We have a magnificent millstone in the front yard of the Inn On Golden Pond. It’s decorative and was here before we opened. After all these years of looking at this impressive piece of granite it seemed appropriate to understand more about the history of millstones.
For those who have not actually seen a millstone they are large, round discs that were used in grist mills to cut grain into flour. Mills were located by a pond or some water source. The water would provide power to turn a large wheel which in turn would rotate the stones through a rather elaborate system of cogs and wheels to grind the flour. There were two stones, top and bottom, with different patterns of grooves. When working together (grinding) they would act like scissors cutting the grain into a finer texture. Different patterns produced varying degrees of fine flour.
Mills located by a pond attracted people for commercial reasons, dropping off grain and picking up product. They also brought people for recreation such as skating or swimming. As a result they often became the focal point or center of a village. Other shops would spring up around them trying to take advantage of the traffic that was created by the mill activity. Some towns incorporated the word mill into their names. Towns like Milford, Milton and Millbury all have their roots in some kind of mill.
Around the turn of the 20th century improved transportation lessened the importance of local mills. Farmers could ship their products farther distances more easily. Most grist mills closed, but there are still a few in operation where one can see how flour was made by our ancestors.
In Ashland, which is 2 miles down the road from our NH bed and breakfast, there remains an original grist mill building without the water wheel. It has been restored and is currently used as an office building for a local architectural firm.
In Littleton, NH, about 45 minutes north of the Inn, there is still a grist mill with water wheel which until recently still produced flour. The building is now occupied by a local brewery so the mill has taken on a new life.
Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts still provides an authentic demonstration of a grist mill operation.
Most of the remaining millstones are used decoratively. Some, of course, are better specimens than others. The one in front of our bed and breakfast is thick with clear patterns and fully intact. And there it shall remain as it would take serious excavation equipment to move it.