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Old mills a part of Snyder County history

  • 6 min to read
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Penn’s Creek Pottery owners Bill and Sharon Lynch pose like the couple in a historic photo, left, at their business, the site of a former mill built in the early 1800s.

The story of Snyder County cannot be told without a mention of mills.

Two of the oldest historic buildings in Snyder County are former mills while one is still in operation.

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The former Sampsel’s flour and grist mill, which is currently Penn’s Creek Pottery, as it appeared in the 1800s.

Penn’s Creek Pottery is located in the former Sampell’s flour and grist mill in Penn’s Creek, Pyle’s Garage Doors uses the Old Stone Mill as storage for his business in Mount Pleasant Mills and Meiserville Milling has been in operation since 1817.

“Settlements grew up around the mills,” said Bill Lynch, owner of Penn’s Creek Pottery. “Transportation was difficult and farmers had to be near the mills.”

Snyder County Historical Society librarians Janet Walter and Esther Klinger said the mills were essential to communities.

Snyder County Historic Buildings Still In Use: Penn's Creek Pottery & Gov. Snyder's Mansion

“They were everywhere,” said Klinger. “People migrated to where there was water.”

In “Snyder County Pennsylvania: From Pioneers Days to the Present,” the Snyder County Communities National Bicentennial Inc. wrote, “Although several mills of an unknown type existed in the region before the American Revolution, it was in the 1780s that a wide panoply of these small operations was established. Many of these were additions to the farmsteads of prosperous individuals, but several mills seem to have been the sole occupation of their owner.”

By the 1790s, the area of Mahantango Township had at least 10 sawmills, a grist mill, oil mill and several stills and distilleries. The old Beaver and Penn townships had several grist mills, saw mills, hemp mills, oil mills, tanneries and distilleries listed as taxable properties, according to the book.

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Bill and Sharon Lynch, the owner of Penn’s Creek Pottery, have historic photographs of the building they occupy.

Penn’s Creek Pottery

The former Sampsel’s flour and grist mill, built in the early 1800s, has been a labor of love for Penn’s Creek Pottery owners Bill and Sharon Lynch. The building, located at 30 Pottery Lane outside the village of Penn’s Creek along a waterway of the same name, operated as a mill until 1951, grinding raw grain into flour for bread, cake and rolls.

The original mill was built by Peter Kuhns and sold in 1822 to his son-in-law George Sampsel and then to Sampsel’s son Hopnai Sampsel in 1855. In 1904, his son Dr. James Winfield Sampsel hired others to run the mill. After his death in 1934, the mill was operated by several others, including the last owner Bowersox and Sons, before closing permanently in 1951. It fell into disrepair, according to The Daily Item archives.

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Bill Lynch, the owner of Penn’s Creek Pottery, shows a copy of the 1908 blueprints of the former mill where his business is now located.

For years, it was believed to have been constructed in 1818, but recent research into the deeds may put the original construction date closer to 1814, said Bill Lynch.

Bill Lynch, who said he’s been a lover of history since his mother brought him an antique cannonball as a child, and Sharon Lynch, a former history teacher, said they looked from North Carolina to Maine for a place to establish their businesses in the 1970s. When they drove past the vacant and run-down mill, they said it was perfect.

“He saw beyond it,” said Sharon Lynch.

Bill and Sharon Lynch purchased it in 1978, renovated it over 11 years and opened the pottery store in 1989. Since it opened, Lynch has used the old mill for a production studio and showroom for his work and other crafters.

The original framework and foundation still exist, but renovations were extensive. When Lynch purchased it, the floors were bowing due to the previous owner storing chicken litter on it. The front steps weren’t safe. The wiring needed to be replaced.

Lynch, in 2018, had to restore a foundation stone wall that was damaged due to freezing and thawing. That specific wall at one time held the waterwheel that was removed in 1908 and replaced with water-powered turbines, said Lynch.

Lynch only has two artifacts — a ladder and a hand truck — that are from the original mill and he has copies of the 1908 blueprints as well as a flour bag framed in glass. Most of the other display pieces are from Dinges Mill in Coburn, which was demolished in 1988.

“It’s been a labor of love for Bill,” said Sharon Lynch.

The Lynches also operate the Millstream Cottage on the Penn’s Creek Pottery property. The restored summer kitchen was built in 1818 and is now available for rentals.

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The former Stees Mill, now Pyle Garage Doors in Mt. Pleasant Mills, is one the oldest buildings in Snyder County still in use. The image was provided by the Snyder County Historical Society. The date of the image is unknown.

