The Mills of Big Spring
Like many of their English counterparts on chalk streams the limestone spring creeks of Pennsylvania had numerous mills used for a variety of products. These mills were integral to the survival of the people in the surrounding area. Big Spring with its massive and consistent flow enabled many mills to be successful. Here are some historic photos of these mills along the famed Big Spring Creek near Newville, Pennsylvania. The
map shows the location of the historic mills of Big Spring. McCraken’s Mill was at the headwaters of the stream. The mills were located nearly the entire length of the stream with the last mill, Ginter Mill below the town of Newville. This mill was located just above where Big Spring empties into the Conodoguinet Creek.
The Laughlin Mill (nonworking representation) has been restored and this color photo shows what the mill looks like today.
The McCraken Mill
The McCraken Mill was at the headwaters of Big Spring. It was a rather powerful mill. It was probably built prior to 1784. The mill was sold various times and its main use was for making flour. In the 1880’s it was sold Senator Wagner. Wagner made numerous improvements to mill to increase its efficiency including making the mill faster. the mill put out around 35 horsepower making it perhaps the most powerful mill in the area. The mill was sold numerous times until 1939 when it was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1960 the mill was demolished by the state. The remnants of the mill are still on Big Spring at the parking lot in the upper area called the ditch.
Built between 1763 and 1770 Piper Mill was a low production mill. It had a small waterfall with dam and four and half foot drop that created about 8 to 10 horse power. The mill was owned by the Piper family for over 90 years and sold to the Hurshes in the late 1800’s The mill produce flour, cornmeal, buckwheat and wheat. The mill structure was taken down in the 1930’s. Colin Thomas put a commercial trout hatchery on spot in which began operation in 1953-54 known as the Green Spring Trout Hatchery. In 1968 the state acquired the property.
Irvin’s Mill was also a low volume mill. It had a small waterfall of approximately 4 1/2 feet and produced 8 to 10 horsepower. The mill was at a cross road so its location may have given it an advantage historically. James and Samuel Irvin built the mill and operated it until 1850. The last owner was Harry Keck and so this spot on the stream is still often referred to as Keck’s Mill. Keck dismantled the mill in 1940. The mill had an excellent reputation for producing excellent corn meal. In fishing literature this areas is sometimes referred to as Keck’s Dam. This was the name Charlie Fox, Ross Trimmer and others often called this part of Big Spring. It should be noted to the observant angler that this area doesn’t look that much different today except for the paved road!
The McFarland Mill probably had the most diversity in production of any of the mills. It started as a flour mill and then changed to a paper mill and finally at the turn of the century a knitting mill. The original mill was built by John and Patrick McFarland and operated it from 1765 to 1827. The mill was sold a number of times and a famous local family, the Ahls, purchesd in 1857. In 1898 the Ahls sold the mill to the Newville Knitting Company. The Mill was dismantled in the 1950’s.
This was perhaps the oldest mill on Big Spring. The original mill was built between 1760 to1763 by William Laughlin. It had a waterfall of 6 1/2 feet and generated 15 horsepower. The mill was a three story structure and had the longest original ownership of any mill on Big Spring spanning more than three generations. The powerful McCraken Mill at the headwaters as well as the more modern Ginter Mill below it probably doomed this mill as well as the Piper, Irvin and McFarland because more efficient production.
The Ginter Mill was constructed during revolutionary days by Gabriel and Alexander Gleim. The Gleim family operated it until the Civil War when it was purchased by the Ahls. In April 1869 it was purchased by Joseph and John Lindsay with Joseph becoming sole proprietor in 1888. It was during Lindsay’s ownership that the mill was converted from burr (millstone) to roller production. Only one other mill along the Big Spring, the McCracken Mill, had rollers and these two mills were then able to out-produce the other four mills. In 1904 James Ginter bought the mill and it operated till 1935. Part of the foundation still exists on Big Spring.