Trovinger Mill

April 03, 1997|By PAT SCHOOLEY

Destiny and luck have been kind to landmark

Editor's note: This is the 90th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

Milling was the first major industry in this county, and it developed because of the favorable growing conditions for wheat, oats and barley and the abundance of water power available from the streams.

1794 map shows at least 10 mills along Antietam Creek, and many more were built in the next 50 years. Few remain.

Mills present special preservation and reuse problems. They are built in flood plains close to running water, which undermines and wears away the foundations. Neither wells nor septic fields can be built in flood plains, so extraordinary means must be taken to provide for water and for sewage disposal in any reuse.


These two problems prevented most of the mills from being converted to other uses after water power was replaced as the main engine of industry. Mills were abandoned and slowly decayed into the stream, finally falling when some calamity struck. Trovinger's Mill just barely avoided this fate through some happy combination of destiny and luck.

When the mill was built in 1771, it was Jacob Rohrer's Mill.It lay along a road that ran from Hagerstown to the forge that was a mile and a half upstream. The abutments for a bridge over the creek still stand near the mill, but the road has long since disappeared along much of its length. Trovinger Mill Road now passes in front of the mill, a much later addition to the geography of the area.

Jacob Rohrer first bought land along the Antietam in 1739, and a 1747 patent makes reference to his dwelling. A 30-acre tract was patented in 1761 as "Addition to the Mill," indicating that Rohrer already was engaged in milling at that time.

This and several other small parcels were combined into an 817-acre tract called "Nancy's Contentment," which was patented in 1768. It is not known if some part of the earlier mill is incorporated into the present one, but this certainly is one of the earliest mills built along the Antietam.

The mill is built of roughly coursed fieldstone, 30 feet wide and 80 feet long with broad, arched openings in its north and south walls to accommodate the swift water in the millrace as it flowed through the undershot wheel. Doors and windows are spaced randomly. Some of the openings are topped with segmental arches and fitted with heavy frames that are pegged together.

There are three floors in the mill. At ground level, there are three spaces: a large room on the east, the central segment with the arches that once held the water wheel, and another large room close to the creek. A massive, hand-hewn summer beam about 12-by-18 runs through the center of the building for its full 80 feet. The joints of this beam are supported by the two interior walls, and it holds the floor joists of the second floor and the weight of the rest of the structure. The second level is open except for a small office area in the northeast corner. The walls of this office are wide, beaded boards with their original bluish paint. The door is made of vertical boards with tapered battens on the inside and hung with a pair of fancy hand-wrought strap hinges. There is another summer beam 9-by-13, made of three lap-joined sections of hand-hewn timber held on posts. At one time, there was an exterior covered walkway extending from the north wall at the second story. The third floor is entirely open. At one time, there were two small dormers on the south side.

The Rohrer family kept the mill until 1818 when it was purchased by John Wolfersburger for $2,250 - $10 an acre. Thirty-seven years later, Wolfersburger's trustees sold the property to Samuel Horine for $15,575.17. After changing hands several times, the mill and 17 acres were purchased for $4,000 by Joseph Trovinger in 1875. The Trovinger family retained possession until 1910, and a succession of short-term owners followed.

Hagerstown resident Nellie Lytton, 90, lived across the stream from the mill as a child and remembers her terror at having to walk to the mill across a plank that was only a foot wide. In 1940, the mill with 4.4 acres brought $500.

Water power

Bill McMahon has a fascination with water power and the mechanics of mills. Before moving to the county, he had purchased a cabin on a bluff near Charles Mill and later purchased the mill itself. When he learned that the Park Service intended to take that mill by eminent domain for the C&O Canal Park, he began to search for a replacement. He found Trovinger Mill. He removed the equipment from Charles Mill and bought the equipment from Ruffner's Mill and also from Barnett's Mill in Carlisle so that, when Trovinger Mill was restored, it would be possible for it to function as a mill again.

Danger of collapse

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