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Man grinds away at gristmill history

February 25, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The idea to research and log the history and location of 18th- and 19th-century gristmills in Montgomery Township, Pa., came slowly to Calvin Bricker, a canoeist who passed the ruins of dozens of old gristmills while paddling Franklin County streams and creeks.

Bricker, 43, a self-employed electrician, began studying gristmills two years ago. Since then, he and his wife, Diane, have spent about 800 hours poring through old land records, manuscripts and articles in the Franklin County Courthouse, library and historical society archives.

When the research is done this year, Bricker will turn over his 150-page report and photographs to the local historical society.

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"People can read about the gristmills and learn about their local history," Bricker said.

His work could help other historians, Bricker said. "I'm not the greatest writer in the world, but I've put it all in my own words," he said.

Bricker said he found a few older people who recalled their memories of gristmills.

"But unfortunately the people I really need to talk to are dead," he said.

The Montgomery Township gristmills were built along the West Branch of the Conococheague Creek and Licking Creek.

"Montgomery Township, like the rest of Franklin County, is blessed with small streams to harness water power," Bricker said.

There were nearly 100 gristmills operating in Franklin County at a time when most people lived on farms and depended on the mills for their flour, cornmeal, animal feed and even their whiskey.

Carbaugh's Mill on Garnes Road along the West Branch of the Conococheague, ground corn for its own distillery, Bricker said.

The mills began to close when people began to move off the farms and into cities and towns. The development of large baking companies ended the need for people to make their own bread and dried up the demand for flour from the mills.

Bricker said fires and floods also helped to sound the death knell for many mills.

By the turn of the century, only a handful remained, most of those turning out animal feed for small farmers. Today only their remnants can be seen - pieces of a stone foundation by a stream, a hunk of rusted cast iron, a few jagged timbers, or a chunk of granite grindstone.

The only gristmill still standing in Montgomery Township is Anderson's gristmill on Anderson Road off Pa. 16 between Upton village and Mercersburg along the West Branch of the Conococheague.

The original mill was built on the site in 1765. It burned down and was replaced by the current building, a 21/2 - story frame structure, in 1856.

It was bought by Chester Anderson in 1917. His sons took over later and ran it full time until 1981, said Anderson's son, Harry.

"It was really busy around here in the 1960s because of the hippies. They wanted everything ground up - corn, wheat, even soybeans," Harry Anderson said.

Anderson still runs the mill in the spring and summer months, but only as a tourist attraction. It it no longer used to grind grain.

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