Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thoughts about Mills

Because let's face it; we all have them.

Plimoth Plantation has recently taken over the running and interpretation of the Jenney Gristmill, a reproduced 17th century structure on the shores of Plymouth's Town Brook. When I showed up for my internship in the Plantation archives several weeks ago, my boss asked if I wanted to help research (and perhaps develop) exhibits for this new site. The other option on my to-do list for the day was to work my way down a list of book titles, about thirty or so pages long, and check off each item with a big red pen as I found them on the shelf. I chose to do the research.

My task was simple; locate images and descriptions of similar structures that might influence the appearance and operation of the Jenney Mill. There are no period images of the original mill, built in 1636 by Plymouth Colony resident John Jenney. So we have to do the best we can with the pictures we can find.

In no particular order:

A horse-driven mill. I applaud their creativity, but horses were expensive to transport from Europe, and the impoverished Pilgrims didn't have them.

A child-driven mill. Economically feasible, but currently frowned upon in liberal Massachusetts.

These are all very nice, but what we're really looking for is a mill that the English could have built in New England, with period materials and tools, and utilizing New England resources as power supplies.

A Chinese water-pounding mill. Close, but on the wrong continent. 

Also, for people who pay attention to the millenia-long East/West technological race, the above image of the Chinese mill is of a machine believed to have existed in the second century CE. The image below is a rendering of the earliest known comparable European mill, built in Ireland five hundred years later.

Although to be fair, the Irish at this time had a Viking problem they were probably worried about.

The best images of European Renaissance-era technology come from French and German documents, and these are the sources that start yielding paydirt.

Bingo. John Jenney would be proud.

Check back in the next few days to see how we put together an exhibit for the Jenney Gristmill. In the meantime, you can read more about the Plantation's new acquisition here.

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Is that your child driving the mill in the 16th century engraving above? After five-hundred years, it's about time that he starts earning a living. Post your address in the space below to claim his back-pay.

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