|Grist Mill and Sawmill Architecture in the Early 1800s|
by Debbie Robison |
July 26, 2007
Many grist mills existed in
A study of the Mutual Assurance Society policies for mills in these counties was undertaken to determine if mill design was standard during that period. Insurance policies for sawmills and distilleries were also examined to determine how they were constructed, and if they were associated with grist mills. The policies provide a snapshot of what mills looked like at a particular period of time. The original date of construction for each individual mill was not provided; therefore, changes in style over time could not be evaluated.
The dates of the initial insurance policies range from 1796
to 1812, though most mills were first insured with the Mutual Assurance Society
beginning in 1803. Forty-four grist mills were identified; thirty-three of which were
|GRIST MILL DIMENSIONS|
All but one of the mills were
rectangular in shape. James Brown Jr. was the lone mill owner who had a square
mill, measuring 28 feet each way. Several of the mills were unusually long. The
2-story stone mill at Coton owned by Thomas Ludwell Lee measured 34x98 feet, the 3-story stone mill in
Occoquan owned by Nathaniel Ellicot & Co.
measured 45x75 feet, and Elisha Janney’s 3-story
brick mill in Occoquan on the north side of
The largest mill, with 10,125 square feet of space, was the
Nathaniel Ellicot & Co. mill located in Occoquan
The number of stories varied from one to four stories, though only one mill had but one story, and only two mills rose to four stories. Most of the mills (64%) were constructed with two stories. Three-story mills accounted for 23% of the mills studied.
Most of the grist mills (57%) were constructed completely of stone and another 25% were constructed out of stone for the first story and wood for the story(ies) above. It is interesting to note that out of the three mills constructed of brick, two of them were the 4-story mills. Only four mills were constructed completely out of wood, and they likely had stone foundations. Several policies mentioned that the lower level was partially underground, suggesting that the mills were constructed into a bank, similar to a bank barn.
Of the three brick mills, two were situated in
The construction material for the roof of the mills, when it was mentioned, was always wood.
The insurance policies for 29 of the mills noted the number of pairs of millstones. In slightly more than half of these occurrences, the mills had two pairs of millstones. Another 34% had three pairs of millstones. In those cases where a mill had two pairs of millstones, one pair were burr millstones and one pair were country millstones. When a mill had three pairs of millstones, it utilized two pairs of burr millstones and one pair of country millstones.
The largest number of pairs of millstones any mill possessed
was four pairs. William Hartshorne’s 4-story brick mill at Strawberry Hill in
Eight of the grist mills also had sawmills on the same property. There were no cases among the insurance policies where a sawmill was insured without there also being a merchant or country mill.
Each sawmill was a long, narrow structure. For example,
In addition to being long and narrow, the
sawmills were typically only one story high. All five of the
Some of the sawmills were attached
to the merchant or country mills, while others were near the mill. Jonas Potts’
While many of the merchant and country mills were depicted with end chimneys, none of the sawmills had chimneys.
Three distillery buildings were insured: one at Woodlawn, one in Leesburg, and one at Thomas Ludwell Lee’s Coton. The distilleries were located at grist mills, except for the Leesburg distillery owned by Wilson C. Seldon, who possessed a mill elsewhere.
Each of the distillery buildings were one story high and covered with a wood roof; however, the similarities stopped there. Two of the distilleries were constructed of stone, and one of wood; and the dimensions of the buildings all varied.
While mills and sawmills had some similarities in construction material, general shape, and type of millstones used, the dimensions of the mills were not standardized in the early 1800s.
Sawmills and distilleries, at least in those few cases where they were insured by the Mutual Assurance Society, were associated with grist mills, and often located on the same property.