On Saturday, March 15, the Delaware Nature Society gave a walking tour of historic Abbott’s Mill, which included seeing the mill operate as it first did during the 18th century. Led by Steve Childers, volunteer at the Delaware Nature Society, the walking tour allowed visitors to learn about the history of the mill, how it operates, and get a first-hand look at how a single man operated the entire mill.
Built in 1795 by Nathan Willey, the mill was powered by a breast shot waterwheel and was devoted to grind corn and grains. This process required a lot of work and man power to operate until Oliver Evens, a Newport Delaware native, invented the Oliver Evens system, where grain could be operated by one person through the use of bulk material handling devices including conveyor belts, bucket elevators, and Archimedean screws.
“Oliver Evens actually got U.S. patent number three from George Washington for the system,” Childers said. “George Washington and Thomas Jefferson actually paid Evens royalties to use his system.”
In 1906 the mill was brought into the 20th century with the inclusion of the west wing which houses the roller mills and related equipment that helped turn wheat, oats, and barley into a much finer grade of flour. The renovations to the mill also replaced the waterwheel with a water turbine.
In 1919, Ainsworth Abbott bought the mill and operated it by himself for the next 44 years. The only people Abbot had working for him were delivery men to take orders from Georgetown to Dover. Abbot made several changes to the mill including adding a diesel engine in the basement to use when the pond water was too low.
“But the story is that once he got the engine installed the water level never got to low so he never got to use it,” Childers said.
The mill operates by pouring grain into trapdoors where the grain falls into bins in the basement. It is then lifted by elevators to the attic where grain like corn meal would go through sifters, and debris separators. The grain then would be directed to the mill stones on the first floor to be grounded. The elevators would then move the grounded grain back upstairs to the attic where it was put into chutes to go through a shaking corn meal sieve. The cornmeal would travel back down stairs to be bagged.
The mill today is still fully functional and visitors can see the mill operate mechanically, but the mill has not been used to grind grain in 50 years, expect for one special opportunity.
“A year ago last September, we had the opportunity to grind 12 bags of grain for Dogfish Brewery,” Childers commented. “They used it to brew an ale called DNA which means Delaware native ale and all the products used in that brew had some kind of connection to Delaware.”
The next tour of Abbott’s Mill will be on April 20th and May 18th. Tours are $5 for non-members and free for Delaware Nature Society members. For more information about Abbott’s Mill or the Delaware Nature Society visit www.delawarenaturesociety.org.