Tide Mill Institute

the Tide Mill Times

 NO. 11    SUMMER 2015                                                                   


pdf version of this newsletter is available at:


Committed to Sustainable Industrial  Heritage     

TMI’s 11th conference to be in Beverly MA

Titled “TIDE MILL ARCHAEOLOGY AND HERITAGE,” this year’s TMI conference will be held November 6 & 7 in Beverly Massachusetts, just across the street from the location of a historic grist mill whose foundation details are clearly visible in the mud. Archaeologists who have recently studied the site will help conduct a field trip to the site.  Once again this conference will offer a molinological pot pourri, exploring the heritage of tide mills internationally and locally and mixing a wide variety of presentations from established researchers and newcomers. See next page for more details.

Painting – THE FRIEND MILL - from the collection of the Beverly Historical Society


CONFERENCE LOCATION -  We will meet at a doubly-historic location in Beverly.  CUMMNGS CENTER is right across the street from the site of a 17th century tide mill.   Built in 1904, the CENTER is itself of historic importance as one of the most significant early reinforced concrete industrial buildings in America, for years the home of the famous United Shoe Machinery works. And YES, that’s a tide mill’s stone at its corner!


Highlights of TMI’s 11th conference

·       “NENDRUM – The Oldest Tide Mill in the World” - The featured tide mill at this year’s TIDE MILL INSTITUTE conference is almost fourteen hundred years old!  Its bed-logs were cut from an Irish forest in the year 619 AD, half way between the time of St. Patrick and King Alfred the Great.  The mill was part of an ancient monastery at Nendrum, Northern Ireland, which underwent some early archaeological study in the 1920’s. But an awareness and full understanding of the tide mill (actually there were two of them)  wasn’t pinned down until a chance discovery in 1999 revealed a piece of 7-12th century ceramic and a fragment of a granite mill-stone. Two more years of intense work in the tidal mud and 6 more of follow-up study proved out the fascinating details, which weren’t published until 2007.

Thomas McErlean, an archaeological research fellow at the University of Ulster led that archaeological study. Those who were lucky to hear his spellbinding presentation abou that work at our 4th conference in 2008 still remember it.  We’re thrilled that he was able to arrange his busy schedule to once again visit and will share his story with today’s larger and more diverse TMI audience.  

·       “TIDE POWER IN COLONIAL BOSTON” – Duane Lucia, curator of Boston’s West End Museum will offer insight into that town’s early tide mill history and describe how he gathered material and produced an exceptional exhibit about the topic. (See a report about the exhibit on a later page.)

·       “224 YEARS OF TIDE MILLING ON BEVERLY’S BASS RIVER” – Darren Brown, curator of Beverly Historic Society, popular tide mill savant John Gaff and archaeologist Suzanne Chereau, who has worked on the site, will triple team this topic with a lecture, a low-tide field trip and a visit to the historical society’s exhibit about this nearby tide mill.    

·       “FINDING SOMERVILLE’S MISSING TIDE MILL” – Richard Duffy, expert on the mills of the Boston area’s Mystic River, will share his research on a local mill that’s hard to pinpoint geographically and historically.

·       “Á MAINE TIDE MILL THAT SPAWNED A CANAL” TMI president Bud Warren describes a tidal saw mill that morphed into a canal, in an attempt to connect two river systems and draw on the unlimited timber resources of interior Maine.


   It worked last year.  Let’s repeat it, and give everyone a chance to shine!  The idea is simple - you like tide mills; tell others in the fellowship at November’s conference about what interests you.

  Last year several newcomers to the tide mill scene shared their experiences finding historic tide mill sites in their areas.  At an informal Friday afternoon session this year, participants will be invited to share information, stories and photos of interesting tide mills that they’ve studied, visited or found.  Everyone’s invited to join in!

  The key word is “informal.”  Everything goes –from Power Point presentation to handing around old photos or simply retelling an old story you heard from your grandfather.  The idea is to make it time of sharing among friends!

DON’T BE SHY!   PLEASE help in planning this session by letting us all know what you can offer.                                                                                       Send a MILLSTONES quick email to info@tidemillinstitute.org







 TIDE MILL news items - 



Graffiti and broken millstone segments             Photos: Greater Astoria Historical Society

   We heard recently from Bob Singleton of the Greater Astoria Historical Society of Queens NY that both of the millstones from the borough’s 1640’s Gerritson tide mill continue to suffer damage.  A piece of one has been cracked off twice, and been refastened with a cement that seems not to be working.  The other has been defaced with graffiti.  Although the stones are most likely not original, but from later years at the mill, Bob and others at the Historical Society have been trying for several years to rescue them and place them in its museum, but municipal officials who control things have been deaf to their entreaties and leaving them in a public park in less than optimal curatorial conditions. TMI encourages museum preservation of these stones.



