Municipality: Barnet, VT
Location: N side of TH1 ca. 1/2 mile E of jct. with TH7
Site Type: Mill
Vt Survey No: 0301-91
UTMs: (Zone 18)
National Register Nomination Information:
The Thresher Mill is situated on the north side of the road from Barnet to West Barnet (State Aid Highway #1) at the falls of the Stevens River just west of and adjoining Vermont's Barnet Center Historic District (accepted on the National Register July 12, 1984) The property includes the mill building (#1), a tannery site (#3), a storage shed site (#4), a lumber shed site (#5) and 1 barn site (#6) grouped on the south bank of the river in close proximity to the dam (#2) which has been in continuous use since 1836. Potential subsurface indications of at least 1 other shed, a blacksmith shop, and the Batchelder barn east of the mill(1) as well as the Carrick/Goodwillie log cabin and shed(2), and the Harriman blacksmith shops(3) west of the mill have yet to be located. The mill building incorporates an 1872, 2-1/2-story, gable-roofed, wood-frame carriage and woodworking shop (#1a), a 1-story, shed-roofed, wood-frame cider mill wing (#1b) added c. 1885 to the shop's west gable end, and a 1-1/2 story, gable-roofed, post-and-beam frame blacksmith shop wing (#1c) built c. 1840 and moved to the east gable end of the mill c. 1880. The mill retains the historic woodworking, machining, cidermaking and blacksmith machinery and tools as well as shafting, belting, turbine and related hydraulic system used to power them. The millowner's homestead, located across the road just west of the mill buildings and associated with the site through common ownership from 1870, is not included in the nomination. The land associated with the complex is relatively flat and cleared in the immediate vicinity of the buildings and sites; the eastern portion of the property in proximity to the Barnet Center bridge is wooded and slopes more steeply toward the river These historic resources possess an unusually high degree of integrity with regard to location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
1. Thresher's Mill, 1872, c. 1880, c. 1885. Contributing.
Sash, set in plain trim, is generally original and replacement 6/6, with 9/6 in the attic story of the gable ends. An original window opening in the second story, east gable end was infilled during the addition c. 1880 of the blacksmith shop; the original double-hung, 6-light sash were separated and moved to occupy symmetrical fixed positions flanking the ridge of the wing's roof. Five windows with 12/8 sash on the ground level of the north rear along the river were replaced c. 1990 with horizontal wood sheathing during the reconstruction of the rear wall and foundation. Original sash feature muntins which are simply molded and terminate in a gently rounded point, whereas muntins from 1992 stock replacement sash are more complexly molded and squared-off at the terminus.
On the center, south front portion of the first story is a window with removable wall panels and sash for rolling out large water tubs. A shop-made cordwood saw projects from the right flank of this window on the facade. The corresponding center window on the first floor of the north rear (river side) is slightly enlarged to allow for the passing through of long timbers in the process of sawing and planing. A 14" x 14" opening in the west flank of this north rear wall has a removable panel allowing for the passage of wood from the planer-jointer. Vertical board doors added c. 1920 open from the left flank of the facade on the first and second stories. The opening on the first story has two leaves on roller tracks; the left leaf has a pass-size, hinged door and the right leaf has a window with 5/6 sash. The twin leaves of the second story door open inward. A temporary wood sign on the facade put in place for the 1992 filming of the movie "Ethan Frome" has been replaced by one reading "Ben Thresher's Mill".
Small amounts of original paint remain on the mill: the river (north) rear has traces of yellow ochre, with window and door frames exhibiting some dark red pigment and window sash having white paint. All other sides of the main block appear to be unpainted except where new sash has a dark stain.
The main block of the mill is framed with circular sawn members: 8"x 9" sills and beams set 8' on center supporting the first story floor of 3" thick wood planking; 2"x10" joists with bridging set 20" on center, an 8"x8" beam running the length of the center of the building, and a 2"x10" plank floor supporting the second story; and 2"x8" joists set 16" on center, a center 8"x8" beam, and a 2" thick plank floor in the attic story. The roof is framed without a ridgepole and is supported by 2"x7" rafters approximately 38" on center with 1" thick random width sheathing and clapboards.
