Obsolete Technology – abandoned mills
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably noted my love of abandoned things and the woods. Well lately I’ve been able to combine them in a really excellent way – mill ruins!
I went walking in some nature trails in Hampstead the other day and found three old mill sites in as many (or even fewer) miles. Granted, it was one of the reasons I chose these trails in the first place, but I had no idea they’d be so cool.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information about the mills on this brook, or even the name of the brook (it’s probably something lame like Mill Brook or Mill Creek). Most likely I’d have to hit up the local historical society to find out any info specific to these mills, but I’m lazy so continued to google.
I did find out that most mills built in New England between 1630 and the mid-1800s were done by individuals, sometimes millwrights proper, sometimes just by a guy with some know-how. Usually the fees commanded by a millwright were pretty steep – up to 1/4 of whatever the product was. Mostly that was flour or lumber because people needed those most and they were the most labor intensive to produce so people paid up. Because the grinding was relatively slow, many mills were built to serve a very local community. They were so important that mills were often the first thing built – before churches and schools even.
Mostly they were undershot wheel mills or tub mills because both types could operate in shallow streams and rivers. They produced mostly around 4-5 horsepower, but could go higher, especially during spring run off. One of the mill sites I visited seemed to also have a spillway made by splitting off part of the stream to power the wheel and leaving another part to regulate the flow – water could be diverted to manage the power to the wheel, probably mostly used during spring run off. The earthworks looked man-made and very deliberate to me –
While I spend time photographing these ruins, I often find myself wondering who built them and what they made. I recently heard about one in another town that was a potato starch mill. I’d never have thought of that in a million years.
Photographing these is challenging. Mostly it’s the terrain which can be steep, rocky, unstable and wet. For this last one I had to wedge myself in the fork of a tree and lean out to get that long diagonal line. Definitely not a tripod friendly position and so the fast(ish) shutter speed. I think it emphasizes the speed of the water though. The middle one was a more relaxed shoot – I just stood on the opposite wall with the tripod and camera pointed downward. It’s my favorite of the bunch I took because I love the perspective and the trees growing in and near the far wall. The first shot was taken from a bridge where the millpond ends; I balanced the camera on the railing and with a little Lightroom magic, I think the photo works pretty well despite the lighting conditions. Most of these sites don’t allow for much clean up or beautification and so they look really messy and disorganized, but that’s how it is when humans give up and nature takes over.