History of the Mill
Back in the year 1797, a resident of Littleton by the name of Solomon Mann purchased the mill privilege on the Ammonoosuc River, built a dam and erected a saw mill and grist mill. The grist mill was state-of-the-art having many of the features described in Oliver Evans Handbook.
The prime source of power was an overshot wheel, which turned mill stones, grain elevators and powered sifters, etc. The mill building was
3 1/2 stories high with clearstory windows to divide its roof lines,
and its foundation wall in essence formed the bank of the river.
By the turn of the century, the riverfront mill area had become
the nucleus of a prosperous settlement, and a tannery, store and
fulling mill were also added.
After several years the grist mill was sold to millwright Asa Lewis who operated it until his death in 1815. The mill thereafter changed ownership frequently, and circa 1890 was converted to the use of Hercules water turbines which powered a Robinson mill manufactured by Munson Brothers, Utica, NY. It was operated with varying degrees of commercial success up until the 1930's after which it was used by a door and sash manufacturer and for storage and allowed to fall into a state of profound disrepair.
In 1997 two local families formed Renaissance Mills of Littleton LLC and undertook the restoration of the grist mill along with three other mill buildings, thought to be the oldest commercial building north of Concord, NH. The goal was to restore the basic workings of the grist mill as a historically accurate replica of the original, open the mill to the public as a working museum and authentically restore the other mill buildings as commercially viable retail and rental space, thus creating an 18th century riverfront complex.
Today the building sits on its original site, and the look and feel of the original construction has been maintained wherever possible. The exterior is clad in radially sawn spruce, the roof is hand-split cedar shakes; wide pine flooring on the three floors is fastened with wrought iron nails; 12 over l 2 true divided light windows mimic the originals as do the clearstory windows on the third floor; all hardware used is hand forged as are the interior and exterior lanterns; the 55 foot chimney is replicated in used brick, and the interior walls are covered with a plaster skim coat.
The same careful research was applied to the replication of the working mill. The exterior undershot water wheel measures 20 feet 6 inches in diameter. Current regulations prohibit the construction of a dam necessary to power an overshot wheel. The wheel drives interior wooden gearing in the basement which in turn drives a four foot diameter grist mill stone on the first floor of the building. The wooden gearing is made of indigenous woods typically used 200 years ago. The design of the gears and drives were guided by the metal hubs, bearings and shafting recovered from the mud in the mill basement. Other components were designed and made according to state-of-the-art practices used 200 years ago. The wooden gearing, along with the attached shafts, are housed in a Hearst Frame made with timbers similar to some of the frame components found in the mill. With the exception of metal shafting and other metal components and hardware, all the design and construction was done in-house.
Other artifacts recovered provided invaluable information as to the size of the original mill stones, which were four foot in diameter. It was incredibly fortunate that a matched pair were found ten miles upriver. These could be the same stones that ground grain in 1798.
Littleton Grist Mill, restored by private funds, is open to the public free of charge as a working museum. The mill also houses an authentic 19th century grist mill which uses 24 inch stones to grind grain into Littleton Grist Mill grown products - waffle and pancake mixes and flours - which are sold in specialty shops locally and throughout the Northeast. Visitors to the mill can thus view the progression of grist mill technology from the 18th to the 19th century.
For more information, call the Littleton Grist Mill e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org