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The Early History of Abbott's Mill

Beginning this week I'll be posting updated versions of my articles about the interesting history and operation Abbott's Mill. I'll also occasionally post Nature Center related articles as they come up.

The origin of Abbott’s Mill can be traced back to just after the American Revolution. In the fall of 1795 Nathan Willey, a local carpenter, bought seven acres of land from Levon Poynter on what was then known as Bowman's Branch. Seven years later, on April 23, 1802, Willey and several of his neighbors presented a petition to the Court of General Sessions stating that he had “at a large expense erected, and just finished” a grist mill on the site. Citing the many advantages to the citizens of the neighborhood the petition requested that a new road be extended to the recently completed mill.

When Nathan Willey died in 1812 the mill was sold to James Owens, and then to Isaac Riggs. James Johnson bought the mill in 1821 and about 1848 it became the property of Nathaniel Johnson, and at Nathaniel's death was inherited by his sons Richard and William Johnson. In 1868 they sold it to William H. Richards, who operated it for the next six years. In 1874 Richards sold it to a group of investors, Nelson J. Nickerson, William H. & Elizabeth Miller and Charles W. & Jame S. Palmer, but it was still known locally as “Johnson’s Mill”.

1868 map of NW Cedar Creek Hundred. The arrow marks "Johnson's Mill."

In 1889 the mill was bought by Dr. Julio H. Rae for $1000. He sold it to James Kibler who in turn sold it on April 13, 1898 to William W. and Alfonza E. Hendricks, again for $1000. In 1905 Hendricks repaired the mill and it is likely that this is when the roller mill wing and machinery were added to the original structure. During this period it was known as “Lakeview Roller Mills” and by this time Bowman’s Branch had become Johnson’s Branch, as it is today. On May 6th, 1919 Wm. Hendricks sold the mill to Ainsworth Abbott and Joseph J. Smith for $7,000. (Comparable to over $100,000 in 2023)

With his mother's assistance (Ainsworth's father had died when Ainsworth very young) Ainsworth soon bought out Joseph Smith's share and he then operated the mill alone until 1963. In 1925 Ainsworth installed a 20hp diesel engine to supplement the old waterwheel, and he then built an addition to the back of the mill to protect the engine. By then it looked pretty much the same as it does today.

Mary and Ainsworth Abbott circa 1935. The engine addition is on the left.

Note: If you would like to see the engine, we'll have it running between 2:00 and 4:00 PM on Saturday, Sept. 9th during the Nature Center's open house.

1919 Fairbanks-Morse semi-diesel

At some point, probably in the mid-1930s, the old breast-shot waterwheel was replaced with a water turbine. There was much more involved than simply installing the turbine, but apparently Ainsworth didn't mind spending money on upgrades when he thought they were necessary.

Although electricity service was available by the late 1940s, Ainsworth chose not to have it installed in his mill, or in his house. The only electricity on the entire premises was an old car generator that he rigged up in the mill to charge his vehicle batteries.

Mary Abbott passed away in January of 1963 and before the year was out Ainsworth had sold his mill to Howard and Frances Killen and had moved in with his grand-daughter in Magnolia. Ainsworth Abbott passed away on February 20, 1969 at the age of 84. He and Mary are both buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery on Church Street in Milford, Delaware


In future postings I'll explain some things like;

* What happened to the Mr. Abbott's waterwheel? Hint: It was a natural disaster.

* With no pictures of the waterwheel, how do we know that it was breast-shot and not over-shot or under-shot? And what the heck am I talking about?

* There are over a dozen grain elevators in the mill. Why so many?

* How does corn become cornmeal? It's not as simple as you might think.

* Why did millers go to the expense to install roller mills when they already had perfectly good millstones.

* How does wheat become flour? That's a much more complicated process.

* How do each of those milling machines work?

* I'll also ask for your help in solving a mystery about something in the mill.



Abbott's Mill Nature Center will have an Open House between 2:00 and 4:00 pm on Saturday, September 9th. There'll be live animals to see, crafts and a climbing wall for the kids, and ice cream for everyone - lots of fun!

And, you'll be able to see the old diesel engine in the mill while it's running!

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Noticed on the map that grist mills are often paired with saw mills. I count 3 pairs in a quick review. I am a bit surprised by the large number of saw mills. Was commerce that strong at the time shortly after the end of the Civil War?

Steve Childers
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Aug 30, 2023
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Well, some of them sawed for different purposes. Some for house lumber, some for boxes and baskets, some even shipped heavy timbers for mines and railroad ties.

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