We recently completed a historic wood window restoration project at the Mill at Anselma. This mill is a gem of historic architecture in our country – the most complete example of a functioning historic grist mill in the entire country.
History of the Mill
The Mill at Anselma has truly historic origins. In the late 1600’s, the property was owned by Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn, though there was no mill on the property just yet. That would come in the mid 1700’s when influential Quaker Samuel Lightfoot decided to build a water-powered mill along the Pickering Creek after purchasing the 500-acre property in 1725. In the mid 1700’s, Chester County was becoming the “bread basket” of the
colonies and Lightfoot recognized the need for a local grist mill.
In 1767, Samuel divided his property between his two sons, with his younger son William receiving the acreage that included the grist mill. It was during William’s old age that the mill’s prosperity began to decline. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s that the mill would be revitalized when revolutionary technology that allowed for continuous production in grist mills was installed by the Shenemans. These labor-saving elevators and conveyors carried the grain between floors in the mill and were incorporated into the existing mill system – leaving the original Lightfoot technology untouched.
Just before the Civil War, the Oberholtzer family purchased and lived on the property and in 1862 poetess married into the family. The scenery around the mill is featured in her poems, including her famous “At the Old Mill” from her book of verse, “Violet Lee”. The mill remained largely untouched until 1906 when the wooden water wheel was replaced with a steel water wheel and the wooden sluiceway with iron pipe. Shortly after, the advent of portable grist mills made trips to the Anselma Mill no longer necessary and the mill’s prosperity quickly declined.
In 1919 Oliver Collins purchased the property and responded to the changes in market demand. Without touching the Colonial-era technology in the mill, Collins installed technology that allowed him to run a grist mill, saw mill, cider press, metal working shop, and even a barber shop and lawnmower repair shop – all of which were powered by the water wheel in the mill.
The Mill Today
In 1982 when Collins passed away, the Mill was purchased by the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, who performed a lengthy restoration of the mill from 1999 to 2004. When done, the historic millstones milled flour for the first time since 1934.
It is the most complete example of a custom grain mill in the U.S. and in 2005 The Mill at Anselma became the only custom grist mill in the U.S. to be designated a National Historic Landmark.
Our Historic Wood Window Replication Project at the Mill
During the restoration in the early 2000’s, the deteriorating window sashes had not been addressed and we were contracted to repair and replace the window sashes and sills.
Before we began work, the windows were a hodge-podge of different styles from different periods over the years. None of the sashes were original to the mill, so we replicated the profile from the oldest sash on the mill to give all the windows the same profile. We manufactured new sashes for the windows, replaced a few sills, and repaired quite a few stops and casings to restore the windows to full, working order.
In deciding which wood to use for the windows, we looked to the wood that was already on the mill. We determined that the window frames had originally been made of white oak and had been left unpainted, which was common for informal Colonial buildings. So we chose a quarter sawn white oak for the replacement sashes. In quarter sawn white oak all the graining runs vertically. This makes the wood a tighter wood that is stronger and more stable since the grain is all running in the same direction, is less prone to warping, and seasonal expansion and contraction, and offers extra moisture resistance. Quarter sawn white oak in general is a quality wood choice, but it was a particularly ideal wood choice to use in the moist, shady area of where the mill sat.
Though we don’t often leave wood unpainted, we did in this case in keeping with the original style of the windows. Despite the fact that originally there would have been no treatment applied to the wood, we did use a preservative that we made out of linseed oil and mineral spirits to help protect the wood and increase its longevity. The new growth wood we have available to us today simply does not last as long as old growth wood did when left untreated.
In addition to our work on the windows, we repaired the roof on their springhouse. During a winter storm a tree had fallen on the springhouse and damaged the roof. It was a traditional oak lathe roof with no sheathing and had bellied down in the center. When it was restored, the Trust chose to leave the belly in the roof as a sign of how it had always been instead of correcting it. (A choice that nags at Chuck’s perfectionist side, but one his preservationist side very much respects.)
The roof repair required special attention to detail. The angles had to be shimmed and straightened with shingles. “It took more time, but the job wouldn’t have turned out as nice without it. It was definitely worth it,” Chuck notes.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style01″] “We’re very pleased. It was a real pleasure to work with you and show off your magnificent work. You are outstanding professionals and experts in your field.“ -Craig Hadley, Executive Director Mill at Anselma [/sws_blockquote_endquote]