The interior ground floor of the main block is finished with a concrete floor except on the north (river) side where rock and earth are exposed. The large stones of the foundation are evident on the south wall, where it also has been faced with concrete. A wood partition in the south east corner defines a furnace room from the otherwise open space occupied by the machinery, shafting and turbine of the hydraulic power system for the mill.
The power system, shown in copies of the HAER drawings from 1979 which accompany the nomination is powered by a horizontal water turbine (1967 Hunt Turbine) manufactured in 1911 by the Rodney Hunt Machine Co. in Orange, MA in which an 18" water wheel delivers about 30 horsepower under 16' of head. This replaces an earlier vertical turbine that had wooden cogs.(4) Water is supplied by a wood penstock made by wooden staves bound together by steel hoop tie rods; the remnants of the penstock built in 1911 by Judkins and rebuilt c. 1949 by Ben Thresher will be used in its reconstruction. Various line shafts, counter shafts, belts and belt tensioners run under the first floor and are used to run the equipment there by belts. A boiler manufactured by Ames Iron Works, Oswego, NY, installed c. 1915, provides steam for the former steam box and cider evaporator tank.
The interior first floor of the main block is finished with plaster on lath and horizontal wood sheathing, with the framing members of the ceiling exposed. The large central timber running the length of the building is supported by two chamfered posts. A straight run staircase enclosed with horizontal board sheathing and a vertical board door with two wide boards is situated on the west gable end of the large open space; stairways ascend to the second floor from the south front and into the basement at the north rear. A brick chimney stack is set against the wall framed by the staircase. A door opening into the cider mill is set at the southwest corner of the room and adjacent to the entrance to the staircase; it features a door with 4 lights/2 vertical panels. A wide, vertical board door with bracing opens into the blacksmith shop on the southeast corner.
Machinery contained in this large open room is shown on accompanying drawings from 1979. An engine lathe, manufactured by Gage, Warner and Whitney, Nashua, NH, was purchased in 1927 by Fenton Judkins and manufactured by Lucius W. Pond, Worcester, MA between 1875 and 1888, are situated on the northeast rear corner of the mill, where a hole has been bored through the end of the mill to accommodate the iron rod hoop stock for water tubs. At the center of the north rear wall is an unused countershaft which may be the location of cidermaking activity before the mill was installed in the adjacent building at the end of the 1800's.(5) In the northwest corner is an old wood frame pattern or spoke !a the, manufactured c. 1850 and brought to the shop in 1894 by J. L. Judkins. A "cutting-off" or cross-cut table saw manufactured by L. D. Howard, St. Johnsbury, VT has an iron frame and is situated on the western half of the middle of the room where there is also a wood-framed rip saw and a jointer-planer manufactured by W. W. Carey of Lowell, MA. Baxter Machine Co., of Lebanon, NH manufactured the planer in the center of the room c. 1878; it was purchased by F. L. Judkins between 1900 and 1938 along with the Carey jointer-planer. On the east half of the room are located a band saw, manufactured by F. H. Clement, Rochester, NY between 1883-86, a wood lathe installed between 1872-1877 by Alexander Jack, an emery wheel, a drill press (post drill) manufactured by Canedy Otto Mfg. Co., Chicago Heights, Ill, purchased c. 1950 by Ben Thresher to replace smaller Canedy Otto post drill, a wood framed horizontal boring machine installed 1872-1887 by Alexander Jack, and a hand threader that Ben Thresher bought in Ryegate at a blacksmith auction. Also located in the center of the room is the hand wheel for the turbine and a wheel horse. At the south front of the shop are a series of workbenches and cabinets with a variety of smaller hand tools and parts.
