A blog about a first-time house owner learning to maintain his backyard, and thoughts about nature, science, history, and life.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Freeville History: The Old Mill (Part 1)

On our Freeville tour, we've already looked at Mill Dam Park, the site of the old mill dam.  But the Freeville history series hasn't taken a good look at what was Freeville's first and longest-lived industry, the old mill.  Some of the information is gleaned from Albert B. Genung's "Historical Sketch of the Village of Freeville, Tompkins County, New York", and some comes from Freeville's resident village historian, Joan Manning.

Freeville was first settled in 1798, by Daniel White.  Early on, he recognized the need for a grist mill...there were none in the whole town of Dryden.  In the summer of 1800, construction began on the dam.  Two years later, the mill was completed.

According to Genung, "The dam was built of logs anchored with stones, and some of those old logs and stones still lie there in the pasture today, nearly a century and a half later."  [Note: Genung wrote his history in 1942, but I hear that some of those logs and stones are still there to this day.]  The mill was entirely built from local materials. According to Genung, "[t]he mill was built mainly of logs, roofed with boards from Whitney's sawmill on Virgil Creek."  The mill stood outside the modern-day village limits, near the Mill Street bridge over Fall Creek.

Of course, to operate a grist mill, one needs a millstone.  Genung writes: "For a millstone he went up the hill a couple miles northwest and broke out a boulder on the Thompson or later-day Skilling farm.  With ox team and sled he dragged the rock down to the mill and himself split and dressed out the stones which were used to grind grain there for sixteen years.

Now farmers from the Dryden area could bring their grain to a local mill.  This was the beginning of roads around the Freeville area.  "Five ox roads or 'tracks' were early cut through the woods toward the Freeville site; one from West Dryden and Cayuga Lake direction [to the west]; one along the north side of the creek from Etna; one north toward present Groton; one south along Virgil Creek to Willow Glen; one east toward Malloryville.  To the grist mill in those days came all the settlers from miles around, especially in the fall and winter.  It was an important center.  In the miller's tally corner by the fire place men in homespun and home-tanned fur swapped items of news, settled debts, drank a moderate cup of the Elder's wild blackberry cordial, exchanged seed and other products and paid their taxes."

Thanks to Fall Creek and the new grist mill, Freeville (or more accurately, the area was to become Freeville) became a hub of life in our little corner of central New York.  Soon, a few other houses spouted up, and a hamlet was born.  More on the mill tomorrow!

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