Farm Collector

OLDEST CONTINUOUS SAWMILL SITE IN U.S.?

Territory Manager, 722 East End Ave. Lancaster, Pa. 17602

We who like to refer to the Golden Era of America, when
man’s labors were crowned with success or failure according to
his abilities; believe this yardstick if applied today would go a
long way to solve many current national ills.

In our machinery endeavors of that past era, it is most always
of interest to learn of the oldest serial number of a machines as
well as the hi Tory as far back as possible. I believe I have
discovered the site of a sawmill with a rather interesting history
which began sawing timber in 1667 in Havertown, now a part of
greater Philadelphia.

We must realize that prior to the arrival of William Penn in
1682, claims of ownership had been previously staked out on this
part of the eastern seaboard. In new Amsterdam the one legged
governor, Peter Stuyvesant, with his Dutch settlers had filtered
down along the Atlantic coast and established colonies at Lewis and
New Castle, Delaware. Lord Baltimore also claimed it as a part of
Maryland.

In the year of 1638 the Swedes, although very busy in Europe
with the ‘Thirty Years War’ were not going to pass up an
opportunity to establish a colony in America, and sent an
expedition in the ‘Kalmar Nyckle’ which landed at what is
now Wilmington, Delaware, taking possession in the name of Queen
Christina, and established the colony of New Sweden.

In 1643 Lieut. Col. Johan Printz, a veteran of the ‘Thirty
Years War’ arrived as governor of New Sweden. He weighed 400
pounds, and the Indians referred to him as the ‘big
tub’.

The Swedes brought with them some institutions most attributed
to others as follows. They are credited with performing the first
trial by jury in America, and THE SWEDES BROUGHT THE FIRST SAWMILL
TO AMERICA.

Governor Printz moved up the Delaware river to Tinicum Island
where he built Fort Goteborg and a governor’s mansion which he
named ‘Printzhof’, and in 1646 near there he built the
first Lutheran church in America, which was dedicated by the Rev.
Johan Companus.

New Sweden grew and prospered on both sides of the Delaware,
river consisting of parts of the present states of Delaware, New
Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Its area can be roughly traced by the geographical location of
the six Lutheran churches built by the second generation of Swedish
settlers. They are: Holy Trinity Wilmington, Del. Gloria Dei
Philadelphia, Pa. St. Georges Pennsville, N. J. Trinity Swedesboro,
N. J. Christ Church Bridgeport, Pa. St. James Kingessing, Pa. These
churches remained Lutheran as long as Swedish pastors arrived to
serve them, but with the arrival of English authority, the churches
became anglicized and one by one they joined the Episcopal diocese
and so remain today.

Governor Printz set about the establishment of New Sweden in
earnest. In 1644 he ordered and received a shipload of supplies
with the necessary machinery of the time, to set up a shop or
factory. We are fortunate to have this interesting inventory come
down to us today as listed below:

3 large saws for a sawmill
8 grindstones
1 pair of large stones for a grist mill
5 anchors
5 pumps with necessary repair parts and a Hyde pump leather.
12 small augers
4 compasses
36 blocks
250 copper kettles Several barrels of lime and pitch A few
thousand bricks
200 barrels of flour
20 barrels of Spanish salt
10 hogsheads of French wine
1 hogshead of brandy Several hundred yards of cloth
10 guilded flag pole knobs
300 pairs of shoes
200 pairs of stockings

As the terrible Thirty Years War dragged on in Europe the
fortunes of New Sweden were dragged down, since supplies were
unable to reach the Swedish colony. At length Governor Printz, in
desperation, returned to Sweden to obtain provisions, leaving the
colony in charge of his son-in-law. Fate decreed, however, that he
was never to return.

Some time later, in 1655, the Dutch under Governor Stuyvesant
captured New Sweden, but their control was short lived since the
Duke of York captured New Amsterdam in 1664, giving his name, and
all Dutch possessions fell to the English.

Pennsylvania was an unexplored woods of unknown quantity, with
boundaries of claims and counter claims. King Charles II of
England, owing Wm. Penn a sum of money which was difficult to pay,
granted Wm. Penn this woods which was termed Penn’s Woods or
Pennsylvania. In 1683 William Penn arrived, and sailing up the
Delaware took possession of his province at New Castle, Delaware,
which was populated by both Dutch and Swedes. They welcomed him
with open arms, since his free religious philosophy was known in
advance, which was the most important ingredient of liberty at that
period.

Penn, upon his arrival, found an established colony along the
Delaware. But 20 miles to the interior it is of interest to note,
was a sawmill in operation, which had been set up by a Swede named
David Lawrence in the year of 1667, beside a stream in the forest.
This sawmill, of the up and down type, was powered by a water
wheel. As to how many of this type mills were worn out at this site
we have no way of knowing, but the last one we are told was given
to a Philadelphia museum about twenty years ago.

At this time and this same site, still sawing more than three
hundred years later, is an Old-Frick bearing serial No. 18851;
owned and operated by Mr. Willard McGrath who has no thought of
quitting, although the real estate men are beating a path to his
door. The present mill, which was once level with the ground is
down in a hole with a roof over it, since the accumulation of chips
and sawdust have raised the terrain around it.

The stream is covered over now and the sawdust pulls the sawdust
into the covered stream. A year ago the sawdust drag stopped, and
upon investigation Mr. McGrath found a snapping turtle came into
the stream and bit on the chain of the drag and stopped it. Mr.
McGrath had turtle soup the next day.

And so as this sawmill continues at this ancient site, we
can’t help but reminisce a bit; where once a fragrant woods
path provided a way for the friendly Indian from the west to come
to see the White Father in Philadelphia, we now have endless rows
of modern traffic which pollutes the air that we breathe grinding
endlessly the modern highway beneath them. The musical pit a-pat of
the water wheel has given way to the angry snarl of a diesel, which
operates a more modern sawmill.

And so time moves on; it is said that the Swedes established
their first sawmill on Cobbs Creek, in western Philadelphia, so we
assume the present McGrath mill was the second sawmill in the
United States about ten miles west of the Cobbs Creek site.

If anyone knows of an older site in continuous operation, let us
have it.

  • Published on Mar 1, 1969
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