A happy day of pampering and appreciation to moms everywhere!
The story of the Plimoth Grist Mill and our quest to share some great history while milling the best organic cornmeal you've ever tasted!
A happy day of pampering and appreciation to moms everywhere!
Spring Has Sprung and a Young Herring’s Fancy Lightly Turns to Thoughts of Love
Or, at least, propagation of the species.
Spring has finally arrived in New England and as surely as the forsythias bloom and the peepers peep, the alewives–a kind of river herring called Alosa pseudoharengus–are returning to their parent streams to spawn. Luckily for us, part of the Plimoth Mill is built right over the top of Town Brook, so we bear daily witness to the migration of these plucky fish.
In Plymouth, they start their voyage at the mouth of Town Brook (just a stone’s throw from Plymouth Rock) and end up in Billington Sea. Over the course of their journey they will swap their normal saltwater habitat for freshwater (they are anadromous), swim about 1.5 miles against the current of the Brook, and gain 81 feet in elevation.
Against the current
Uphill, 81 feet
From saltwater to fresh water
Having arrived at Billington Sea, the girl fish lay their eggs and the boy fish release milt over them. They then make the less strenuous but equally perilous return trip to the ocean. Each year the alewives return to the same parent stream to spawn. They can live as long as nine years. The babies, fry or “young of the year” hatch after three to five days. After growing for a few months in Billington Sea, in late summer they swim downstream to the ocean. After several years of maturing, they will return to the same brook in which they were hatched, their parent stream, to spawn.
The seasonal spectacle of alewives on parade makes a tempting and easy feast for seagull, osprey, cormorant, heron, striped bass, trout, otter, mink, and raccoon. At The Plymouth Mill we have a group of regulars who hang out waiting for dinner to present itself. There’s the cormorant in our lower tail race, Miko the raccoon who sleeps off alewife binges on our roof (and who isn’t at all good about cleaning up after himself), and two seagull regulars at their post–they remind me of the two grumpy hecklers on the Muppet Show.
Like our resident chow hounds, humans have come to rely on the seasonal bounty of alewives. Herring were, and still are, an important part of life for the Wampanoag. They’ve been using alewives as food and as a source of fertilizer for corn for thousands of years. Wampanoag man Tisquantum (shortened to Squanto by the English) famously and generously shared the practice with the Pilgrims.
Colonists quickly began to rely on alewives, but as decades passed they noticed a decline in the alewife population. They made the connection that waterworks and dams, like the one used to supply power to John Jenney’s grist mill, were blocking the herring from returning to their spawning grounds. Over fishing was also seen as a culprit. In 1662 legislation was passed which regulated the times in which herring could be taken (like the colonists, they got to take the Sabbath off!), limited use of the mill during the herring run, and stressed the importance of keeping animals and “Boyes” from bothering them during their migration. I guess boys will be boys, no matter the century.
…and that they are to lett them goe up on Fryday nights, on Saterday nights and on the Lord’s daies; and the town doth proibite all those that have enterest or shalbee Imployed in the Mill to stopp water when the tide is out of the pond during the time of the herrings; and that they the said parties are hereby authorized to take course for the preventing of Boyes, swine and dogs from annoying of them in theire coming up.”
1662, Records of the Town of Plymouth
In 1667 the town required that the mill make provisions, such as a flood gate, so that the alewives could have “…free libertie to goe up to spawn att the season therof…”
350 years later, the alewife population is still being monitored with an eye toward conservation. More on those efforts in the next post, Herring Love, Part II.
Below is an image of the herring way that runs behind our mill today, and which helps the fish get up and over our ten foot high dam. It’s made of two Alaskan Steep Pass fishways connected by a level with a resting spot in the middle. More on the fishway in the next post too.
And here are a few of the over 100,000 alewives that will pass through it this year. Queued up and waiting their turn!
So, if you live near a place where the herring run, get out there and appreciate them! Cheer them on like the marathon runners (or swimmers) that they are.
Tags: alewives, anadromous, grist mill, herring, John Jenney, P, Plimoth Colony, Plimoth Grist Mill at Jenney Pond, Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth Colony, Town Brook
Posted in herring, mill history, Uncategorized | 5 Comments
Here at The Plimoth Mill at Jenney Pond, we’ve been lucky to have talented millers and millwrights train us in the art of milling. We knew, however, the day would come when we’d have to grind solo. So we donned our miller’s aprons, plucked up our courage, and set the wheel in motion. We made it through unscathed, and with about 75 pounds of beautiful, fluffy, sweet smelling cornmeal to show for it!
Here’s Michael, our supervisor and miller-in-training, checking things out before we get started.
Here’s our set-up. Most of the parts that you see were salvaged from a mill in Philadelphia, PA and were installed when our reproduction mill was built in 1970. These parts likely date from the early to mid 1800s.
Once we opened the sluice gate and let water onto the wheel, our runner stone began turning and we started juggling the amount of water going onto the wheel, the distance between the stones (called tentering), and the rate of flow of the corn. After about ten or fifteen minutes of fine tuning, Michael and I had all three adjustments working smoothly together and we began to get beautiful cornmeal.
