78 – Marsh Mill, circa 1850, east of Willamsport, MD
A cluster of buildings gathers at a sharp bend in Spielman Road between two branches of Marsh Run. Dominated by a three-bay stone house that faces east, this collection of structures is the remnant of a mill complex. And it is the latest Washington County nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. East of the house are the foundations of the old mill, now sheltered under a low-pitched gable roof. The two-and-one-half story stone mill was gone by the 1950s. It may have been taken down as early as the 1880s when the milling operation was converted to a creamery. The great stone arch that once opened to the millrace can still be seen in the north end of the foundation for what is now a garage. East of this mill site is an American foursquare house that may contain the remnants of the original log miller’s house. An early stone root cellar, half built into the ground, sits behind the house.
Mills were important in the development of the Cumberland Valley. This broad basin, which extends from the Susquehanna River to the Potomac, is underlaid with limestone for most of its length; and the fertile soils, sweetened by this underlying rock, are perfect for growing grains. (In 1880, Washington County averaged 25 and 3/4 bushels of wheat per acre, while the state’s average yield was 14 and 1/2.) The Cumberland Valley was the breadbasket of the nation from the 1770s until after the Civil War, and mills to grind this harvest were established here as early as the 1730s, lining the stream banks, powered by water.
The 1783 Tax assessed Samuel Wolgamott for a mill valued at £400, and in 1811 John Wolgamore sold 157 and 3/4 acres of land and Wolgamore’s Mill to Henry Coffman. Over the years, the mill on Spielman Road has been known as Wolgamore’s Mill, Marsh Mills, Haley’s Mill, Spielman Mill and probably other names as well.
In 1780, Oliver Evans developed an automatic, water-powered system of milling. This milling advance eliminated half the labor required for milling, and enabled the grain to pass through the mill without anyone having to touch it once it entered the mill. Grain moved from the top to the bottom of the mill several times by a series of buckets, belts and wheels.
In the 1870s, a New Process for milling was developed which extracted more flour from the grain by using a middling purifier, a series of silk screen filters. In the 1880s, steel roller mills were introduced and began to replace the grinding stones used in the local mills. This roller technology was developed to grind the hard red wheat grown in the Midwest, and it signaled a shift in the economy of the Cumberland Valley, which grew primarily the softer winter wheat. Milling in this area declined, and the breadbasket moved west after the Civil War.
The mill complex on Spielman Road grew under a series of owners. Henry Coffman sold it to James Coffman in 1828, and it passed to Joseph Emmert in 1839. Two years later, Joseph Long purchased the mill. Around 1850 the stone house was built, either by Joseph Long or by his son David. The elder Long died in September 1851, and an equity case to settle his debts followed. Notice was given …of the sale of the merchant mill and about 30 acres of land with a new stone house and other improvements thereon. A merchant mill was a commercial enterprise that ground flours and meals for brokers in the port cities. Custom mills ground grains for farmers’ use and to their specifications.
The property was sold to Joshua Newcomer in 1856. In 1871, Newcomer sold the house and farm buildings to William H. and Jesse D. Banks for $4,000 and the mill and five acres to Cyrus F. Davis for $2,000. The properties remain separate to this day. The mill was sold again in 1874 to Thomas M. Haley and passed to Allen and Mary J. Wandling in 1879. In 1885, Jonas Spielman bought the mill and four and one-quarter acres. In the process, he gave his name to the small community around it. In 1888, the Willow Grove Creamery purchased the mill and converted it to a creamery. The many sales within so short a time probably indicate the economic stress the milling industry was undergoing at that time in the Cumberland Valley. The roads west, which had fired the local economy for so long, also brought Midwestern flour to eastern markets to compete with the local product.
The stone building tradition in the county extended from 1760 to around 1840, making the house at Marsh Mill a late example of a stone structure. The house has three bays, but they are not evenly spaced in the front façade. Two are in the southern half, with the middle one serving as the main entrance. Doors and jambs have low relief panels, and the woodwork is simple with a two-faceted trim molding around the edges.
Originally there were four rooms on the main floor of the house. The partition between the back (western) two rooms has been removed to make a large kitchen/dining room. Fireplaces with simple mantelpieces and built-in cupboards serve each of these three rooms. Simple stairs rise to the second floor just inside the main entrance into the living room. Upstairs are four chambers accessed from a small hall at the head of the stairs. There are no fireplaces on this floor, but the front rooms have closets built in next to the chimneys. The closet in the south room is quite shallow but very tall, with a door almost eight feet high. The north room closet has two doors and a more conventional-sized opening.
Closed stairs reach the attic. The floors are wide pine boards, and pegs join the framing that supports the roof. The basement is entered at ground level through a door on the south side of the house. This door and the window beside it open into the original dining room. Remnants of narrow beaded paneling remain here, as well as an unusual set of drawers built in under the interior stairs about four and one-half feet off the ground. The original kitchen, to the east of the dining room, has a large cooking fireplace and an interior staircase that leads into the west room on the first floor. The balusters are slender and square; and the newel post is topped by a graceful, turned knob. A pretty clock shelf is built into the eastern wall. The other half of the basement contains a root cellar and a utility room.
Accessory buildings around the house include a 1950s barn built on old foundations, a cooper’s shop with a large fireplace, a hog barn and a 20th century smokehouse built of poured concrete but in the traditional square shape with a steep hip roof. Ben and Karen Bell-Andrews now own the house and these outbuildings, while the garage on the mill foundations and the foursquare house are Dennis and Wendy Hite’s. These young couples joined together to apply for National Register status and will soon learn if they are to be the 69th Washington County property to be added to that list.
Note: Paula Reed, Ph.D, did the research for the application to the National Register on which this article is based.
Epilogue: Marsh Mill was entered in the National Register of Historic Places on November 22, 1996. A little less than five years later, on October 19, 2001, Katherine Moss and her husband Steve Reimer purchased the property. They love the beautiful stone house with its interesting collection of accessory buildings and see its eight and one-half acres as giving them some measure of protection from development.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, March 3, 1996 as the 78th in the series.