When I first visited Abbott's Mill over twenty years ago I knew next to nothing about grist mills and the milling operation seemed to me to be very complicated.
I understood that the elevators carried the grain from lower floors to the upper floors, and I understood that the chutes carried it back down. But why were there so many elevators and chutes? And what did all that other equipment do? I had to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research to figure it all out.
Below is a schematic of the corn operation, but if we look at it a little bit at a time I think you will understand how amazing the "Oliver Evans System" is. (See my Jan. 17th post about Oliver Evans)
When looking at the entire complex process you must understand that Mr. Abbott didn't operate the entire mill at once. Typically he would receive corn or grain, clean it and store it. Then on another day he would grind the corn into cornmeal and then grind the grain into flour. When that was finished he would pack the products into bags or barrels to be picked up by the farmers or delivered to stores
Usually farmers brought their corn or grain to the mill to be ground for their own use, in which case the miller would keep a small percentage of the finished product, called "The Millers Toll". In this case no money changed hands.
But some times farmers sold their entire load to Mr. Abbott for cash and he would then grind it into flour or cornmeal and sell it to small stores in towns from Dover to Georgetown.
Dried corn was brought to the mill either still on the cob or in bags already shelled. If Mr. Abbott had to send the corn through his corn sheller then his "millers toll" was a little higher. He seldom did anything for free.
Either way the corn ended up in a small bin in the basement where it slowly fed into an elevator that carried it all the way up to the attic.
In the attic the corn went through a Corn Cleaner, which was a home-made chute with an interchangeable screen on the bottom of it. Dirt and seeds fell through the screen and down a 4" pipe back to the first floor where it was collected, weighed and then deducted from the weight of the corn. Millers often said "I don't pay for dirt!"
The corn passed over the screen in the corn cleaner and on into one of seven different storage bins. The smaller bins were for an individual farmer's corn that would be custom-ground into cornmeal and the large bin was for the Miller's Toll, which he would grind as necessary and sell wholesale to stores.
When Mr. Abbott was ready to grind the corn he would open the gates to the flume and fill the turbine well with water from the pond. He would them open turbine gates and this would start powering the millstones, the elevators and the sifters. Then he would open the chute from whatever corn bin he wanted to use, letting the corn flow down into the hopper (not shown) on top of the grinding stone. After it was ground into cornmeal it fell down another chute into the basement.
In the basement the cornmeal entered the second elevator, which carried it back up to the attic where it fell down a chute to one of the sifters (only one is shown) on the 2nd floor.
After the freshly ground cornmeal was sifted the finer meal fell down a short chute to be bagged on the 1st floor for baking cornmeal. A lesser amount that was course fell down a second chute and was bagged as animal feed.
This was all done automatically and once it was begun all the miller had to do was to stand in one spot and keep changing the bags as they filled.
All this is thanks to a 1795 invention by Oliver Evans, a native of Newport, Delaware!
Our monthly "Running of the Mill" tours start at 1:00, 2:00 & 3:00 p.m. on the 3rd Saturday of each month through November. They are free for Delaware Nature Society members and $5 for others. To schedule a tour please call 302-422-0847 ext. 102.