The interior second floor of the main block is divided into several rooms. The former wood-bending shop is situated on the western half of the floor plan. The walls and ceiling are finished with plaster on lath and the floor is covered with 2" wood planking. A chamfered post identical to those on the first floor supports the central timber running east/west parallel to the ridge line of the roof. An opening measuring approximately 20"x20" located in the southwest corner adjacent t o the straight run, enclosed stairway to the attic formerly provided access to a steam box on the roof of the cider mill; it was removed c. 1990 during renovations. At the northwest corner of the wood-bending ship and main block is a small storage room measuring approximately 8'x10' that contains shelves and hooks. A partition roughly halfway across the width of the second floor divides the wood-bending shop from a paint shop n the northeast rear and old living quarters in the southeast front corner. Some of the vertical board wail sheathing in the paint shop was added for the filming of the movie Ethan Frome in 1992. The living space exhibits several layers of wallpaper dating from the late 19th/early 20th century and a plaster on lath ceiling. Twin-leaved doors join the living quarters with the paint shop and wood-bending shop The wood bending equipment was removed during ownership of the mill by the Woodstock Foundation.(6)
1b. Cider Mill.
The basement level under the cider mill reveals exterior clapboards on the west end of the sawmill to which it is attached, indicating that the cider mill was added to be saw mill after the latter was built in 1872. Much of the cider mill equipment found on this level was purchased in nearby Mosquitoville in 1915 by Fenton Jenkins, the owner of the property at the time.(9) Included are: line and counter shafts to drive the machinery, an apple grinder (manufactured by Boomer and Boschert Press Co., Syracuse, NY patented in 1881) fed from the scales and apple hopper on the floor above, a cider press (Boomer and Boschert), a hydraulic pump for the cider press made in the shop, a cider pump made from bicycle tire pump that pumped fresh cider from a collection pan under the press to a cider tank on the first floor, and a cider evaporating tank for making cider jelly. A penstock shed, partially rebuilt c. 1991, is located on the north side of the cider mill building along the river. It houses on this level portions of a wood penstock rebuilt in 1949 in the process of reconstruction and an old steel boiler shell used for a penstock.
The main floor of the cider mill is comprised of 2" thick planks and houses the scales and hopper for apples, manufactured by Fairbanks Morse, St Johnsbury, VT. A hand lever opened the bottom of the hopper to let the apples fall into the grinder directly below. A large copper cider tank is suspended from the roof to the west of the south front door. The storage tank was filled with cider pumped up from the basement and from its height it could be conveniently drained into cider barrels in trucks. Presently, the shop is used for the storage of miscellaneous equipment. Remains of a former steam box, fueled with the steam from the boiler in the basement, is situated on the shed roof of the mill. The box was accessed from the second floor of the sawmill and utilized to bend wood runners for sleighs and wheels for wagons.
1c. Blacksmith Shop.
The basement of the blacksmith shop with an earthen floor contains the old electrical generation room which extends into the basement level of the rear shed. An air duct at the base of the concrete block chimney of the blacksmith shop leads to the forge blower for the shop located in the shed wing. The blower was manufactured by Canedy-Otto Manufacturing Co., Chicago Heights, Ill. and is presently driven by an electric motor via a belt. Also contained in the wing is a belt drive countershaft for the forge blower which is used when the power is taken from the line shaft connected to the turbine under the main mill. Three concrete foundation pads under the blacksmith shop were installed in 1911 and 1913 by the owner, Don Judkins, for electrical generation equipment.
The first floor of the blacksmith shop centers around the chimney to which is attached the coal-burning forge with an anvil nearby. There is a workbench under the south front window. The northwest rear corner of the shop contains an L. D. Howard triphammer, manufactured n St. Johnsbury, VT, a ring mandrel and a punch and shear to cut iron manufactured by Little Giant Punch and Shear Co., Sparta, Ill. In the front southwest corner of the shop near the tire shrinker (upsetter) manufactured by Champion Blower and Forge Co., Lancaster, Pa., a "Green River #3" caulking vise for horseshoes manufactured by Noyes Foundry Co., Greenfield, Ma., and a box type woodstove.
