Tag Archives: Partners in Preservation

What’s Going On At The Mill?

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When the Colvin Run Mill Historic Site first opened to the public in 1972, it was the culmination of over four years of exhausting preservation, restoration and recreation efforts.  Thanks to the hard work and craftsmanship of many individuals, the mill proudly featured an operational pair of millstones capable of grinding grains. Now, some 42 years after that date, the rest of the mill is being restored.

Based on the designs of the mechanical genius Oliver Evans, the Colvin Run Mill Restoration Project will complete the work started during the Nixon administration. With functioning grain elevators, wooden line shafts, grain cleaners and product sifters, the fully restored mill will stand as living testament to America’s industrial infancy, all the while producing wheat flour and cornmeal as it did over 200 years ago. The massive oak timbers and hand-crafted gears of the mill will once again provide a working link between the past, present and future of Fairfax County.

Leading the team on this monumental project is Ben Hassett, America’s only classically trained millwright (mill restoration specialist). Together with our miller, Mason Maddox, and the rest of the mill’s professional and volunteer staff, this expert assemblage has but one common goal – to make Colvin Run Mill the finest working example of federal period technology anywhere.

Funded in part by a Partners in Preservation grant from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this exciting work started in January and has an anticipated completion date of November 2014. During that time, special tours featuring not only the history of the mill but also the restoration work in progress will be given.

Author Mike Henry is the site administrator for Colvin Run Mill Historic Site. The mill is supported by the efforts of the Friends of Colvin Run Mill.

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.

Help Colvin Run Mill Win $100K!

Colvin Run Mill is competing to win $100,000 in restoration funding. Vote for the mill at www.partnersinpreservation.com.

Colvin Run Mill is competing to win $100,000 in restoration funding. Vote for the mill at http://www.partnersinpreservation.com.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is trying to win $100,000 for repairs at Colvin Run Mill. Receipt of this award would allow the Park Authority to reprogram voter-approved bond money set aside for that project.  It’s dollars we can save as good stewards of resources in Fairfax County.  

Of course, to make this happen, we need your help.  It won’t cost you anything, except a bit of time over the next two weeks.  

Colvin Run Mill is part of an online contest sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express. It’s very simple. The site that gets the most votes gets the most money. It works like American Idol or Dancing With The Stars. Participants vote online for the site of their choice.

Here’s what to do. Go to www.partnersinpreservation.com. Use your email address and a password to create an account.  The Trust will send you a single email with a link asking you to confirm that you’re you.  Click on that link and you’re registered to vote.

 Colvin Run MillThen vote for Colvin Run Mill.  One time, every day through May.  That’s the important part – every day. It takes about three minutes to register.  After that, it takes about 30 seconds of your day to log in and vote. Colvin Run gets more points if you take another 30 seconds and tweet #ColvinRunMill.

We’re asking the employees and residents of Fairfax County to pitch in for a few minutes over the coming 10 days to do something for the place we call home.

Protect resources.  Use taxpayer money wisely.  Improve the quality of life.

Simple concepts. They’re in mission statements, news releases and official statements. They’re in the everyday actions of county employees. Now, through May 10, we’re asking our employees and our county residents to take one of those simple daily actions that take so little time and could have such a big impact.

Here’s a chance to do one small thing that will make one of the county’s parks a better place.

Vote for Colvin Run Mill at www.partnersinpreservation.com. Thanks for your support!

The miller pours corn into the hopper to be ground.

The miller pours corn into the hopper to be ground.

Written by Dave Ochs, editor, ResOURces Newsletter