This Place in History: Old Red Mill

JERICHO, Vt.

At 'This Place in History' Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins to a very recognizable, imposing red building in Jericho.

"As the sign says, it's the Chittenden Mills. Some people call it the Old Red Mill, but it's a great example of an early Vermont grist mill. This mill goes back to the early 19th century, so that's the early 1800s. We're on the Browns River which is pretty flat, fast-flowing river. It goes down to the Winooski River. There were seven different mill sites along this River alone, and this was one of them. This is Mill Number 2; so water power that moves a water wheel that can run just about any kind of machinery," introduced Perkins. 

"The site started out as a starch mill, but it really wasn't until about the 1850s when things started to get going and it turned into a grist mill. So you're looking at what is often called a mill race. So the water is flowing down right next to the building and in its early years, there would have been a water wheel attached right down where that stone structure is, that would turn."

"The mill made flour. So they took grain in both from Vermont and from the Midwest. It came in on a train and it used big huge millstones that would sit on top of each other. They would turn and grind the grain between the stones that ran with the water wheel," explained Perkins.

"The Howe family bought the mill and they said 'boy, we can make a lot of money by grinding as much grain as possible'. But the old water wheel was not going to work and these grinding stones aren't going to work. So they put in rollers which were brand new technology for New England at the time. This is probably the first mill to have grain rollers. Those are big huge stone, as it sounds, rollers. So rather than grind, the rollers roll. But they needed to put in turbines. So like a power plant, they had turbines. They realized that the flow of water wasn't fast enough to run the turbines, so they threw some dynamite in here and they blew this gorge out even deeper so that the water would run faster and run their turbines."

"They also made the mill bigger. It was all a stone building. They added this wood structure and the tower to the top. It's covered with a metal siding, which is pretty cool. What I love is it still has the tower on it. This goes back to how do we use gravity to our best advantage. So they bring the grain in and grain would get taken up to the top of the tower. Then they would pour the grain down. It would flow through chutes down in to the rollers. As it fell through the rollers, the rollers would turn it into flour. Then the flour would come out of the bottom where they could bag it and send it off to be sold."

"This was in operation up until the 1920s. Then the town decided we need to save it because it's still in really good shape. The town bought it and in 1975 sold it to the Jericho Historical Society which raised the money to restore the building. They've got a small museum inside," said Perkins.

In addition to the Snowflake Bentley Museum, you'll also find a beautiful store with Vermont products and remnants of the old mill operation, including the rollers.

"It looks like they've saved some of them and they're still installed. Probably because they're too heavy to move. But the grain would come down from above and through the chutes into this contraption. You can see all the belts and pulleys and everything that would run off that water power and would turn rollers inside here. Flour would come out at the bottom."

"Then on the other side of the room, they actually have a really cool chute that would pack flour into barrels and bags. There are little pieces of the mill throughout the space and one is the hopper which was used for filling barrels or bags with flour and it still has the machinery on it which was run by the belt so that you can see how everything worked in this space."

Back outside the mill, behind it, there are trails to explore.

At 'This Place in History'!

To view more from our 'This Place in History' series, click here.

For a map of Vermont's roadside historic markers, click here.


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