   The long struggle to create and operate a reconstruction of Kennebunkport Maine’s 1749 tidal grist mill is now in the hands of the town’s Planning Board.  The final public hearing was held August 5th, and a decision is anticipated by early September.  Neighbors in the area mounted a concerted effort to quash what would be America’s only working tidal grist mill, raising questions about what zoning codes permitted and citing what they see as problems with traffic, noise and dangers of fire and explosion in their quiet residential area.  TIDE MILL INSTITUTE offered support by testifying at the hearing, having gatherd comments from millers and tide mill researchers across the US and Europe.  We will inform you of the decision as soon as it is announced.


   Some of us chugging away to understand America’s 16th-19th century tide mills were rather blown away in June by news that a UK company had been granted initial consent by the Department of Energy & Climate Change to begin planning activity to build a tidal electricity producing lagoon out in the bay and not isolating an estuary.  Cost is estimated at a billion pounds sterling.  Planners say this project with a barrage of 16 huge turbines will be the world’s first man-made, energy-generating lagoon, with a 320MW installed capacity and 14 hours of reliable generation every day.  If actually created, it will produce clean, renewable and predictable power for over 155,000 homes (equivalent to 90% of Swansea Bay's annual domestic electricity use) for 120 years.  Other exciting British Isles barrage projects are being proposed for other locations.                                                                        

AN EXHIBIT TO SEE  - - -  (If you can !!)

There’s an exhibit going on for another month and a half in Boston that every tide mill aficionado should try to see!  Called “Tide Power in Colonial Boston,” it’s mounted in the West End Museum and tells the story of how Beantown used the tides for 150 years .  Because there’s so little time left to view this important exhibit (Unfortunately it closes on September 19th!), and because so many who read this newsletter aren’t close enough to Boston to see it, we’re printing what the museum has on line.   For those who can’t make it to the exhibit, its curator, Duane Lucia, will be a speaker at this fall’s conference, November 6 & 7.                        Don’t miss this great opportunity to hear about Boston’s tide mills!


Don’t miss it!


To fuel mills for producing flour, fabric, lumber and even chocolate, innovators in colonial Boston turned to the power of the tides. A new exhibit in the Members’ Gallery of The West End Museum—Tide Power in Colonial Boston—tells the story of the development and use of tide mills in the city

 “For 150 years prior to the industrial revolution, the tides sustained many industries in Boston,” said Duane Lucia, West End Museum Curator. “The story of the creation of dams and mill ponds—both the successes and failures—as well as their ultimate demise is fascinating.”

Tide Power in Colonial Boston explores the mechanisms of the mills and trades they supported. Historical maps illustrate the role of Boston’s topography in the construction of the mills and the demand for land-making which contributed to their downfall.

The rise and fall of tides have been harnessed for energy since Roman times. The earliest known tide mills date back to sixth-century Ireland. As the tides come in, sea water enters into a reservoir called a mill pond. When the tides recede, the stored water is released to turn a water wheel which powers the mill.

Around 1630, a settler named Crabtree attempted to extend an  island in Boston’s North Cove—approximately where Causeway Street is today—to build a dam and form a tidal mill pond. The task proved to be too much for one person, so he soon abandoned the project. Thirteen years later, Henry Symons and five associates were granted the rights to the Cove on the condition that they construct a mill pond and erect one or more mills. They succeeded and, for the next 150 years, no fewer than five tide mills operated there.

But, as the population grew, so did the demand for land. This coincided with the dawn of a new industrial era, which spurred much larger factories that could not be sustained by tide power. The exhibit concludes with the great failure of Uriah Cotting’s plan to dam the Back Bay to build multiple tide mills.

(West End Museum:  http://thewestendmuseum.org/exhibitions/tide-power-in-colonial-boston/)




Chris Sauer could be called America’s Pied Piper of using water power in new ways.     A July 29 press release from Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) reveals that his exciting Maine company has successfully straddled two different worlds of power generation on both sides of the North American continent.                                                                                 

According to an article in the recent issue of YANKEE magazine, he initially cast his eyes on making use of the Gulf Stream, but changed direction and focused on tidal currents closer to shore.  Having gotten a good handle on the Maine tides, he’s now working successfully to trap river currents, and his website suggests he hasn’t forgotten about ocean currents.   An adaptation of its tidal underwater turbine technology that was developed, installed and tested      Photo – James Aaron Helms      in Cobscook Bay Maine jas been successfully deployed in Alaska’s Kvichak River and is now supplying power there to the remote northern village of Igiugig.