2. Mill Dam, c. 1836 with later alterations. Contributing.
3. Tannery site, c. 1847. Contributing.
4. Don Judkins Storage Shed site, c. 1923. Contributing.
5. Fenton L. Judkins Lumber Shed site, c. 1907. Contributing.
6. John L. Judkins Barn site, c. 1895. Contributing.
The Thresher Mill is the lone survivor among numerous small mills that once drew water power from the Stevens River and its tributaries in the self-sufficient community of Barnet in the 19th century. It continues to operate by water powered turbine on the south bank of the Stevens River as it falls to the Connecticut River in this northeastern Vermont town. It is architecturally significant as a working industrial component of the elaborate agricultural network carried over from the economic and social world of the Barnet Center Scotch settler/farmers of the 19th and early 20th centuries when subsistence farming, village life, and small local mils were indissolubly linked. The subject of a documentary video for PBS entitled "Ben Thresher's Mill" produced in the 1970's, measured drawings of this rare survival of the mill building type were prepared for the Historic American Engineering Survey (HAER) in 1979. The mill privilege has evolved since it was deeded in 1836 from an overflow stone dam to a propped plank and timberdam, having been partially rebuilt on numerous occasions after it was breached by various floods and freshets. Located just to the west of Barnet Center, the Thresher mill houses a combination of a blacksmith shop, cider mill and woodworking shop/sawmill that also had a leather dyeworks when first constructed just after 1870. A number of other industrial/agricultural sites from the 19th and early 20th centuries surround the working mill including an earlier tannery, blacksmith shops, barns, and the original Carrick log cabin pitch. The communal ownership pattern over the years of both the industries on the property and the nearby far ms forms a web of connectedness between the significant agricultural and industrial contexts characteristic of the 19th and 20th centuries in Vermont. The t own of Barnet was first settled in 1770 at Stevens Village (now Barnet) where the Stevens River falls steeply to the Connecticut River, the location of the first saw and grist mills. In 1773, Alexander Harvey and John Clark were sent as commissioners from Scotland by the "United Co. of Perth and Sterling" to purchase land in Barnet and Ryegate. The "glebe", located in adjoining Barnet Center, became the focus for the Scotch emigration to the town as the location of the Scotch Presbyterian Church. The Thresher mill property adjoins Barnet Center Historic District t o the west, which was entered on the National Register July 12, 1984.
There have been buildings of mixed residential, agricultural and industrial character on this south bank of the Stevens River from at least 1836, when the land was purchased by Bartholomew Carrick and known as part of the 150 acre Stevenson farm.(1) The three 50 acre lots, #21, 22 and 23, extended primarily south up the hill from the road from the Center to West Barnet; the small corner of lot #23 where the mills were built was the only portion of the property with river frontage and extended across on the north banks of the river. It appears that Carrick purchased the land as a business investment after he had purchased 150 acres of lots #173 and 174 north of Warden Pond from William Carrick in 1835.(2) Bart Carrick built the dam and sawmill after he purchased an indenture in 1836 for the water rights from adjoining farm owner James Shaw. Shaw leased the flume rights for a tannery to be built just downstream from (east of) the sawmill.(3). Soon afterward n 1837, Carrick sold the southern 140 acres of the Stevenson Farm to Walter Gilfillan who settled on the hill south of the road.(4 ) Carrick also sold the 10 remaining acres of the Stevenson farm north of the road with a log house and shed as well as the lease of the land with the water privilege and sawmill later the same year to James Goodwille(5), who appears to have settled on the north side of the river adjacent to James Shaw.(6)
Sawmills, tanneries and blacksmith shops functioned in the 19th century economy in much the same fashion as other activities evident in farmers, account books: a complex economic web was formed by the bartering and trading in kind for services and goods of an agricultural nature. The ledges at this location on the river soon spurred the construction of a series of mills owned by neighboring farmers: the Carrick/Goodwillie up-and-down sawmill operated from 1837 until at least 1853 on the site of the present sawmill, (7) the James and William Shaw/James McLaren tannery was operated from c. 1847 until at least 1853 on the site of the present blacksmith strop, (8) and at least one other blacksmith shop operated first by Isaac Harriman and then James Goodwillle was situated on the western portion of the site c. 1865.(9) These documented industries joined agricultural buildings along this south bank of the Stevens River which served the farmhouses built on the opposite side of the road.
