A Trip to the Grist Mill

Journal recounts operation of Watt’s Mill on Little Beaver Creek 100 years ago


| May 2011



A woodcut of Watt’s Mill from an 1876 Beaver County directory

A woodcut of Watt’s Mill from an 1876 Beaver County directory. Reuben Watt is listed as the proprietor and the Tom and Jim Watt mentioned by Mr. Steele were probably his sons or grandsons.

Watt’s Mill near where I grew up in South Beaver Township, Beaver County, Pa., was a classic example of a grist mill. The mill was built in 1798 and operated continuously until it burned on Jan. 14, 1916. Frank Steele, who grew up in the area during the early part of the century, recorded the following recollections of Watt’s Mill: 

“In the winter of 1912, my father and I went to Watt’s Mill with 10 bushels of buckwheat and two bushels of corn to get ground. (We had) to go down to the Little Beaver Creek, which we had to ford. The horses did not want to cross as the water was real deep, about two inches from the bottom of the spring wagon. Tom Watt and his brother Jim operated the mill. They also had a sawmill (although) I never saw it in operation.

“They would not grind buckwheat when the weather was damp, as the buckwheat would not grind well on a damp day. They did not like to change from grinding buckwheat to corn, as they had to operate the mill (empty) a short time to get it cleaned out.

“Stone grinding wheels were used, turned by a water wheel laid on its side, called a tub wheel. They let the water wheel operate continuously in real cold weather so it would not freeze. In winter there would be pieces of ice come through the water wheel. It would sound like a lot of glass being broken, (or) a bunch of rocks in the wheel.

“The door of the mill was higher than the wagons, (so) they had a plank to leave down to the bottom of the wagon. You would fasten a rope around two or three sacks of grain and they would pull the sacks up the plank to the mill floor. The rope was fastened to a revolving shaft operated by the water wheel.

“The Watts brothers would take part of the flour as toll. I believe it was one eighth. They would rather have flour than cash, as there was a great demand for the flour.