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The Grist Mills of Frederick County MD

By Dr. Harold Moser

The Valley Register, Middletown, MD Dec 7, 1984

From 1785 to 1885 much of the industrial and social life In Frederick County was built around its grist and flourmills. Over this span of years the production of wheat, corn, oats and barley increased in volume and this rapid increase in grain cultivation was followed by the construction of an astonishingly large number of small grist and flour mills. When Charles Varle prepared his 1808 map of Frederick County he found 104 grist mills operating along the streams of the county. It seems that along every possible stream where waterpower could be tapped there emerged a swarm of small mills; one fairly recent Inventory has identified as many as 67 mill sites used at one time or another along the Catoctin Creek and its tributaries. Mills that serve a common function and which also are constructed of local building materials are almost certainly going to be similar in appearance and so it is not too surprising to discover that most of the early, small mills were almost as much alike in appearance as the grains of wheat they milled. Any man who owned a mill site and had wood and stone to build the Mill could become a miller. In each Instance a stream was dammed to create a millpond that could be tapped when the mill was used. When the gate were opened water poured into the millrace and turned the big wheel. As the waterwheel went around gears spun an axle to which the millstones, in their boxed enclosure, were attached. Wheat went into the top and came out ground at the bottom. Finally the bran was separated from the flour.

No mill of the Varle era is known to be still operating In Frederick County. However there were 70 water-powered grist mills actively processing grain in 1850 and the Titus map of Frederick County in 1873 Identifies 77 such mills. Among the water-powered mills still operating in 1910 the Point Rock Mill, about 4 miles above Myersville along the Easterday Road. Perhaps came closest in size and general appearance to the many small mills that were built about the time of the Voris survey. This small mill tucked away among the hills of the Catoctin District survived the competition of many larger mills in the county until the very end of the era of mills powered by water. From 1881 to 1925 this mill was known locally as the Duvall mill. Its historical uniqueness was recognized at the beginning of the Twentieth Century and a postcard was designed bearing its likeness. The reproduction of the mill appearing in this article is an enlargement from one of these cards in the collection of Mrs. Leah Spade of Wolfsville.

The photograph reveals all the salient features of one of these early mills. The stream is the little Catoctin. The dam, millpond, sluice and water wheel are clearly shown. The metal water wheel shown here is a refinement over the wooden water wheels used by the earliest mills. Metal water wheels were introduced during the 1880's and so this improvement must have been added by Marcellus Duvall.

The earliest known owner of this mill was George Marker (1756-1827). He may have been the builder but conclusive evidence to support such a claim has never been found. George Marker is known to have, operated the mill between 1816 and the time of his death in 1827.

Jacob Palmer owned the mill between 1839 and 1866 and under his management the mill enjoyed its most prosperous years. By 1850 the mill was processing annually 8000 bushels of grain and turning out 1100 barrels of flour. Miller Palmer added a sawmill to the operation and he employed three laborers to help run the plant. The prevailing wage for a sawmill assistant was $16 per month. Mill hands were paid $20 per month.

The mill barely survived the economic depression in the early 1870's. Mill ownership changed three times between 1866 and 1881 and finally, on April 4, 1881, the mill was sold to Marcellus Duvall who was the last Miller to operate the Facility. At 45 years of age he was an experienced miller coming from a family of millers. However, his experience and skill as a milletr were not enough to overcome the tide of change that was sweeping the milling industry. Improved transportation and the emergence of large urban milling centers gradually brought to an end the era of local, water-powered grist and flour mills.

In 1903, at the age of 67, Marcellus Duvall had the ownership of the mill transferred to his wife, Cornelia (Stottlemyer) Duvall. The mill property remained with the Duvall family until 1926 (Marcellus died In 1925) but the mill must have ceased operation a number of years before the property was sold.

Today only a small fragment of a mill wall remains to mark the site of the once busy center. Neighbors report that much of the mill area has been destroyed by vandals. Dense undergrowth now borders the headwaters of the Catoctin creek and a fine country home now stands at the place where the miller once lived.

Duvall Mill, Myersville MD, along the Easterday Road

also know as Point Rock Mill, and owned by George Marker between 1815-1827