Gurleyville grist mill an illustration of ingenuity

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Mansfield - posted Tue., Aug. 27, 2013
The Fenton River once powered the Gurleyville grist mill, as well as the saw mill that stood alongside it. Photos by Melanie Savage.
The Fenton River once powered the Gurleyville grist mill, as well as the saw mill that stood alongside it. Photos by Melanie Savage.

“How many have been here before?” asked Bev York, standing beside the bucolic Gurleyville grist mill along the Fenton River on Aug. 24. About half of the group raised their hands. “This is one of the most intact 19th century sites in the whole state,” continued York, “and the only stone grist mill left in Connecticut.” York, an educator with the Windham Textile and History Museum, introduced the tour of the mill, the sixth in a year-long, monthly series of local mills sponsored by the museum.

The Gurleyville grist mill is currently owned by The Joshua's Tract Conservation and Historic Trust, and contains a remarkably preserved assortment of milling equipment. “This is not a restoration,” reads the mill’s blurb on the Joshua’s Tract website. “Here visitors see the equipment as it was operated over many decades and to the middle of this century.”

“Who was born on this site?” York asked the crowd. A visitor supplied the name. Wilbur Lucius Cross was born in the small, white house across the street from the grist mill, and his father was among the 17 different men who owned and operated the mill from its first incarnation in 1723. Wilbur Cross was a four-term governor of the state of Connecticut and wrote in his memoirs of waking up to see the mill outside his bedroom window.

“Actually, the saw mill was the first to be built on the site,” said historian Bruce Clouette, who took over the tour from York. A wooden sawmill was the first to take advantage of a dam built on the site. The grist mill was added about 1750, to be replaced in the 1830s by the current version of the stone building.  Stone used for the building was “most likely local,” said Clouette, and comprises several different varieties, including garnetiferous schist, gneiss, granite, pegmatite and quartzite.  The 25 to 30 horse power supplied by the dam would have been enough to power both mills, said Clouette.

The mill was remarkable in that a single operator could control many different operations on his own, traveling back and forth between the saw mill and the grist mill as demand required. The grist mill itself offered several different services, including separating the corn from the cob, grinding down the kernels, sifting flour and delivering the final product. Each operation could be overseen by controls set within a few feet from one another. “It was an ingenious way to extract the maximum amount of power, to utilize it for many different purposes, and for one man to be able to run the operation,” said Clouette.

The Gurleyville grist mill, along with a small museum situated alongside the Wilbur Cross house, is open to visitors from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays from the third Sunday in May through the second Sunday in October. The mill is located on Stonemill Road in Mansfield.

The next installment of the Mill of the Month series takes place in Taftville on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 10 a.m. Contact the museum at 860-456-2178 or for more details.

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