Tide Mill Institute


Committed to Sustainable Industrial Heritage

Tide Mill Times

April, 2012

5 pages – www.tidemillinstitute.org

Exchange About Gear Teeth

The following exchange – text and photos – took place last month among several TMI friends. We offer it in full, for it shows how good information can be distributed in a productive way. And we think it may be of interest to our readers 

In February Peter Morrison, who is supervising the archaeological dig at the Perkins tide mill site in Kennebunkport, sent an inquiry to millwright Ted Hazen about an object Peter had found at the site. Along with the photo Peter said:

“The tool has a surviving length of 11 1/2" but it was probably longer originally. The head is 3" wide and 3.5" long. It is 1 3/4" thick. What appears to be the business end is slightly concave but I do not know if it was made that way or wore that way from use. In side view, the head tapers slightly forming a blunted wedge. In cross section, both the head and the shaft are rectangular. I might have it backwards; maybe this is the handle and the working end is what is missing. Any suggestions what it is?”



To which, Ted , fount of knowledge of just about anything molinological, immediately replied: “It is a wooden gear tooth from a greater (master) or lesser face gear from a time when the mill had wooden gear wheels. Generally they are made out of rock maple, apple wood, and or hickory. They can be boiled in raw linseed oil to harden up the surface and to impregnate them with lubricant. They are held in place with a wooden dowel pin or rod. Other cogs and rungs or staves are held in with wooden wedges in cut slots.”


This then made Peter wonder if an early mill with a horizontal wheel would have had gears. A horizontal wheel would usually power the upper running millstone directly without the need for a gear. So Peter began thinking about the possibility that the Perkins mill once had a vertical wheel. A 1795 map of the Kennebunk-port area shows a vertical wheel on the building, but Peter realized that the map maker may have used the vertical wheel as a symbol of a mill without regard to the type of wheel it actually had. Now he is thinking about where the wheel might have been positioned if the mill once had a vertical wheel.

Earl Taylor, who had been copied on the emails, next asked about a basket of seemingly brand new (though obviously old) wooden objects that are located in the Clapp Family barn at the Dorchester Historical Society.

This led John Morse in Phippsburg, ME, whose family operated a tide mill at Winnegance, to add: “The gear tooth [offered by Earl Taylor] is what I remember seeing here in Winnegance. I remember seeing a wooden tooth (spare) out in the shed behind the mill way back when and wondering what it was and now I know too late. The bull gear[with teeth like this] is still lying out by the tide mill and I have been wanting to bring it to shore. It is about 6 to 8 ft in diameter so it would take a mooring puller to lift it and then it could be towed over in front of the mill at high tide, where I could pick it up with the forklift.”

 Gear Teeth – Dorchester Historical Society – Earl Taylor

And your editor sent the following two images to give an idea of how these teeth would have fit into the overall scheme of things inside the mill:


This HABS photo of gearing in the 1793-1797 Van Wyck-Lefferts mill in Huntington New York (top) shows a gear with one tooth missing, exposing the hole where it would have fit. And the arrow in the drawing of the machinery at that same mill (bottom) shows the same toothed gear and the large undershot mill wheel. The machinery at the Perkins Mill, though 44 years earlier, would have been very similar.

Ed. Note – This is the first of what we hope will be frequent write-ups in TIDE MILL TIMES about interesting tide mill sites. If you’d like to share something about a historic tide mill in your area send it to us and we’ll try to make your story available to our readers. Please shoot for no more than a thousand words. THANKS!

Maine’s Largest Tide Mill Complex: Winnegance

A Personal Reminiscence by John Goff

When I was just 10 years old, my family moved from the outskirts of metropolitan Philadelphia, PA to a magical place up in mid-coast Maine called Winnegance. It existed in the south end of Bath, and in nearby Phippsburg. The time of our move was the late 1960s, and my parents had become part of a large back-to-the-land homesteading movement. They wanted a healthy place to raise a growing family of six, and to live where beauty and nature abounded. So our “Main Line” brick suburban house was sold, and ultimately exchanged for a new Maine lifetime full of change and evolving adventures!

We bought and restored the old Reuben Hunt place in the south end of Bath that had been first built about 1840 for a Winnegance lumber manufacturer. The place came with a Greek Revival style cape cod house and an ell, as well as two barns, and an outbuilding, all situated upon a 5 acre waterfront parcel that also once, under Purington family ownership, supported a 19th century Bath shipyard where the stone sloop “Annie & Reuben” had been built. Not long after we moved in, we found a severely aged old “bird’s eye” view map of the neighborhood, prepared about 1870, that is reprinted here. It fortunately helped us a great deal in understanding the older history of our house and property as well as the neighborhood as a whole.

As it turns out, Reuben Hunt was a “lumber manufacturer.” He owned one of the tidal saw-mills that had been built near the middle of the great dam that connected Bath with nearby Phippsburg. His and all the Winnegance Tide Mills had been his pride and joy---and the source of his family’s building material and wealth. Years after we moved away from 67 High Street, the old Reuben Hunt Place, I was contracted by the later owners to dismantle the old outbuilding on the property—which by then had been showing its age. As I did so, and began recycling much of the frame (that was post-and-beam) and the wide pine sheathing boards, the planks revealed a surprising secret. Many had been cut long ago, about 1840, in Hunt’s up-and-down sawmill in theWinnegance Mills. The telltale indication was the old “up-and-down” saw marks found on many of the timbers. Free and renewable water-power had built Winnegance’s economy---and many of its principal landmarks—long ago. Such an abundance of good Maine lumber had been cut in Winnegance, owners like Reuben Hunt and others often turned some of the timbers and planks into new buildings---or crafted and converted them into new ships to carry quality lumber and other fine Maine products to urban markets. Yankee ingenuity succeeded in sustaining a great deal of productive hustle-and-bustle here where originally things were much quieter, with a tidal inlet upon a river that first supported mostly a lot of forest and trees.

