Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Grist Mills / Napa County California

grist mills
Bale Grist Mill, Napa County CA
Grist mills are found all over the United States. If you've taken road trips in the U.S. you have no doubt visited or at least passed by some old historic grist mills. You may ask, what is a grist mill? At one time the grist mill served as the center of town activity. The technology of the grist mill was quite simple compared to today's but the mill's beauty and simple construction draws people who want to connect with the past. In many ways the grist mill represented early technology.

The first English colonists might have starved if the Indians had not shared corn with them and taught them how to grow it. Corn was essential. The colonists dried the corn, ground it up as meal or flour and then cooked it and used it in baking. Grist mills were actually used to grind any grain. Products were cake, bread and porridge. Typically, a farmer brought his own grain to the grist mill and received back ground meal or flour and would pay the mill operator a percentage called the "miller's toll".

Today, in the United States, there are organizations devoted to the restoration of old grist mills. Truly, they are a tourist attraction as well as a glimpse back into early water power technology. Compared to today's technology, the grist mill is quite simple yet during the 1800's it provided much needed power to perform a settlements necessary chores. It should be noted that a skilled miller was a very well respected position during the golden days of the grist mill.

grist mill wheel
Close-up of large grist mill wheel
The Bale Grist Mill located in Napa County California is both an historic museum as well as a venue for special events. The Bale Grist Mill is a California Historical Park located three miles north of St. Helena on Hwy 29 in the middle of the beautiful Napa wine country.The mill and its 36 foot water wheel are protected as a state historic landmark and have been partially restored. Thousands of tourists visit the mill as part of their Napa wine country vacation or weekend road trip. The Bale Grist Mill Historical Park hosts three annual special events. These include the Old Mill Days, the Pioneer Christmas and the Harvest Dinner.

The Bale Grist Mill  is a water powered mill that was built in 1846. At one time it was the center of social activity as Napa Valley settlers gathered to have their corn and wheat ground into meal or flour. The mill was constructed by Dr. Edward Turner Bale. Bale, like many others at the time, had received a land grant from the Mexican government and resided at the site until his death in 1849. Like so many others, Dr. Bale left Napa County in 1848 to join the thousands who sought their fortune in the California Gold Rush. While in the Sierra foothills it's said that he caught a fever and died on October 9, 1849. The doctor was only 38 years old. The Bale Grist Mill lived on and remained in operation until the early 1900s. After Dr. Bale's death his widow took on managing of the property. The present 36 foot wheel you see today was installed at the mill after Dr. Bales death.

bale grist mill
36 foot Bale Grist Mill wheel
Those interested in the history and preservation of these old mills may want to learn more about the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills. This organization is international in scope.Chapters in the U.S. are spread all over the country. The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills is one of the leading groups dedicated to old mills with a large technical resource for mill restoration, machinery, techniques, and history. 

The Society, which is also referred to as SPOOM, was chartered in 1972 in Maine as a non-profit organization. Its membership includes mill owners, old mill buffs, museum curators, conservators, history writers, teachers, artists, photographers, equipment supply firms, and libraries.Membership is open to anyone who shares the purposes and interests of the Society. The organization also highlights mill events and ongoing restoration projects.

Two additional articles we've published that you'll find interesting in planning your California wine country vacation are the Geyser in Calistoga and the Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma County's very first winery. 

(Photos are from author's private collection)

View Larger Map

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please share your comments...