As soon as the roads were clear of snow and we had an afternoon off together, our first trip of the year was definitely going to be to lovely Hanford Mills in East Meredith, Delaware County, New York. I haven’t been through Delaware County is so long! The drive was lovely and the weather was perfect. It felt great to be back on the New York roads.
Hanford Mills is an historic site but it is also one of the oldest still-in-operation mills in the state. It is a non-profit organization, run by an all-volunteer board. We met many of these folks during our very educational visit. But I am getting ahead of myself. First, let me tell you about this mill.
The mill was built in 1846 by Jonathan Parris at the height of the building boom in Upstate New York (and much of the country). For several generations after the American Revolution, Americans were bursting with energy, ambition, optimism, and ingenuity. The history of Hanford Mills is one of thousands of small proprietorships that tell the story of small business success. And the place is REALLY fun to explore, too.
David Hanford acquired the mill in 1860, and he and his sons set about expanding the property with a variety of machines. They provided a great deal of lumber, wood products, farm machinery and milled feed grain for the growing community. The men expanded the mills many times, introducing new, modern technologies such as the steam engine, gasoline engines, and electric generators. Some of the equipment is still there — and it still works!!
In the winter, ice was cut from the placid waters of the mill pond. To this day, the ice harvesting tradition continues. The local community (and visitors) meet together to cut large chunks of ice from the pond. The ice is stored for various purposes, including the popular Ice Cream Social on Independence Day.
When we first arrived, we were greeted by Dawn and Kajsa, the mill and education managers. Each led us to various places inside the lumber mill area, explaining the history of the mill, how the mill works, and sawing some wood with the biggest saw I have ever seen in my life. I want one!!!
We first went downstairs, below the mill, where all the action happens. The water wheel is situated beneath a head gate. When the gate is opened, the waters from the mill pond rush down to turn the wheel. The wheel rotates enormous leather belts that spin gears. The gears spin the large saw blades above us in the lumber area.
Here’s a terrific video that explains the water wheel action.
Here are Dawn and Scott upstairs in the lumber area, preparing an enormous log on a wheeled cart. Look closely, you can see the saw blade standing upright. When Dawn is ready, she gives a holler to one of the people at the head gate. In a matter of seconds, the saw blade spins. Dawn hauls a large lever that moves the wheeled cart — and the log — into the saw blade. We were awed at how easily the blade sliced through the log.
This smaller mchine saws the uneven edges off the freshly-cut lumber. And another machine can cut decorative moulding from sawed wood, too.
After touring the lumber mill areas, we wandered throughout the rest of the building and the property. There is a lot to see. Here are some of the highlights:
A huge boiler.
An old electrical generator from 1910 (if I recall correctly). Scott fired it up and the thing still worked! It used to power the light bulbs for the small community of East Meredith, way back when.
We also explored several outbuildings all along the property. We got to go into the John Hanford farmhouse! How sparse these old places were with very simple furnishings, but they did have an antique wax cylinder record player and the original wheelchair of ol’ Granny Hanford.
There’s also an enormous museum and railroad car to explore where you can rest your feet and watch an educational video about the mills. We loved the animal-powered machines. There was one for a dog and another for a horse. The horse treadmill operated a “portable” saw outside and the dog treadmill operated a butter churcner.
The museum was filled with memorabilia and vintage photographs of mill life in Upstate New York.
After all this, there was still the grounds to explore. The area is beautiful. We wandered a bit along the pond and came across a lovely green gateway.
A long time ago, the railroad used to come down this gateway, to pick up grain and lumber and ship it out to other areas. The tracks are long gone now.
We walked over a lovely bridge and saw the pretty stream below.
The area was so peaceful and lush. This walk was a wonderful end to our visit.
Well, we actually visited the gift shop for 30 minutes, and scarfed up some of the handmade soaps, teas, and bookmarks!
It was a lovely trip, a perfect start to a year on the road. If you are in the area, drive over to the mill and see the sights. The place is kid-friendly and VERY educational. Tell them the New York Traveler.net gang sent you!
Hanford Mills Museum
51 County Highway 12
PO Box 99
East Meredith, NY 13757