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Aerial photo of A.C. Emerson & Company courtesy of Warrensburgh Museum of Local History

Aerial photo of A.C. Emerson & Company courtesy of Warrensburgh Museum of Local History

Water Mills of Warren County

By Anthony F. Hall

Monday, August 15, 2011

At some point in history, every town in Warren County was a mill town, including the communities best known today as resort towns: Lake George, Bolton and Hague.

Every town had to have at least one gristmill because, as the late Clifton West once explained, almost all our food was all produced locally.

“A good miller could find use for his skills in nearly any town,” wrote West, who was Hague’s town historian.

“Corn meal was used in Johnny cakes. A coarser grade was fed to farm animals. Ground wheat was known as middlings. Buckwheat flour was used in raised pancakes, a staple food on a farmer’s breakfast table,” he wrote.

Saw mills, of course, were built as fast as the land could be cleared.

The mill in Fort Ann where the planks for the U.S. Navy’s first fleet were sawed, and which the Americans burned in advance of General Burgoyne’s attack, was hardly the first in the area.

The first gristmill in Bolton was built by John Thurman at the outlet of Trout Lake in the 1790s.  (A New York State historical marker commemorates the site.)  When the community decided to organize itself into a township, it held its first meeting at the mill.

All mills were powered by water. Frame buildings, some hardly more than shacks, the mills were built around underwater turbine wheels. (Few, if any mills in the Adirondacks were powered by the wooden wheels of popular imagination.)

Warren County may not have been unique in its number of water-powered mills; it is, however, unusual in that so many of its water mills continued to operate long after they had been abandoned or demolished in other places.

In Warrensburg, we passed a working sawmill and grist mill every day on the way to school.

The sawmill was built in 1818. By 1885, the year Albert C. Emerson purchased it, the mill was sawing three million feet of lumber a year. According to Steve Parisi, who serves as the director of Warrensburg’s Museum of Local History, the mill was demolished in 1980 out of fear that it was in imminent danger of collapse.

The gristmill was owned by D.E. Pasco and Sons. Today, it’s the Grist Mill restaurant. Owner Chris Lambeth has preserved much of the original machinery, so it’s also something of a museum of waterpower.

The sawmill in Athol was built in 1788 but burned in 1925. Nevertheless, it continued to produce power well into the 1960s, making it one of the last surviving, functioning water-powered mills in New York.

The mill in Wevertown still produces power. Built in 1889 at a dam which was itself built by Warrensburg stone mason Seth Alden, the mill continued to saw lumber for its owner, T.C. Murphy Lumber Company, until 1958.

“For the first time in 131 years, the land on the east side of the mill creek dam did not use the power of the water to operate machinery,” the company notes.

In 1979, however, owner George Van Voorhis turned the mill into a hydroelectric power plant. According to Van Voorhis, the plant produces enough energy to power the lumberyard.

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