Below is a close up of the shoe and the damsel. The shoe is the part, running from front to back, into which the corn has fallen. The angle of the shoe is adjusted to make the corn flow faster or slower. The damsel is the part in the middle that looks kind of like a top. It helps the shoe feed the corn into the eye of the stone by bumping up against the shoe and jiggling it. See how the damsel has those little metal bars? As the damsel rotates, the bars bump the shoe and shake out the corn. Clever, eh? According to milling lore it’s called a damsel because it makes an incessant chattering sound….
And here’s what we were getting! Thanks to recent renovations on our spindle tip (more about that here), we were able to get the stones closer together. Closer stones mean finer cornmeal. We sifted the whole meal that was coming out of the stones and found we were getting about 90% cornmeal and about 10% grits. Grits, or samp as it was historically called in Plymouth, are just coarser bits of corn that are often prepared by boiling.
After grinding for about 3 hours, readjusting here and there as necessary, we stopped finished up for the day. You might say that we let things grind to a halt… We removed the hopper and chair, then the tun. Once the tun is taken off, you can see what happens inside. See how the corn is expelled from between the bed and runner stones? It collects within the tun and the motion of the runner stone pushes it around until it falls into the chute to the flour bin below.
Here we’re using the stone crane to remove the runner stone for cleaning. Thanks to simple machines, specifically the inclined plane of the iron screw, it takes only two of us to move a 2500 pound stone!
Here you can start to see the bed stone with the corn still on it.
Here’s the bed stone revealed. This picture really shows what happens between the stones. See those wide lines that are filled with meal? They’re called furrows. The flat areas in between the furrows are called lands, and the lines on the lands are stitching. The pattern of furrows on the bed stone and on the runner stone run in opposite directions from each other. Once the corn is fed into the eye of the stone, it is drawn in between the stones by the furrows. The runner stone pushes the corn around the stone, spiraling it to the outside edge. Because the furrows are opposite from each other, as the furrows interact, they scissor the corn into smaller and smaller pieces. See how the corn in the middle is whole, then it gets finer and finer closer to the edge? Also check out the lines in the meal that show you how the corn travels through the stones.
So thus ended our first day of milling–we were tired, dusty, and just a little proud.
We’ll be milling on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 11am to 3pm, so come visit, and see how it’s done in person. Nothing beats seeing and hearing the waterwheel, gears and stones working together.
If you decide to visit over the next three or four weeks, you’re in for a treat! It’s just about time for the herring run, when the alewives (a kind of herring) trade their normal saltwater for freshwater and swim up town brook to spawn in Billington Sea (really just a big lake). On their way they’ll be ascending a herring ladder, or herring way, right next to the mill. The herring way provides a ramp so the herring can ascend the 10 foot rise in water level from the brook to the top of the of the mill dam. During the busiest part of the run you can see thousands of them waiting for their turn to use the run. It’s really an amazing sight!
Check back in the Miller’s Tale for more about the herring. We’re pretty excited about them, so I’m sure we’ll be posting frequently!
Tags: corn, cornmeal, damsel, grist mill, herring, hopper, mill spindle, miller, millstones, Plimoth Grist Mill at Jenney Pond, Plimoth Plantation, Town Brook, tun
Posted in herring, the process of milling | 7 Comments
A great day at the Plimoth Mill! Lots of sun, lots of cornmeal (we made about 150 pounds) and lots of very nice guests. And, some of our favorite peeps dropped by–three different kinds of peeps, in fact.
#1. Peeps That are Friends
A couple of nice young men and some friends dropped by. Thanks for visiting!
#2. Peeps that are Ducks
This nice couple has visited our lower mill race almost every day. I call them John and Sarah, for John and Sarah Jenney who started the the mill. Sarah likes to peck at things and fuss about. John likes to sleep.
#3. Peeps that are Marshmallows
Mini marshmallow millers. Adorable and delicious. They took over milling so I could have a break.
(Did you know that marshmallow peeps are made with corn? Corn syrup is one of their ingredients.)
Thanks to all our peeps for dropping by. Come back soon!
Hey friends of the Plimoth Mill.
Thanks to the talented and hardworking Benjamin Hassett, of B.E. Hassett Millworks, our refurbished spindle is back and the millstone is once again turning. We ground some gorgeous cornmeal on Saturday, and we’re taking her for a spin again today. (More on our inaugural grind in the next post).
So what’s a spindle and why’s it important?
Mills and spindles are all over the place in fairy tales. Remember Rumplestiltskin? He used a spindle to spin straw into gold for the impoverished miller’s daughter. And of course there’s Sleeping Beauty who pricked her finger on a spinning wheel’s spindle. A spindle, in the fairy tale and textile sense, is a “rod or pin, tapered at one end and usually weighted at the other, on which fibers are spun by hand into thread and then wound, or a rod or pin used for spinning on a spinning wheel.”
In the mill, a spindle is similar, but much, much larger. It is “any of various parts in the form of a rod, especially a rotating rod that acts as an axle, mandrel, or arbor.” That’s just what our spindle is. It’s the metal shaft upon which the runner stone (the upper millstone weighing a ton or more) balances and rotates.