Before the Great Dam, and the Winnegance tide mill complex was built, “Winnegance” was mostly a very old local Maine place name that described an old Indian canoe route and “Winnegance Creek,” a tributary to the Kennebec River. As Fannie Hardy Eckstorm and other Maine historians tell us, “Winnegance” was originally an “ounegan-sis,” a small “carrying place” on a Native American canoe route. A similar old Maine water canoe route with an easy-to-cross “carry” could be found in nearby Harpswell. There a “Merri-k-ounigan” or “lazy carry” gave us the early Harpswell, Maine place name “Merriconneag.” However, with the coming of the English settlers, a new vision was imposed on the place. The trees were seen as an expendable commodity---and the land something that could support new farms. Trees were cut. Farms were settled. Houses, mills and ships were built in great numbers. A bustling new Maine community emerged that took pride in its lumbering, its lumber economy---and its working tide mills.

Over time, Winnegance became known as “Slabtown” I suppose because to make merchantable lumber, many cylindrical logs were squared off. “Slabbing off” became the means by which wide pine planks wereroutinely cut from great logs—using ganged or grouped up-and-down saw blades, moved by water-driven turbine power. As Winnegance folk took increasing pride in their tide mills as a whole, a clever new riddle emerged: “Q: How is Winnegance like a penny? A: Both have 10 mills.” [In the 19th century, a ‘mill’ was also a 10th of a cent.] In Phippsburg, manymembers of the Morse family contributed to active tide mill operations in Winnegance—where today survives a “Tide Mill Lane.” On our Bath side, when I was young, the men who worked at Frank Allegrin’s Lumber Yard—men like Frank “Boo” Allegrin and his helper “Harpo”…well, theylooked with greatest respect upon the legacy of the Winnegance Tide Mills. The tide mills had once made the whole neighborhood great, and cut veritable forests of renewable timber using water-power (a renewable resource) while also making Winnegance a booming place and Maine’s Largest Tide Mill complex.  As I recall from later studies, it seems the old Winnegance tide mill dam was first built about 1837, and that a legal “corporation” was formed to own and manage the mills. The golden age of the Winnegance Tide Mills was between about 1837 and 1900, after which time the dam and the mills increasingly fell into disrepair. Most of the Winnegance Tide Mills are gone today. However, old maps, bird’s eye views and photographs reveal their former glory. Many a stout and sturdy structure still survives in Maine and perhaps elsewhere that was built from Winnegance tide-milled timber. Maine ships built from tide-milled timbers once traversed the globe. Back where Reuben Hunt and the Winnegance millworkers also worked, even today sturdy islands that once anchored their mill dam still survive. They can be seen in the mudflats today, not far from great expanses of soil and “earth” created by the accumulations and ultimate weathering of great piles of Maine lumbermill-cut sawdust.

John Goff is a restoration architect and historian. He is also one co-founder of the Tide Mill Institute and a former editor of the Tide Mill Times


 Winnegance Photo: Maine Maritime Museum


Report from Deer Isle Maine


During the summer of 2006 Bud Warren appeared at the archives of the Deer Isle Stonington Historical Society on Deer Isle. He wanted to know if we had any information about tide mills. We fortunately have a large collection of island archival material including tide mills and our staff was able to provide a considerable amount of data including photos of the Torrey Mill. In his letter of thanks to the society he included an outline for a school/community project. It was a wonderful project but my first thought was “What can we do with this!” The Society was hoping to be  allmore involved with the schools, so when I met the “gifted” teacher at a church supper, I told her about Bud’s proposal. Subsequently, the 6th grade enrichment class chose to study the tide mills of Deer Isle under the auspices of the Island Institute’s CREST Program. They began their research at the historical society and at school. Bud returned to help them. With his research and scale drawings from historical society photos they built a model of the Torrey Mill. They also mapped the other island mills using GPS. When our new exhibit barn opens on June 30th, the model, maps, photos and three wooden gear wheels from the Holt Mill will be on display. One of the granite great wheels from the Torrey Mill resides at the society. We hope at some time to be able to help fund Bud Warren and crew in an archeological dig at the Torrey Mill site where we suspect the other wheels are in the mud of the cove (Submitted by Tinker Crouch, Pres.- Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society).

Report from Brooklyn New York


The Old Stone House and Washington Park of Brooklyn, a small house museum on the site of a small Dutch farm near the Gowanus Creek in Brooklyn, will be offering a hands-on tide mill and Revolutionary War learning experience to youngsters later this year. The House was the site of some of the most intense fighting of the Battle of Brooklyn, August 27, 1776, when Washington’s army struggled to escape the onslaught of the British army by crossing the tide mill ponds of the Gowanus. In 1776, the creek had several tide mills, including Brouwer’s Mill and Denton’s Mill, or the yellow mill. Today, the Old Stone House sits in the center of the bustling Brooklyn community known as Park Slope.

(Battle of Long Island Painting by Alonzo Chappel, 1858)

A recent renovation of Washington Park’s playground extends historic interpretation into the neighboring playground, with custom elements reflecting the story of the American Revolution in Brooklyn as well as the story of Dutch rural settlements along the Gowanus, and how these settlements used the neighboring Gowanus for tide mills. The water element in our new playground features a hand pump, a canal with a trap door, and a mill wheel which spins when the water is released. For more information, visit our website at: www.theoldstonehouse.org. (Submitted by Maggie Webber – Education Specialist, Old Stone House Museum).