Mill Site No. 4 has the most continual business of all the sites. About a year after the sawmill went operational in1837, Samuel Chapman’s grist mill was completed just south of the sawmill. It started processing farmer’s grain in 1838. Its footprint lasted about 100 years until the late 1950’s. Today, its location would be in the Huening park at the north end of the current Village Hall. A plaque marks the location.
It had a number of owners through the years with continual upgrades – when technology warranted it. But, the mill produced the same products with water power until the gradual introduction of electric motors in the later years.
Before taking grain to the grist mills, the grain stalks had to be THRESHED using oxen, or a flail, to separate the kernel for further processing. When using oxen for the process, the wheat stalks, cut and cradled right from the fields, would be placed on the hard ground in a circular arrangement. Oxen would be harnessed to a center pivot and would walk on the circle of wheat shafts breaking the hard wheat kernel from the soft stalk. Workers raked up the broken wheat shafts, leaving the kernels to be raked up separately.
The kernels, complete with some of the dirt that is inevitably mixed in, is tossed in a sheet or thrown in the air. Workers standing on the side, use a board of some sort to “fan” the mix thereby separating the good wheat from the unwanted chaff, or kernel husk. The process was known as “winnowing” with few innovation since ancient times. It was a very laborious process to produce one of the staples of life.
The fanning machine was a major invention for the farmer. This machine allowed the farmer to clean his grain after threshing which would make it ready for the grist mill. It removed straw, chaff, stones, dirt, weed seeds, and immature seeds from the good grain – just by turning a crank, or later – motor driven.
Grist mills would grind the kernels into various parts or feed depending on the design of the grinding stones they used. When a wheat kernel is crushed, it separates into several parts-, bran, germ and the endosperm (flour). The parts are then further refined.
Grist mills became a basic business sought after by the pioneers. Without them, farmers would have to travel long distances to get their grain crop prepared for consumption. A local mill freed up a lot of valuable time in the fall of the year to do other needed harvesting chores – like, canning, preparing hay and feed for storage, dwelling repairs, and, machinery repairs, among others, as they prepared for the long Wisconsin winter.
Chapman’s original mill had two run of 22 inch French burr stone – a special round stone that is made in pairs to grind the grain to a specified coarseness – one for flour and one for feed.1
Millstones from a grist mill – photo by R. Gariepy, Sr.
The following links illustrate the design and use of a mill stone:
DRESSING a Mill Stone.
By 1844, the Racine Advocate reports on the Waterford Mills: “there is one with three run of French burr stone and another one of the same kind is building”2 This would be the second grist mill to be erected -completed in 1845, by Samuel C. Russ, Chapman’s brother-in-law. It was located directly across the dam on the east side. It would be known as Farmer’s Mill. Russ would also erect a sawmill on his site.3
Water levels vary during the year and a mill operator tries to maximize the available flow. Chapman owned the original water rites which he then sold to the mill site owners by “square inches” with a six foot head and shared access rights. There were also restrictions on maintaining the water rights and sharing the water power during periods of low flow. Sometimes, they had to share time of the day to do their work. Other times they may have had to completely shut down production. It would be like not having electric power for extended periods today.
Sometimes, in an effort to increase production, it lead to aggressive confrontations between the people sharing the water rights as described in the following two Burlington Free Press articles from September,1859.
In case it is not obvious, the altercation was between Sam Chapman and his brother-in-law, Sam Russ. There were clear restrictions spelled out in the original deeds limiting the clearing of obstructions in the river to 33 feet (two rods) from shore.
Sam Russ operated his mill for a few years and sold it to his son-in-law, James Kehlor, who then operated it for a few more years and sold it to Bronkhorst & Co.. Bronkhorst operated the mill for about five years during which time it had two fires. The second one ended the operation in August of 1870 – never to be re-built.