It is interesting to compare the varied pursuits of these early subsistence farmers with the specialized careers of present day residents. Population and economic growth in Barnet reached their peak in 1850 during the height of the industrial revolution, when census figures reveal that there were 2,521 residents. Contrary to the case in southeastern states which were settled in previous centuries and were more purely agrarian, these northern farmers were able to utilize the burgeoning industrial technology to harness the energy of numerous Vermont waterways in order to increase the versatility of their marketable output and thus augment their opportunities for economic success. Neighbors shared in using the necessary products from these nearby mills before the age of the railroad at mid-century increased the ease of transportation and promoted the development of specialization of certain areas of the country; for instance shoe manufacturing and tanning in the large factories of southern New England and sheep raising and pulp wood production in the western states. After 1850, there was an exodus of the younger population to settle the western states, and the economy of Vermont's hill farms and related industries languished. For instance, on the Grand List of 1836, mill entrepreneurs Bartholomew Carrick also owned 1 horse and 100 sheep while James Shaw had 2 oxen, 13 cattle, 2 horses, 1 stallion, 25 sheep, a house, and 50 acres of land. Neighbor James Goodwillie appears to have been the most prosperous in 1836, having 70 acres of land, 2 houses, several lots of land, 6 oxen, 11 cattle, 7 horses, 1 stallion, 31 sheep, and a watch. The sawmill (along with the other agricultural possessions of the earlier census) shows on Carrick's tax list for 1837 and on Goodwillie's tax list for 1838. The US Census of 1840 reveals that 47 year old James Goodwillie lived with his mother, and 4 children, with he and his son listed as engaged in manufacturing and trades.
The US Industrial Census of 1850 is a better indication of the relative prosperity of the industries housed in the mills on the site. This was the peak industrial year, with the total number of industries operating in Barnet tallying at over 30. Neighboring farmers Shaw and McLaren's tanning and currying enterprise was the most profitable in Barnet for that type of industry. Their business was augmented by $1200 of personal estate in the business. Quantities of materials totaled $2956 in value and included 1 barrel of oil, 70 cords of bark, 1200 calf skins and 300 hides. The tannery employed 3 workers at the monthly cost of $81, with a yearly output of 1200 calf skins and 600 sides of leather worth a total of $4200. In contrast, neighboring James Goodwillie's lumbering industry and sawmill was one of the smaller scaled businesses as compared to others of its type in Barnet. It was supported by $200 of personal estate and its inventory was comprised of 3,000 hemlock logs and 90,000 other logs. T he mill employed 1 person at the cost of $21 per month and put out a yearly total of $570 of custom work. The Industrial Censuses of 1870 and 1880 have fewer enterprises in operation, with 16 and 12 listed respectively.
By the time Alexander Jack bought the property in 1870-1871, the various mills and shops at this Stevens River site were abandoned and in ruins due to its location miles west of the transportation outlet provided by the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad running along the Connecticut River.(10) The present mill buildings and some remaining machinery date from the construction by and ownership of the properties by Scottish-born Alex Jack during the years from 1870-1888. Alex Jack came north to Barnet from W. Meriden, Connecticut when he was sixty years old, uniting four parcels in 1870: three were along the banks of the Stevens River and the sites of the old tannery, sawmill and blacksmith shops. The fourth parcel was legally joined to the mill property as the millowner's residence for the first time since the industrial development along the river, an an arrangement which has survived to the present. The home of James Somers at the time, the residence had been the home of Lydia Harvey and was part of a farm originally deeded to Alex Harvey in 1795.(11) The location of Jack's home in close proximity to the mill privilege enabled him to become the proprietor of a highly successful steam dyeworks which prospered at least from 1875 until 1884(12), when hydraulic extractors and other machine work were housed in the mill building which he constructed.(13) The main block of the mill was erected for tanning and dying sheepskins for carriage and parlor mats. This industry was relatively shortlived, perhaps due to competition from the large factories in southern New England. Alex Jack died in 1887, at which time his industries appear to be mixed between dying, machining and blacksmithing. The cidermill building (northwest wing) and blacksmith shop were most probably added before Alex Jack's death.(14)
Most of the equipment as well as the turbine was purchased during the ownership of Fenton L. Judkins during the first 40 years of the 20th century, who had consolidated the present holdings extending east to the Barnet Center Bridge by 1930.(15) Fenton's father, John L. Judkins, was a fiddler from S. Peacham who held dances on the second floor during his period of ownership from 1893-1905.(16) Fenton and his brother, Don, carried on a wheelwright and carriage repair business until the partnership was divided in 1905.(17) Don began the Pioneer Electric Light Co. in 1907, generating electricity for the town from the basement of the current blacksmith shop. He sold out in 1917 to the Eastern Vermont Public Utilities Company. It appears that Don still had an interest in the property from 1923 until 1927 when he owned a storage building near the mill. It was not until 1927 that F. L. Judkins was first mentioned as a wheelwright in the business register, although the business had been in existence for some time.(18) Cidermaking and boiling cider jelly were other industries carried on by the Judkins.
