The scenic Isaac Ludwig Mill in Providence, Ohio, is a, restored, water-powered grist and flour mill, sawmill and power generating station. And better yet, the mill employs two steam engines – an Erie 60 HP and an 1880-1890 Star 5 HP oil drilling engine.
Adjacent to the mill, two mules, Molly and Sally, pull the Volunteer, a replica 1876 canal boat through the restored mile-long section of the Erie Canal and Lock 44. Along the way, re-enactors take tourist passengers back in time during their one-hour journey. It all adds up to a “must see” for steam engine fans and lovers of history.
History of the Isaac Ludwig Mill
Situated alongside the Maumee River, the mill operated from 1868 to 1970 as both a sawmill and a grist mill. In 1974, the mill became the property of the Providence Metropark System of Toledo. The park system immediately began the restoration process, taking the mill, the adjacent Miami Erie Canal and Lock 44 back to the heydays of the early 1900s.
The mill was powered by water turbine under normal conditions, but when a flood occurred the water would rise and could no longer provide the head needed to run the turbines. To counter this, in 1900 the mill owner installed a steam engine, which could provide power and allow the mill to continue operating under flood conditions.
In small towns and rural farm areas everyone knows their neighbors, and sooner or later stories of anything of interest will spread throughout the community. This was the case with the two steam engines installed at the mill.
But those who knew of the engines didn’t want to see these pieces of history end up in the scrap yard, and their location had remained hidden for many years. Until, that is, the Isaac Ludwig Mill restoration provided a place for the steam engines to be viewed and enjoyed by those interested in preserving these relics of the past.
Laird Henderson, Toledo Metroparks mill curator and historian says, “In the middle 1970s the park department heard stories that a large stationary steam engine was still in the basement of an abandoned Toledo, Ohio, laundry.” Upon investigation, they found an Erie 60 HP steam engine that had been built in 1890 by the Erie City Iron Works, Erie, Pa. The engine had been under water for 20 years with only the top of the flywheel and the governor flyball visible. The owner agreed to donate it to Toledo Metroparks, so arrangements were made to have the engine lifted from the mud and water, cleaned and brought to the Isaac Ludwig Mill.
“Needless to say, it was in bad shape. All restoration work was done by park employees and many volunteers, some of who were machinists and toolmakers,” Laird remembers. “Missing, broken or rusted parts had to be made. We were lucky such talented people volunteered to help. Many of the parts were made here in the mill machine shop.”
This brings us to the mill machine shop and the second steam engine, an 1880-1890 5 HP Star oil drilling engine used to run the line shaft. “This engine has an unusual feature, a Stephenson-style reversing gear. This allows forward, stop and reverse without changing valves,” Laird says.
“The engine had been sitting out in an old oil field hidden in an old building near Signet, Ohio, for decades. Signet was part of the old oil boom district through the Black Swamp near Tiffin and Bowling Green, Ohio. The Star had a bent crankshaft, which was straightened by the volunteers. Other repairs were also completed to make this engine a reliable source of power for the machine shop. All the machinery in this area falls within the late 1800s early 1900s time period; that would include equipment for working with wood or metal,” Laird says.
Equipment in the machine shop includes an 1885 Van Norman milling machine, a 1906 Monarch metal lathe, a Barns 25-inch drill press and a large band saw, both from the late 1800s. The machines are driven from a line shaft powered by the 1880 Star engine and are used on a regular basis by park personnel to make new parts and do repair work on the historic equipment throughout the mill.
The old boiler, which originally came from a junkyard, could no longer meet safety requirements and was being replaced this winter with a new one that can run the 150 pounds of pressure necessary for the engines to develop full power.
A large generator installed in the mill provided local electric power from 1902 through 1917; power for the generator came from a special water turbine producing 230 HP and more than 1,000-foot pounds of torque.
"This amount of power would strip the line shaft in seconds if something went wrong,” Laird says. “This large turbine was installed just to run the generator.”
The original mill of 1868 had a small vertical saw to supply the lumber needs of the local residents. During the Metropark restoration process, a large 56-inch circular blade sawmill was installed. This saw, which turns at 500 RPM, is anchored to the bedrock beneath the mill, which provides great stability and minimizes any movement or vibration when cutting the huge logs. The sawmill is kept busy supplying the lumber for the park’s construction projects.
According to Henderson, the 160 HP water turbine “has so much power that the saw does not even slow down, no matter what the size of the timber being cut.” By changing the belts on the line shafts, the 60 HP Erie steam engine can be used to power the sawmill.
Providence Metropark, Grand Rapids, Ohio, is open May through October. The park is located on Highway 24 west of Toledo, at the intersection of Road 578. Isaac Ludwig Mill hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contact Laird Henderson, mill curator, at: (419) 407-9741 (office); (419) 832-8934 (mill); or visit their website at: www.metroparkstoledo.com/metroparks/providence