Antique Water-Powered Equipment Keeps New York Cider Mill Going

1870s Lesner water turbine waterwheel powers century-old equipment at Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard

| October 2000

At the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard, near Cooperstown, N.Y., vintage equipment is put to work.

Each year, more than 20,000 gallons of cider are pressed there, using century-old equipment.

“There are easier ways to make cider than with this old equipment,” says Bill Michaels, who owns the mill with his wife, Brenda. “But then we’d lose our uniqueness.”

Fly Creek, notable for its extremely fast flow, has generated power for mills for more than 150 years. A cider press was first operated at what is now known as the Fly Creek Cider Mill in 1856. Equipment used there today was manufactured just 20 years later, in the mid-1870s.

1870s Lesner water turbine provides power

The mill’s power source is a belt-driven Lesner water turbine waterwheel manufactured by Wm. B. Wemple & Sons in Fultonville, N.Y., in the early 1870s. It is typical of waterwheels used in that era in mills and canal locks throughout central New York.

Prior to 1948, Fly Creek’s Lesner is thought to have been used by the Aqueduct Assn. (later known as the Cooperstown Water Co. Waterworks). It also once powered an extensive woodworking operation, including a wood lathe, planer and jigsaw. Barrel bungs were turned on the wood lathe, and lumber was finished on a planer 3 feet wide. (Even the sawdust was used: In the early days it was used to insulate ice harvested from the mill pond in the winter.) Comprehensive restorations of the turbine were conducted in 1969 and 1991.

The turbine, located 12 feet beneath the center of the mill, is activated by water piped in from the mill pond to a holding tank. As water drops from the tank into the turbine, the turbine begins to spin, setting the cider press’s pump in motion via belt drives. The pump generates up to 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, a fairly genteel pace in comparison to modern equipment. Still, the system has its merits.