The Mills of Concord Township
By: Karen Dingle Kendus, Concord Township Historical Society
I love to bake. Cookies, cakes, torts, or trifles, I love it all. For my family’s July 4th celebration, I made raspberry brownies, from actual ingredients. The chocolate was melted in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. I mixed the sugar and eggs in, and then I added the flour. I poured it into the pan and baked them for 30 minutes. The entire baking experience took me a grand total of 45 minutes. In the 18th century, baking took much longer. Heating the oven alone took hours. Even before baking day can be set, the ingredients had to be processed and gathered. Flour had to be milled before being used in baked goods.
And grist mills, which processed flour, were not the only type of mill in Concord Township. Saw mills turned forests into wood used in building houses and fences. Paper mills turned wood pulp into paper used for everything from currency to legal documents. Bark mills extracted tannin for use in tanning leather. Fulling mills cleaned wool for clothing. Cotton mills spooled cotton and stone mills processed stone. Milling was one of the first industries to come to the township, which was incorporated in 1683.
By 1694, the first mill in the township, called Concord Mill, was in operation on Thornton Road, north of Route 1. Concord Mill appeared to be a small grist mill based on the tax rolls for 1694, showing only £10 in its assessment. By 1699, there was a road from Concord to Joseph Coeburn’s mill in Chester Township because Concord Mill could not handle the demand from Concord farmers. Nathaniel Newlin constructed a grist mill in 1704 on the West Branch of Chester Creek to handle the volume. Eventually, he added a dry goods store that specialized in cloth, sewing materials, and housewares.
The second oldest mill in Concord Township, in operation by 1696, was a saw mill built by Nicholas Newlin north of Scott Rd, on Route 1. It later became a spoke mill, creating pieces of wagons.
Around 1729, Thomas Wilcox built Ivy Mills paper mill, the second oldest paper mill in the United States. Ivy Mills started out manufacturing heavy pressboard paper. They manufactured a lighter paper for the printing of various colonial currencies. By the 1760s, demand for higher quality paper was used for newsprint and books. This led to a thriving business at the mill, and contracts with several printing houses, including Benjamin Franklin’s firm. During the Revolutionary War, the Ivy Mills created all paper for the Continental Currency.
Today, Concord Township has one mill still functioning. The Newlin Grist mill operated commercially until 1941. In 1956, E. Mortimer and Elizabeth Newlin purchased the mill complex and immediately started to restore it. Mr. and Mrs. Newlin established the Nicholas Newlin Foundation in 1960, and it continues to support the mill today. They welcome visitors all year around and conduct demonstrations of the mill operation, where they grind the corn and sell the final product. Like many mills in Concord Township, the Newlin Grist mill was, and still is, operated by water power. A water wheel, connected to the two millstones inside the mill, is moved by the water current, from a millrace. A millrace is a diverted route of water, manmade, to create a stronger current from a mill pond. As the water moves the water wheel, the miller pours the grain into the millstones and produces the powder product from wheat, corn, and other grains.
Concord Township was not alone in their building and running of mills. With the time needed to travel in 1700, it was useful to have any mill the residents needed close by. Concord Township is not lacking in creeks and waterways, and several families had the capital and desire to open mills, serving the residents and travelers in and around Concord Township.
In the summer months, Newlin Grist mill has several programs for visitors. The property has a park attached, the mill and demonstrations, a museum, and opportunities for a picnic or fishing. I make an effort to visit anytime I need to appreciate my 45-minute baked goods! Check out their website here: http://www.newlingristmill.org/.
Case, Robert P. 1983. Prosperity and Progress: Concord Township Pennsylvania, 1683-1983. Chester, Pa.: John Spencer, Inc. pp. 92-110, 339.
Newlin Grist Mill. 2017. Newlin Grist Mill: About Us; www.newlingristmill.org Accessed: 6/3/2017.