of water power in their operation. The maps may be purchased at the Stroud Mansion for $2 each. A lesson plan (appropriate for grades 3 and higher) using one of these maps is available. The lesson addresses geography and economic National Academic Standards.