Universal York

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Many, Many Mills in York County, Pennsylvania

The Lewis Miller drawing above shows a busy King’s Mill in 1799.
In a previous post I mentioned that, now and in the past, we are impressed by the biggest and the best. Sometimes, though, we must stop and wonder if figures have been exaggerated or misreported.
The following small item caught my eye while reading the York Gazette microfilm at York County Heritage Trust. The newspaper was from the fall of 1877.

“O.R. Davis, Esq., of York, informs us that he has visited over 4,400 flouring and woolen mills during the last eighteen months, all of which are situated within a circle of 60 miles of the borough [York].”
The thought of Davis visiting 4,400 mills gives us pause, especially when you do the math. He would have had to visit about eight mills a day, every single day, during that year and a half. It is more likely that the mills that Davis checked out numbered 400 or 440. It still would have been quite a feat, but possible if he spent most of his free time down by the old mill streams.
That is still an impressive number of mills within 60 miles of York, but that would include neighboring counties and northern Maryland. Mills comprised a good part of our early industrial life, especially in areas like ours, with abundant streams that could be dammed to provide water power. Grist mills and saw mills were in the majority. They were essential to fill the everyday needs of food and shelter by grinding grain into flour and meal and turning logs into boards and other building materials. Click here to learn about local fulling mills.
The Grant Voaden Mill Files at the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives contain information on York County mills. From the 1940s through the 1970s, Mr. Voaden documented the history and site of each of the 271 mills he found in the 1876 York County Atlas, published about the same time Attorney Davis started visiting mills. The 271 Voaden files include other kinds of mills besides saw mills and grist mills. He included woolen mills, fulling mills, paper mills, cider mills, [animal] feed mills, oil mills, and hemp mills.
Although there are few working mills in York County today, many of the grist mills and saw mills operated well into the twentieth century. At least a number of the sturdy buildings survive, now turned into homes or adapted for other uses. You can also visit the restored Cross Mill in East Hopewell Township at various times from June to October or stop by year round at the Agricultural and Industrial Museum on West Princess Street for a demonstration of how a mill works.
For Cross Mill click here.
Or follow this link to the Agricultural and Industrial Museum.
Click here to read how Yorkers viewed rising flour prices.