Keeping Promises At Colvin Run Mill

Colvin Run Mill Historic Site

We made a promise last spring.

About six months ago, Colvin Run Mill entered a contest to win grant money through
the Fairfax County Park Foundation. We sought help, asking you to join the site’s supporters and cast votes through social media outlets on behalf of the mill. You met the challenge, in the manner of the old political joke, by voting early and often. The result was a fourth-place finish among 24 historic sites in the contest and a $75,000 grant for Colvin Run Mill, the largest grant in the site’s history.

Colvin Run Mill has actually been spinning slightly out of sync over the years – a bit like playing guitar with one string inappreciably out of tune. Inside the mill are two giant, horizontal power shafts called counter shafts. They are key parts in the system that turns the runner stone, a French buhr stone used for fine grinding. The runner stone is the top stone that turns above a stationary bedstone when the mill grinds grain. At Colvin Run, the first of those counter shafts connects to the second one through a metal attachment, sort of like railroad cars locking together. That second shaft powers the ‘country’ stone, a style of stone often used to grind corn.

At Colvin Run, that first shaft is slightly warped and thus unable to turn the second shaft. There wasn’t enough money designated to fix that problem when the mill restoration began in 1968, so Colvin Run has been turning only one millstone over the years.

We promised that if we earned some money from the Partners in Preservation contest that we’d use it to fix that and some other issues at the historic site. That would free up bond money that had been designated for mill repairs for other needs.

Now, we’re keeping our word. The Park Authority hired HITT Contracting, who turned to Ben Hassett and his Lynchburg company, B.E. Hassett-Millwrights, to lend a hand in the repairs at Colvin Run. Hassett-Millwrights specializes in repair, maintenance, restoration and reconstruction of wind-and water-powered agricultural and historic sites. The company has worked on historic mills in California, Maryland and Virginia, and will endeavor to preserve as much of Colvin Run’s original material as possible.

Hassett first removed the shims that locked the gears in place on the shaft, and then suspended those gears so that they hang freely. That allowed him to remove the estimated 800-pound counter shaft from the mill and take it back to his shop. It will be used as a guide for the creation of a new counter shaft that will be fashioned out of white oak, matching the material used in the original mill. The selected tree is at Hassett’s shop and was chosen with consideration for its growth pattern so that it is unlikely to twist and can withstand the torque it will endure in the mill. About 100 pounds of metalwork on each end of the counter shaft will be removed, re-milled if needed, and reused on the new shaft.

The next step is the one that has the staff at Colvin Run Mill excited. The new shaft will be attached to the second counter shaft and, with the warp removed from the system, that second counter shaft will turn the country stone. That stone has never turned at Colvin Run. The grinding station at which it will sit has run at least one time in the past, but no stones were in place at the time. The country stone will grind corn because its pattern does not produce flour as fine as the French buhr stone’s product.

Colvin Run staff and Hassett are documenting the process step-by-step with photos of the work along the way. That will preserve a record of the repairs being made now and provide a guideline for any future work the mill requires.

This current project, which continues the mill restoration that began in 1968, will last until late 2014. The current phase of work on the mill’s first floor is expected to be completed by spring so that public tours during the mill’s prime season won’t be affected. Subsequent work is planned on the building’s second and third floors. That will include designing and installing grain cleaning equipment, completing the mill’s system of flour delivery, completing an internal rope hoist, and changing some fittings to a more period-appropriate design.

So once again, thank you. The mill will soon be tuned and grinding again. With the help of county residents who cast votes in the Partners in Preservation contest, the Fairfax County Park Authority is able again to protect resources.

We work and play well together, and our parks are better off for it.

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Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications in the Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

HISTORY: • On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. • To date, 11 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2008. Another Park Bond Referendum will be held in November 2012. Today, the Park Authority has 420 parks on approximately 23,168 acres of land. We offer 371 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park System is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: o Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist. o Eight golf courses including Laurel Hill, our newest, upscale course and clubhouse located in Southern Fairfax County o Five nature and visitor centers. Also seven Off-Leash Dog Activity areas o Several lakes including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax o The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter o Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel o An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter o Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel o Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent o A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly o A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale o Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community o Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center o Provides 274 athletic fields, including 30 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 500 school athletic fields PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: • A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. %

3 thoughts on “Keeping Promises At Colvin Run Mill

  1. Maura

    This is so exciting! I voted and posted the links to FB and Twitter. Thanks for the follow-up post to let us know all of the great changes that are coming up. And thank you for all your work!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: What’s Going On At The Mill? | Our Stories and Perspectives

  3. Refugio

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    Reply

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