Mill News

A lot has been happening at the Durham gristmill. Last fall we completed removal of over 20 invasive Norway maple trees. This was made possible through the efforts of volunteers and the generosity of the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic organization that awarded us a $2,000 grant. This year we were awarded another $2,000 by the same organization and the money will be used to stabilize the banks of the tail race through the planting of native species of grasses and other ground cover.  The Durham Historical Society has been conducting lectures in the mill and we recently held the first in a series of workshops highlighting old crafts. The recently completed session concerned paper crafting where attendees learned how to make historical boxes and some origami figures.

You will probably recognize the wheat that had been sown in the planter by the Post Office was recently harvested, resulting in nearly ten pounds of grain which we will be displaying in the near future.

The new crop that has been sown in the planter is buckwheat, another locally raised item that was ground into flour here at the mill. You can see that the seeds have already sprouted and that the plants are growing. We should be able to harvest in about ten weeks or around the end of September. Buckwheat is considered to be a pseudocereal because its seeds are used culinarily like other grains. However, the plant itself is not a grass like wheat, oats or barley but rather is closely related to rhubarb and sorrel. The seeds are triangular in shape and the plant does well in low-fertility soils or in acidic soils. It is a short season crop and was often planted for secondary income when the primary grain crop had been harvested. The plant gives back nitrogen to the soil and for this reason farmers planted it as a cheap way of improving their soils. However with the advent of inexpensive nitrogen fertilizers being developed, buckwheat lost some of its popularity.

The plant provides nourishing food, a collection base for bees to make delicious buckwheat honey, and a source from which alcoholic drinks can be obtained. Buckwheat contains no gluten and for this reason, it can be used to brew a gluten free beer. Buckwheat pancakes have been popular for a long time and the classic blini, or small pancake, on to which smoked fish, caviar, or other exotic ingredients are placed has long been noted in Russian cuisine. For the more basic palate, buckwheat groats make an interesting, tasty, and nourishing porridge.

If you’ve never tried any of these buckwheat treats, do yourself a favor and don’t hesitate to awaken your taste buds.

Millstone Found

The Durham Township Road Master, Pete Cox, was clearing out a clogged roadside ditch near the Durham Gristmill recently. He uncovered this remnant of an original millstone, presumably one used in the mill when it was still operational. It can be viewed now at the former mill pond.

DHS Field Trip to Little Farm

DHS Field trip to Little Farm 4/24/2019

1491 EASTON RD – Parcel # 11-005-110 105

Jim Little, John Little, D. Oleksa, L. Oleksa, S. Willey, St. Willey, S. Snyder, J. Walter

Glean information about the site from the Little brothers, who grew up there, as the farm had been in their family from 1920 until 2005. The farm was the site of the second Durham Furnace and the farmhouse was the past home of famous local historian B.F. Fackenthal.

Permission for the tour was requested and given by the current owners, Quaint Oak Bank of Southampton PA. Many thanks to them.

Pictures of house and various stone foundations, buildings, etc were taken (see below). The house is, sadly,  in very bad condition at this time and the whole farm is up for sale through Weichert Realtors. Hopefully someone will buy it and restore it to it’s past beauty. A photo collection of the house and property as it was in the 1880’s is available for viewing at the Riegelsville Library Historic room. Call for appointment 610-749-2353 (Beth Banko).

The actual blast furnace occupied the location of the current warehouses. An Iron “Salamander” sits at the spot where the last blast of the furnace was made. This is the name given to a large lump of Iron,slag and coal weighing many tons that is what was left in the bottom of a blast furnace when it is shut down ” blown out” for the last time. It is usually too heavy to move and too hard to cut up , so it is just left in place.

John (Jack) Little indicated that 1st forge location (see the 1700’s map of the area) was just north of the block building’s east wall at about 40 34 52.98 N – 75 12 06.02 W. It was pretty well covered with leaves and debris and should be investigated in the future. This would have been where the pig Iron from the first furnace that was located in Durham proper was processed into manufactured items. (We would like to find documents about and/or actual items from the 1700’s that were made there.)

We observed the foundations of  the “ice house” ( as shown on the old maps). It is located right in back of the farmhouse. Also the large retaining wall up on the hillside in back of the farm house that was for the Iron Company’s ore cars that were pulled around by small locomotives. The materials for the use in the furnace/ furnaces was originally all hauled up the hillside so that it could be wheelbarrowed into the tops of the furnaces over a wooden bridge. Coal was hauled up the opposite side of the hill from a coal storage area by the canal. The remains of the walls are still quite visible.

The farmhouse has a central 3 story section built of stone with walls about 18″ thick. Another brick section is on the East side and a wooden section on the West side.

The Little brothers said that the house was shared by their Irish immigrant Grandfather  (Stewart Little) and his children and grandchildren. They farmed the property with crops and dairy items until the 1960’s. They indicated that some of the infrastructure for a water source was still in place and may still be functional if the valves in the adjoining yard were uncovered.

The foundations for the original blacksmith shop and animal barns are still quite apparent and a corncrib built with cut nails is still near these foundations. The brothers said they used the corncrib until they stopped their farming endeavors. They said their father and uncle had the dairy barn torn down as the roof had gone bad and the chestnut wood structure was better recycled into useful lumber before it fell to rot.

More research is needed as to the origins of the farmhouse as the stone central section may have had something to do with the very first industrial operation on the site. It is located directly across and in clear line of sight of the house that was built for the owners/managers of the first industrial operation on the site.

A LIDAR scan could reveal more in-depth information about the site.

Many thanks to our “tour guides” i.e. the Littles, for their kindness.

Jim Walter