The mill was purchased by Ben Thresher in 1947(19) after Ben had worked as an employee from 1941 at Fenton L. Judkins' carriage shop, It has been during his continuous ownership/occupancy of the mill since that time that it has been able to carry on into the present as a survivor from a very different era. The cidermaking continued until the 1960's, with the sawmill and blacksmithing activities servicing area farmers until very recently.(20) A very informative videotape was produced for Public Broadcasting in the 1970's which depicts Ben making wood watertubs, horsedrawn sleighs for winter lumbering and various ironworking and tool creation in the sawmill and blacksmith shops. The present owners have stabilized the mill and plan to open it to the public as a working museum in the near future.
Ben Thresher and his mill preserve the organic relationship among tools and machinery as well as between millworkers as individuals and what they made. Ben Thresher himself is the underpinning joining this mill and the scattered population of the surrounding countryside, a rare person who continues to carry the knowledge necessary to operate a water powered mill of this kind. This complex of functioning relationships forms the technological base of regional folklore and has much to reveal in terms of a way of life that has virtually disappeared. The survival of this complex of social interaction together with the equipment, original machines, and tools, provides a priceless relic of industrial, agricultural and architectural history.
Beers, F. W. Beers and Co. Atlas of Caledonia County, Vermont. New York: F. W. Beers and Co., 1875.
Byers, N. Gail. Historic Sites and Structures Survey. Montpelier, VT: Division for Historic Preservation, 11/80.
Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Caledonia and Essex Counties, VT.: 1764-1887. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Journal Co., May 1887.
Doherty, Prudence. "Development of the Tanning Industry". Draft of Searsburg Project, Phase II. Department of Anthropology, Univ. of VT, 2/19/88. Document in Archaeology files at VT Division for Historic Preservation.
Grand List, Town of Barnet, Vt.
HAER Documentation of Ben Thresher Mill, (HAER #VT, 3-BACEN, 1). Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1976.
Hastings, Scott E., Jr. The Last Yankees. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1990.
Laffel, J. and Co. Construction of Mill Dams. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press, 1972.
Land Records, Town of Barnet, Vt.
Probate Records for the Estate of Alexander Jack. St. Johnsbury, VT: Caledonia County Probate Court, August 15, 1887.
Schultz, Jackson S. The Leather Manufacture in the United States: A Dissertation on the Methods and Economies of Tanning. NY: Shoe and Leather Reporter Office, 1876.
Thompson, Zadock. History of Vermont, Natural, Civil and Statistical, in Three Parts. Burlington, VT: Chauncy Goodrich, 1842.
U. S. Census.
Vermont Business Directory. Boston: Briggs and Co., Publishers.
Vermont State Directory and Gazetteer. Boston: Union Publishing Co.
Walling, H. F. Map of Caledonia County, Vermont from Actual Surveys Under the Direction of H. F. Walling. New York: Baker and Tilden, 1858.
Walton's Vermont Register. Montpelier, VT: E. P. Walton and Son.
Wells, Frederick Palmer. History of Barnet, VT. Burlington, VT: Free Press Printing Co., 1923.
Yale, Allen. Small Water-Powered Mill Technology. Montpelier, VT: VT Division for Historic Preservation, October 4, 1990.
Zimiles, Martha. Early American Mills. NY: C. N. Potter, 1973.
DATE ENTERED: April 4, 1996.
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