The former Steese Mill

The Old Stone Mill, located at 7977 Route 104, Mount Pleasant Mills, Perry Township, was put in operation in the 1790s on the west side of Route 104, a half-mile south of Route 35.

Frederick Steese, a former Army captain and state representative, in 1788, purchased land to build a mill but it wasn’t finished and operational until at least 1794. It was sold to Johann Schnee in 1813 and stayed in his family for five generations, according to George Dunkleberger’s “The Story of Snyder County” and research material from the Snyder County Historical Society.

Snyder County

The Old Stone Mill on Route 104 in Mt. Pleasant Mills is now used as storage for Pyle’s Garage Doors.

The three-story mill was used for grinding flour and feed as well as pressing cider. In the early years, all grain was transported to the mill by horse-drawn wagons. The mill relied not on a water wheel like many traditional mills but on an underground water tunnel, according to Dunkleberger’s book and Pyle’s research.

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Dale Pyle, the owner of Pyle Garage Doors in Mt. Pleasant Mills, holds up a commemorative plate issued by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Freemont Fire Company in 1976 recognizing the former Steese Mill.

The building was used as a mill for 170 years, the longest operating mill in Snyder County, until it was purchased in 1964 by Clarence Pyle, who worked there in the 1930s. He used it as a workshop for ornamental iron items, according to historic society materials.

It is now owned by Clarence Pyle’s son, Dale Pyle, who purchased it in 2001. He has used it as a warehouse for his business, Pyle’s Garage Doors.

Pyle still has an old flour-packing machine, the original wooden handmade winch used to raise bags grain and many large pulleys, tools and scales used in the mill. An open fireplace is in the basement, said Pyle.

The stonework and many of the doors and framework are still the original, he said.

The building is not open to the public. Vegetation has grown up around the building, blocking the original stonework from view, and many of the windows are broken. The original items from the mill are also hidden from view due to the amount of materials Pyle has stored inside the building.

“I always appreciated (being a part of history),” said Pyle. “History was one of my favorite subjects in school. You got to appreciate what your forefathers and other people did. If buildings weren’t well constructed they wouldn’t be here today.”

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Justin Strawser/The Daily Item The Ladies Auxiliary of the Freemont Fire Company in 1976 recognized the former Steese Mill, now Pyle Garage Doors on Mt. Pleasant Mills.

Some of the stones in the mill probably weigh several hundred pounds, he said.

“They did everything the hard way with horses and mules,” said Pyle. “It’s amazing how they got them up in the air with pulleys to get them in place. You have to appreciate the craftsmanship.”

The Schnee family also built the stone house next door on Flint Valley Road near the mill around 1830, according to Dunkleberger and historic society materials. This is where Pyle has his office for the garage business and rents out the rest of the building.

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Meiserville Milling is the former Frederick Meiser Gristmill, at 127 Mill Road, Mount Pleasant Mills, which was built in 1817. The date of the photograph is unknown but it was published in “Snyder County Pennsylvania: From Pioneer Days to the Present” in 1976.

Meiserville Milling

Meiserville Milling is the former Frederick Meiser Gristmill, at 127 Mill Road, Mount Pleasant Mills, which was built in 1817, according to former owner Harold Meiser.

His great-great uncle Frederick Meiser, of which Meiserville is named after, built the mill. Harold Meiser became owner in 1963 and he sold it to his grandson Kelvin Wolmer in 2011, he said.

“The old mill, the original stone structure, is still there,” said Harold Meiser. “It’s not going anywhere.”

The original mill was water-powered and grinding wheat into flour for local customers. Now it’s mainly used for seeds, feed and fertilizers, he said.

“Every community had a mill or two,” said Harold Meiser. “Now they’re an endangered species.”

The original stone structure had a fireplace on the second floor. Apparently, the Meisers lived in the mill for a few years until they could build a home, according to The Daily Item archives.

Until 1955, the grist mill operated on water power supplied by Mahantango Creek that runs past the property until it started using diesel power, according to the archives.

Another former mill was still being used until recent years. Yoder’s Mill at Globe Mills in Middlecreek Township was built as a wooden structure in 1788 on the south side of Middle Creek. John Reitzman owned this mill from 1814 to 1829 until S.H. Yoder replaced it in 1885 with a three-story brick building. It was last used as a chinchilla farm but is vacant now, according to material from the Snyder County Historical Society.

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