Mills and Dams

From Stephentown Genealogy: Roots & More

The information on this page cames from the Stephentown Historical Society's Bicenntenial Album 1784-1984. Please keep in mind that the information was published in 1984, and in many cases is probably outdated, with reference to whether mills or parts of them are still standing, etc.

"For the early settlers the necessities of life were food, shelter and clothing. They had to seek services of various kinds to fill these needs. As the population of colonial America was small and labor was in short supply, most communities were anxious to attract men skilled in mill building to provide worksaving machines.

The patroon often built the first gristmill to entice settlers to an area. Millers were often granted land and water rights, and free labor was often provided to help build many an early saw or gristmill. The mills were set up on the streams and brooks, and the villages were established around them.

the miller was handy in many fields: carpentry, basic machinery, architecture, engineering and hydraulics, and simple mechanical principles (the inclined plane, the lever, the wheel and axle, the screw, the pulley and the wedge).

Mills were not only practical places of industry but gathering places. Nearly every man at one time stopped at the mill to have his grain ground, wood sawed or some other task done. The miller prospered as he took pay to barter, money or toll (a percentage of milled grain). Any miller caught overcharging was subject to a stiff fine, which sometimes led to confiscation of his mill. His prosperity led to other activities in the settlement, such as moneylending and trading. His importane was acknowledged by town leaders who destowed upon him the title of "Master". Millers were often town supervisors or on the town council.

The first recorded gristmill was in Goodrich hollow. One water rights were secured, othe rmills were established. Some of these owners of mills were ELI YOUNG, TOM GLOVES, WILLIAM LANDON AND IRVING COLEMAN.

Other mills manufactured fabrics (flannels, satinet, wadding, wool and cotton) after the carding mills prepared the raw fibers for the looms. The names of some of these mill operators of the early and mid-1800's have been recorded: ADAMS & CHAPMAN, SAMUEL UDELL, JONATHAN BURCH, HUMPHREY & PERRY, EDWIN ADDAMS, GEORGE W. GLASS, EDMOND CHEREVOY, IRVING COLEMAN, BEEBE & REED, and a man named DAWLEY.

There was a brush factory, a tannery and a foundry.

In 1854, Stephentown had more than nine sawmills in operation on Black River, Roaring Brook and Kinderhook Creek. Since sawmills were run with water power, dams were built to control the flow. Some of the sawmill operators of that time were: STEPHEN ORIN, BRAINARD & GIBBS, BENJAMIN GIFFORD, LIONEL UDELL, MOSES WORDEN, MERRILL MEED AND CALVIN THOMPSON.

The following listing of mills was gathered by Donald Sutherland and several others residents who lived in the Garfield area during the early 1900's:

1) The CONKLIN sawmill, located near the Creamery, was run by JAMES CONKLIN around 1915.

2) The ATWATER sawmill and gristmill were located on Kinderhook Creek in Garfield. DANIEL ATWATER sawed wood here until the early 1920's, making white birch squares for spool wood. DONALD SUTHERLAND worked in this mill in 1916. The mill was powered by a turbine supplemented by a steam engine. Later a gasoline engine provided power. The mill had a work room and a loading platform. In 1924-26 CHARLES PAYNE, a Maine lumberman, used the end of the ATWATER building by VARY'S store to saw brush backs, using a Model T Ford for power.

3) There was a dam in Stephentown Flats in front of the Maple Grove Seminary, by GEORGE HUNT's woodworking shop. Hunt's son IRVING ran the shop in 1916.

4) A large power cutter existed as a dry mill before 1890 below the junction of Roaring Brook and Kinderhook Creek. The mill was located across the road from the CLARK home and store, which was owned later by GLASS and still later by SARAH ALDERMAN.

5) An old concrete wheelpit is located under WESLEY RATHBUN'S barn. The raceway ran through the mill from the hill across the road from CARL JENSEN'S home. The original barn was moved to ROSSMAN MANTON'S farm, where it stands today.

6) There was a mill on Black River just downstream from the Cherry Plain Conservation Dam.

7) Near the present beaver dam and just above the bridge on Black River Road is a foundation that may have served as a mill or a storage pond for the large dam several hundred feet downstream (see # 8)

8) A few hundred feet downstream from #7 was a large dam with wing walls and an up and down sawmill (according to Ulysses Sweener). The foundation and wheelpit were still standing in 1975. It was owned by PASCHAL SWEENER, grandfather of Ulysses. The reminents were not standing in 1998.

9) Lily Pond stream and flume ran nearly a mile. The raceway is still visible. It can be reached by traveling up Black River Road, past Nelson Sweener's farm and following the power line across Black River to the raceway.

10 & 11) There was an up-and-down sawmill behind Schmich's home. In 1916 Irving Coleman ran a gristmill, using the old water supply at the former mill. He built another dam (#11) that filled a pond back of his mill. The pond fed a millrace to the turbine that ran his millstones and elevator. The tailrace from this mill crossed under Route 43 and ran into Black River in the early 1900's.

12) A dam and a mill were located on Sutherland road across from Edward Fox's home. The area was considered dangerous, as quicksand existed in the vicinity of the wheelpit (or so Donald Sutherland was told as a child).

13) There was a mill of unknown type about 2000 feet upstream from Black River Bridge.

14) Lincoln Green, an ancestor of Ralph Barrett, operated a sawmill on Roaring Brook just below Stone Bridge. His dam controlled Stone Bridge Pond. The site was obliterated by the new route 43 in 1976.

15) About 1000 feet upstream from Irving Hunt's home, just below the road and bridge, was a dam that may have been used for a sawmill. Two bridges existed, one for the highway and one for the raceway. The dam provided excellent trout fishing between 1917 and 1930.

16) In the woods on the Sutherland farm was a mill, probably a sawmill, on Roaring Brook. It was located near the Hunt-Sutherland property line.

17) On the Enos property near the Sutherland homestead on Duncan Mountain (Mary's Camp) road was a dam site and a carding mill on Roaring Brook. The dam was located just above the bridge. Calvin Atwater later bought the property for the pine trees that grew on it. Then Harold Sutherland purchased it to extend his pasture.

18) A large dam ruin exists about 2000 feet downstream from #17. A raceway ran from this site southeastward to a small pond back of the former Rathbun home, which had been the mill president's home. This pond may have supplied water to the Platts. Carl Jensen owns the property now.

19) Near the old Thomas School on Black Brook off Garfield Road, a side road turns right and leads downhill to the ruins of a house. Back of this ruin are the foundations of a wheelpit and a raceway. If you follow the raceway upstream it leads to the ruins of a dam. Several feet away is evidence of a millpond.

20) One of the first mills in the area was a gristmill on the Solomon Carpenter property on Goodrich Hollow between 1790 and 1800. The mill's exact location is unknown. The mill was probably run by the Goodrich family. Solomon's son Philander used one of the millstones for a doorstep and another for a watering tub support.

24) Another early gristmill (before 1800) was operated in the southern part of town by Eli Young, who subsequently moved to the Black River area.

25) William Landon built a gristmill and foundry in the southwest part of town around 1800.

26) Possibly the first gristmill was operating in Stephentown as early as 1781. According to the HISTORY OF RENSSELAER COUNTY "Soon after a line of marked trees Amaziah Bailey carried his half-bushel of corn upon his back six miles from Bailey Mountain in the Alps to the gristmill at Stephentown."