Happenings at the Mill

By Claire Stuart
Since 1990, Art at the Mill has been a highly-anticipated spring event for art lovers throughout the region. This year’s show runs Saturday, April 28 through Sunday, May 13. Situated in a lovely meadow in the sleepy hamlet of Millwood, the Burwell-Morgan Mill is one of Clarke County’s historic architectural treasures. In spring and again in fall, it is transformed into a gallery with works from about 300 artists, featuring paintings, mixed-media, sculpture, fine woodworking, and pottery. There is always something for every taste and budget.
On other weekends, May through November, the mill resumes its life as a working grist mill, with grinding on Saturdays. You can take a tour, watch the mill running, and purchase freshly-ground flour and cornmeal. Art at the Mill is a fund-raiser for the Clarke County Historical Association (CCHA) for operation of the mill and CCHA Museum and Archives.
Mill Manager Roger Steyaert is the mill’s only employee, and volunteers take care of all operations, maintenance and repairs. “This mill is one of the few restored mills in the U.S. still operating in 80% of its original building,” he reported.
The mill was built in 1782-1795, around the end of the Revolutionary War, through the cooperative efforts of Lt. Colonel Nathaniel Burwell and General Daniel Morgan. “Burwell had money and Morgan had know-how and a workforce,” said Steyaert.” The beautiful stonework was the work of Hessian master stonemasons.
Joe Guenther, mill volunteer for over 25 years, explained that at the end of the war, Hessian mercenary soldiers who had fought for the British surrendered. General Morgan was in charge of Hessian POWS. Some were shipped back to Europe, but some stayed. Many were skilled craftsmen, and Morgan found jobs for them with German-speaking immigrant farmers in the Shenandoah Valley.
At that time, Steyaert related, this area was an important supplier of wheat for Europe and the West Indies. Burwell grew wheat and had to transport it to the east coast. Grinding the wheat would reduce the volume of wheat for shipping. Hessian stonemasons built the mill, as well as Burwell’s home, Carter Hall (now home of Project Hope), which was built in 1786-1792.
The mill was in full industrial production by 1795, and it ran seven days a week, day and night. “In the old days,” said Guenther, “they ground 300 to 400 pounds of wheat per hour. Last year, we ground about 150 pounds a day every
grinding day.”
Millwood became a real town around the mill, with wagon makers, coopers, a blacksmith shop, schools, churches, stores, distilleries and a grog shop. The mill survived the Civil War because the area changed hands several times and both armies needed a mill.
The mill continued to operate into the 20th Century. In the 1940s, a corner of the building caved in and crushed the waterwheel, and the owner ran the mill for several years using a motor. Competition from Midwestern states caused a shift in local agriculture to apples and livestock and a steady decline in business. The mill was abandoned in 1953.
The CCHA acquired the mill in 1964 and began a seven-year project to restore it, financed by fund-raisers, private donations, and volunteers.  Additional major work was done in 1997 to replace and restore the huge internal wooden waterwheel, gears and flume. There are two sets of millstones, but one needs repair. They are made of French quartzite, shipped from France, said to be the best type of stone. They were in the mill when renovations began so their exact age is unknown.
In addition to grinding, other activities are planned for the Mill later in the year. Colonial Kids Day at the Mill is coming up in July, with living history demonstrators, Revolutionary War re-enactors, hands-on activities, Colonial crafts and games.
Clarke County Heritage Day will be celebrated at the Mill in the fall. There will be demonstrations of everyday colonial life, including blacksmithing, cooking, spinning and, of course, grinding, as well as an encampment of Revolutionary War re-enactors from the Second Virginia Regiment.
Finally, there will be Fall Art at the Mill. Watch for further announcements for these activities.
Steyaert reports that although the mill can be operated by two people, three is actually the optimum number. Volunteers are needed to help operate the mill. He especially hopes to recruit members of younger generations who would like to learn and participate in hands-on history. Apprentice millers are placed with an experienced miller for about five or six grinding days. Teenagers and up are welcome.