Old Rochester was never known for rich, fertile soil, but it was known for its water, ponds, rivers, streams and brooks. Because of all that water, Rochester soon became known as a town of mills. Wherever early settlers found moving water, they dammed it to create waterpower. In our current exhibit is a map created by Betty Beaulieu that shows both the location of many mills and also how the mills’ uses changed over the years.
The Proprietors knew that the new town would need “millwrights”, men who knew how to build both dams and mills. They would also need “millers”, men who knew how to run the mills. Many of the mills were on sites that had once been forges.
The mills that were most needed by early settlers, all of whom were farmers, were gristmills to turn corn and grain into flour. Prior to the building of the first gristmill, that work would take up most of a woman’s day as she did it by hand. In 1704, a gristmill was built on Leonard’s Pond. Over the years, there were at least 9 gristmills in town at various locations.
At one time or another, Rochester was home to 57 mills. On the pictured map are 9 sawmills, 8 boxboard, 9 shingle and 1 bark mill as well as 9 gristmills and 3 fulling mills. However, one site could be utilized as more than one type of mill over time. For instance, the Hartley Sawmill site had many owners and uses. In 1725, it was a forge. On 1823, 1840 and 1879 maps, there is a gristmill at the site. In 1879, it became a boxboard and shingle mill. It was purchased in 1888 by James Hartley and continued in operation into the 60’s as a shingle, boxboard mill and then a sawmill.
Fulling mills are probably the ones with which people are less familiar. Their job was to take cloth that had been woven at home out of wool and flax and to dress it. The fulling process which accomplished that brushed the surface of the cloth to create a soft, flannel-like surface. The brushing was done by a “teazle”. The “teazle” was a burr that took two years to grow and another year to harden. The burrs had little hooks that were rolled over the cloth’s surface. They picked up the threads of the cloth and brushed the surface. You can find three fulling mills; one in North Rochester, one at Leonard’s Pond and one near Bear Swamp and Parlow Town Rd. on our maps.
By Connie Eshbach