Grist mill's flour power brings in tourists

June 26, 1997


Staff Writer

BURNT CABINS, Pa. - John and Sonja Blattenberger figure they've brought more than 100,000 people to this rural Fulton County village since they arrived 26 years ago.

Their two biggest secrets: warm hospitality and a working 1840 grist mill.

Powered by stream water, the mill "just rumbles along," says Sonja. It churns out about 84,000 pounds of flour a year.

On special occasions like the Fall Folk Festival, which the Blattenbergers helped originate, the mill is opened for tours.

During the festival, there's a traditional pancake breakfast that feeds about 2,700 people in 72 hours. The sounds of gospel music fill the air and antique dealers bring their wares to the town.


But the Blattenbergers believe the mill, and the village, have even more potential.

"The town, the only economic resource that it has is its heritage," John says.

The hamlet got its name from a 1750 fire that destroyed all the town's wooden structures.

Although some have blamed Indians for the fire, the Blattenbergers say it was set by Gov. Hamilton, who was angry that Indians and white people lived there together.

The site is historically significant because there you can see Indian trails, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the railroad.

"We have evolution of transportation, right here in Burnt Cabins," John says.

The Blattenbergers want to attract the hundreds of thousands of visitors to nearby Cowan's Gap. John envisions a walking trail from the park to the mill.

A master plan was done in 1994 with the help of a grant from the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Commission.

Two low-interest loans have helped the Blattenbergers do some restoration work.

But 1996 was a challenging year for the mill.

Four floods caused about $25,000 in damage. Then the couple was turned down for a historic preservation grant.

But they'll continue to plug away in 1997, they said. If money allows, the couple hopes to:

  • Rebuild the mill entrance.
  • Write a plan to interpret the mill for visitors.
  • This is really a museum here of the evolution of milling," John says.
  • Hire an expert on historic preservation to write the history of a log building on the premises.
  • Repair the dam and channel.
  • Paint and restore the outside of the buildings.
  • Build an emergency spillway to prevent future flood damage.

John's father, Paul W. Blattenberger, bought the mill in 1969 as a retirement project. He was a miller in the 1930s.

"It was his vision of restoring the grist mill," says John, who at 63 works full-time for Tri-County Petroleum. "We're just taking it a step further."

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