ORPC has become a leader in developing technology for harvesting energy from the current.  Its Alaskan and Maine devices appear superficially similar to one another, each looking rather like souped-up versions of your grandfather’s old iron push type lawn-mower.  But they’re definitely more modern than that, an adaptation of the famous fish-friendly helical turbine developed at Northeastern University by Alexander Gorlov.   The one sitting in the Alaskan river, is called “RivGen®,” and is currently supplying about a third of that community’s electricity needs.  It too appears to be fish friendly, for recently it sat smack in the middle of a run of 1.35 million salmon, and fisheries monitoring did not indicate any direct evidence of mortality or injury during the monitoring period. In addition to being fish-friendly, Sauer’s “flow-through” turbine feature operates right in the current, skipping the need for a dam and avoids the sedimentation problem that attends all dams.

TidGen®” the original tidal turbine, was sited in Cobscook Bay as a test in 2010 and operated successfully for more than a year.  It was the first revenue-generating, grid-connected tidal energy project in North America. ORPC has used information from that installation to improve the design, and plans a second installation soon again in Cobscook Bay and in Western Passage down in Washington County Maine.

                                                                                                             Photo - ORPC

Thinking about tide mills . .       


The new porch at Winnegance Store          Photo – John Goff                                 

Looking across the dam to Timber Island – Photo- Maine Maritime Museum

As a result of a lunch I had lunch earlier this week on the porch of the

recently renovated WINNEGANCE GENERAL STORE, I’ve have had some

long thoughts about tide mills and what we’re doing at TIDE MILL  

INSTITUTE. That’s me, pausing before climbing the steps to the store’s new

porch, where if you look closely you can see the heads of a few people

sitting at tables where a few minutes later I was joined by fellow tide mill

enhusiaist John Goff. After a few minutes of pleasantries, we both stood

there and looked out across the marsh at Winnegance Creek, then at each

other and grinned. After all, it was a beautiful day, and we were in Maine. But more than that, we were looking out over a truly historic vista. And it was some pretty!

Once upon a time the two little villages either side of  the Creek were one thriving community, proudly sporting ten working tidal sawmills with nineteen different saws making one hellova lotta lumbah, plenty of noise and more sawdust than you’d know what to do with today.  These two little villages (each separately part of Bath and Phippsburg) had a couple of stores, a church, two schools, and even a community band.  The Bath side boasted that it had the end of the trolley line on which you could ride up to Bath and connect to the rest of the world by land.  The people in both towns were proud of their mills, and prouder of the millions of board feet of lumber they produced  annually. Little did they care that the folks in upriver Bath who were building great wooden ships with Winneagance-made lumber looked down on them, and called their tidal-dam connected villages “Slabtown,”  They were proud of being “Slabtowners” and passed that pride down the line to their children.   Who else grew up hearing the ”THUMP” of the water gates slamming shut automatically when the tide began to ebb, and hearing your Dad say, “Well, I have to go to work in an hour.”   Whose Mothers but those in Winnegance had to time preparation of dinner to match the tides; because of them Father came home an hour later every day.  Growing up in the area, I remember the quiet pride of some of the old-timers who shared reminiscences of what it was like in the old days.

And what it was like is gone.  What’s left at Winnegance as elsewhere along Maine’s and other coasts are only vestiges of the old tide mills, cribwork and piles of rocks of the dams, foundations of the mill buildings, now and then a rusted gear or shaft – just archaeological hints in the mud of the technology, only a whisper of a vibrant way of life.  It’s what I got a sense of as I stood there on the porch of the old Winnegance General Store on Monday.                                                                                                              

And once again, as it often does when I stand at an old tide mill, the mission of TIDE MILL INSTITUTE came through sharp and clear.  Yes, we’re interested in the technology of that former way of life.  Yes, we’re excited about snuffling out new historic tide mill sites.  Yes, we’re excited to think about ways to bring back that gentler way of producing useful power.  But most of all, we’re excited to be fostering an understanding of and an appreciation of the heritage of the people and the way of life of places like this along America’s East Coast.  The things these people left behind have a fantastic story to tell, but when you get down to it, the real story here and in other coastal villages is about the people themselves and the sorts of communities their tide mills developed.  

After a deep breath or two, John and I sat down for lunch.  I had a fantastic Reuben sandwich and a sip of cool wine.   I forget what John had.   But we toasted Winnegance, past and present, and then we toasted TIDE MILL INSTITUTE.  We toasted Jennifer Greene for doing such a superb job on the store’s restoration. 

Thank you, all, for being part of the process!  Hope to see you can make our conference and share your own tide mill stories!    Bud Warren

                                                                                                                               View at high tide of what’s left of the old dam – just a row of cribbing across

Winnegance Creek – Photo- Goff                            

View near the time of low tide reveals three of the cribwork pilings and a ledge that anchored the Winnegance dam.     Photo – Todd J. Griset

The article article "Maine's Tide Mill Culture" is reprinted with permission from SPOOM's "Old Mill News" - Winter 2015

Please go to the pdf version of this newsletter at the top of this webpage to view pages 8 - 14 of the newsletter, reproducing the article.