Over the years our spindle had gotten banged up and misshapen. As a result, the runner stone’s rotations were bumpy rather than smooth, and we had to grind with the stones relatively far apart to keep the bed stone and the runner stone from touching.
Here’s the damaged spindle tip. Yikes!
About a month ago, Ben came up to pick up the spindle to take it to his shop in Lynchburg, VA where he had the tip and bottom re-machined, and had about an inch added to its length to make up length that had worn off.
Here’s Dave Tanner, Plimoth Plantation’s Associate Director of Buildings and Grounds and All Around Good Guy (not his real title, but it could be!), helping get the spindle and lantern gear ready to travel.
After about a month in Virginia, Ben and spindle were ready for the trek back to Plymouth. Unfortunately, only 25 miles from Plymouth, Ben was waylaid with a terrible flu. Plucky millwright this he is, after a few days rest he and spindle arrived at the mill.
Here’s the spindle with its shiny new tip.
Ben (conscientiously masked to contain contagion) and Dave’s son Andrew work on the re-installation.
The beautiful new bronze bottom bearing. The little channel on the picture on the left is for oil to flow beneath and lubricate the bearing.
Here’s Ben boring out the rhynd so that it’s profile matches that of the spindle tip.
Checking the runner stone for balance. It should balance perfectly on the spindle.
It didn’t…. So Ben went into the plaster dome to take out some weights that were previously added. See the metal plate and nuts? He also took out a couple of weight plates from a weight lifting set! You can see how another layer had been added over the original plaster.
Repairing the plaster. First coat.
The spindle tip, before and after.
Trying out the new spindle. After milling for about 4 hours, we removed the tun (the wooden hoop that contains and corrals the cornmeal). Check out the beautiful meal!
So, if you haven’t been out for a visit yet, stop on by! If you can’t make it, here’s a video about the corn milling process that was generously produced by Frank Mand of Wicked Local Plymouth. Thanks Frank!
Isn’t she beautiful? This is The Plimoth Grist Mill and she’s our newest Plimoth Plantation exhibit. Through the mill and the story of its owners, John and Sarah Jenney, we’ll be exploring the role of mills in early colonial communities, the science and technology of milling, the importance and use of corn in the 17th century, and the ecology of beautiful Town Brook which runs alongside (and underneath) us.
The mill is a reproduction of the grist mill that was built in 1636 and run by Plymouth Colonist John Jenney.
“That Mr. John Jenny shall have liberty to erect a Milne for grinding and beating of corne upon the brooke of Plymouth to be to him and heirs forever. And shall have a pottle of corne toule upon every bushel for grinding the same…”
Plymouth Colony Court Records, 1636
Today’s mill was built in 1969 and opened in 1970. The mill is made from mill parts that were recycled from an early 19th century mill near Philadelphia, as well as newly constructed components and several timbers from a mill that was demolished on the same site in the 1960s.
Here’s our runner stone, bed stone and stone crane. All are from the Philadelphia mill.
Up until now, corn grinding at the Musuem was limited to the decidedly low-tech (even by 17-century standards) mortar and pestle method. If you’ve every visited our 17th-Century English Village or the Wampanoag Homesite, chances are you’ve been pressed into service pounding corn. Since we were newbies to the milling word and didn’t know our tuns from our gudgeons, we turned to some very talented, knowledgeable and generous folks for help.
Millwright Benjamin Hassett of B.E. Hassett Millwrights was here earlier this winter to dress our stones. We called him back a few weeks ago to refurbish our spindle–the metal shaft that links the gears to the runner stone, and upon which the runner stone sits– that was showing a couple of hundred years of wear. Ben and spindle are en route to Plymouth at this very moment, and the spindle will be re-installed over the next few days! Check back in a few days for a post about the spindle installation.
Here’s Ben laying out the pattern on the runner stone.
Taking out the spindle and wallower so Ben can take them to his shop in Virginia.
With our machinery tune-up underway, we turned our attention to that small matter of learning how to mill. Mason Maddox Jr. to the rescue! Mason is a wonderful miller and trainer of millers who operates Colvin Run Mill in Virginia. He’s also very active in SPOOM, The Society for Preservation of Old Mills. Over the course of four days, Mason put us through our paces, training us in the history of mills, food safety and sanitation, and the safe operation of the mill. 600 pounds of corn later, we were starting to get the hang of it and were thoroughly smitten with milling!
Here’s our new pal Mason teaching us how to lower the runner stone back into place on the spindle.
A small team of us has also been working on the Plimoth Grist Mill exhibit. (Thanks Karin, Marie, Rita, Richard, Aaron and Bridget for your great work.). The panels went up today. I may be biased, but I think it looks great!
Here are some of us, hard at work on exhibit text.
So… it’s been a jam packed, fun-filled, fast-paced winter. All to get ready for our museum opening on March 16.
Which is tomorrow!
We’re ready. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop on by. The wheel will be turning, and we’d love to show you ’round.