Grist Mill

When Joseph Shields bought this land in 1802, his first job was to clear the land and plant crops. He used a crosscut saw to fell trees and an axe to cut wood for fuel. Even before building a home, Joseph Shields had to plant his first crop, so that his family could eat. Once a field was cleared, tools like a hoe or hand plow were used to prepare the field.

Grain crops, like corn and wheat were planted. As the crops grew, there was work to do. In the summer the corn was tall and the “ears” were large. The kernels yellowed and hardened. The corn stalks were cut and tied into bundles, called “shuck stacks.” They stood in rows, like little teepees. In the fall the bundles were opened and the ears were pulled from the stalks. The outside of the ear, or “husk” was removed, and piles of husked corn were taken to the barn.

Everyone in the family helped shell the corn. Two ears were rubbed together until all the kernels fell off. Small pieces of the husks remained, called “chaff.” A blanket was spread on the ground, and the shelled corn was poured onto it from a pail. The wind blew the chaff away, and now the corn is “grist,” ready to go to the grist mill to be ground.

Wheat was another grain Joseph Shields planted. Like corn, it required hard work to harvest. A sickle, or a scythe was used to cut the wheat.

The stalks were gathered into “sheaves,” which were stacked to dry. The stacks were called “shocks.” Once dry, the grain was forced out by hitting the grain with a “flail.” The flail was two sticks tied together at the end. The flailed wheat was then placed into a winnowing basket and tossed into the air. Unwanted chaff went out, while grain stayed in the basket. The separation of wheat from chaff is called “threshing.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: “Keep your nose to the grindstone!” It comes from  grist mill days. Both corn and wheat grain had to be ground to be used for bread and other foods. The grindstones at the grist mill reduced corn to meal and wheat grain to flour. The grist mill at the Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm was built in 1900. Before that time, corn and wheat grain were crushed by hand mills.

When the corn or wheat grain arrived at the grist mill it was poured down a “hopper.” Below the hopper were two stones, an upper, or “runner” stone, and a lower, or “bedstone.” The lower stone did not move, but the upper stone spun around. The grain fell from the hopper through a hole in the center of the upper stone, called the “eye.” The grain spread outward between the two stones, which ground it into flour or meal.

The miller could adjust the how fast the grain fell between the stone. He could also adjust how fine the grain was ground by changing the space between the two stones. The meal passed between the stones and fell into a chute, called a “trough.” Finally, the grain fell into the grain bag.

The mill wheel could be powered by water or by steam. It turned the wheel connection and through gears turned the mill stone.

Here is a diagram of a grist mill powered by water. The parts of labeled, so you can see how it works.

1. mill wheel          2.  wheel connection       3.  hopper      4. upper millstone

5.  lower millstone       6.  trough         7. grain bag