On Thursday, March 20, Abbott’s Mill celebrated the first day of spring with “Milling About at Abbott’s,” a program designed to celebrate the mill and provide more information about programs available at the location. The event included beer tastings from Dogfish Head and art exhibits provided by the Mispillion Art League and Live Cheap Make and Make Art Studios.
“Our goal is to share some of the resources available here at Abbott’s Mill,” said Jason Beale, Manager of the Abbott’s Mill Nature Center. “The Delaware Nature Society manages several preserves in Delaware, including Ashland Nature Center and Coverdale Farm. We are a non-profit organization, and we survive solely on an endowment from the Nature Society and donations. We are not a state park, so we do not receive tax dollars to keep the programs here running.”
Mr. Beale explained that many people are familiar with the school programs offered at Abbott’s Mill, but they also offer many activities for adults. Behind the mill is a boardwalk trail that travels along the creek, which is part of Johnson’s Branch, a tributary to the Mispillion River. During the event, the walk was illuminated with small candles, as was the walk from the nature center to the mill, which is still operational.
Abbott’s Mill is one of the few remaining water powered mills in the state, and guides provide interesting facts regarding the importance of milling in Delaware. Milling was a critical part of the economy, and wherever it was possible to place a mill, one existed during the early years of the country. The mill operates on the Oliver Evans system, named for a Newport, Delaware native who invented the automated flour mill. The Evans system used bulk material handling and bucket elevators, conveyor belts and screws to grind grains, and he was issued the third patent in the country for his invention. George Washington signed the patent, and he, along with Thomas Jefferson, paid royalties to Mr. Evans for use of the Evans system in the mills on their plantation.
Volunteers built a replica of the system used when the mill was operational and demonstrated how corn and other grains moved through the mill during the event. Guides explained that the second floor of the mill contained nothing but bins to hold grain, some of them as large as the downstairs rooms. In 2011, Abbott’s Mill ground grains used by Dogfish Head to create “Delaware Native Ale,” a beer brewed solely from products found in Delaware.
“We obtained barley from a local grower and had Abbott’s Mill grind it for us,” said Mark Carter of Dogfish Head. “We have created several versions of the beer, but the original used yeast we captured from peaches grown at Fifer Orchards. That yeast is available to any Delaware brewer for use in any of their beers, which is unusual since yeasts are often closely guarded. We wanted to provide this for other brewers since it is a native Delaware yeast, known as Delaware Brewer’s Yeast.” The original brew was created with the assistance of the University of Delaware who isolated the yeast, and the grains were ground at Abbott’s Mill by a team of millers that included Elliott Workman, Stephen Childers and Paul Layton.
Those in attendance were able to see the mill in operation and walk the nature trail while sampling local cheeses and Dogfish Head brews. For more information about Abbott’s Mill Nature Center programs, individuals can contact them at 302-422-0847.