Capacity in Chapman’s mill would gradually increase to four stones, three for wheat and one for corn “then the old mill was torn down and in 1856, Mr Chapman erected a large stone mill, a very pretentious structure for those days.”4 and upgraded to the latest technology, a roller mill, by Allis Corp. in Milwaukee. In addition, the dam height was raised and a long litigation ensued by the affected property owners upstream. See the details on the DAM SITE page. Chapman and his son Chauncy would continue to operate the mill until 1870 when the lawsuit was finally settled. Park, Smith & Thomas would be the new owner/operator for the next 11 years.
In 1874, Park, Smith & Co., made some more improvements which increased production.
They would be very prosperous as evidenced by the following newspaper articles.
Article as published in the Racine Advocate, May 6, 1875 edition.
In another article published June 10, 1875, the Racine Argus further details the excellent production facilities of the Waterford Flouring Mill.
On January 14, 1880, the Racine Journal reported a record day’s production at the Waterford Mill site.
By 1881,Thomas had taken over the business.
During January, 1889, Thomas offered to sell his interest in the company but did not effect a change in ownership until 1902. New owners, Titus, Rice and Crane, added another technological advancement called a bolting system.5
Electric power comes to Waterford
By 1909, partnerships would again change to Titus and Berger. They would become responsible for bringing electric power to Waterford by harnessing the water power at the mill to run an electric generator. A parade and celebration was held to commemorate the of the opening of the electric line and Electric Railway. The plant would run until 1913 when it was sold to T.M.E.R.&L. Co. (The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co.)
Another major change to the site was spearheaded by Titus and Berger in 1913. The following clip from the Waterford Post, describes the changes which included tearing down the old stone building and re-building it about 20 feet west of the old foundation.6
Another partnership change took place in 1919 when George Healy bought Berger’s interest.
A.B. Jones Mill
One other mill site developed across the Fox River but was not in the Mill Site Survey as such. Andrew B. Jones came from Waterford, New York, around 1840 and purchased a number of lots from Russ, including one across from the dam, known as lot 7, block 21, which was also on the river that flowed on the east side of the island. He built and operated a flour mill for about six years until his untimely death at 36 years.7
Flour was not the only commodity produced on site as evidenced by Andrew and brother Eli Jones’ ads in the Racine Advocate. Bartering of grain for whiskey was encouraged.
Subsequent owners of the property included F.A. Weage, Bronkhorst & Co., Park, Smith & Co., Thomas & Hulbert, and the Waterford Milling Co. Each owned the mill on Mill Site No. 4.
The Waterford Mill continued to operate into the late 1950’s when it was torn down and the land was acquired by the Village of Waterford for future use as a Village Hall and the Huening Park.
For the complete history of the Mill up to 1923, click HERE to connect to The Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life, Waterford Post, 1923.8
Waterford Volunteer Fire Department
The 1926 Sanborn Fire Map shows the Waterford Village Hall and Waterworks building which replaced a building at the north side of the Nestle’ Creamery building. It also housed the Jail and fire fighting equipment.
The volunteer fire department, which is still in existence today, was formed in 1906 and was established across the street, and just south of Racine Street.
The End of an Era
The final chapter for the Waterford Mill, the last of the era, was written in November, 1963, when it was destroyed by fire as chronicled in the Racine Journal Times article.9
At the end of the article, it notes that a tornado had struck the building during 1913 doing considerable damage. Another article published in 1884 also describes a tornado that struck the mill and did considerable damage.10 As usual, the mill was rebuilt and returned to commerce status.
Today this site consists of a park on the north end of the Village Hall with a performance stage and hosts a number of community events including the popular RIVER RHYTHMS summer concert series.
Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.
NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through Absolutely Waterford. We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared. Credit will be given.
- Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life, Waterford Post, 1923 Publication.
- Racine Advocate, May 5, 1844 edition.
- Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life, Waterford Post, 1923 Publication.
- Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life, Waterford Post, 1923 Publication. http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/WI/WI-idx?type=article&did=WI.WPLStories.i0022&id=WI.WPLStories&isize=M
- Waterford Feed Mill Destroyed by Flames, Racine Journal Times, November 12, 1963.
- Another Cyclone, Racine Journal Times, July 30, 1884.