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Mill restoration saves a piece of history

August 09, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Measuring 22 feet in diameter and weighing 2,000 pounds, the water wheel stands as a testament to days gone by in Jefferson County.

Dating to around 1875, the water wheel powered a flour mill that was an integral part of the local farming community, said Sheila Birnbach, the current owner of the property known as Beeler's Mill.

Farmers would drop off grain at the mill along Kabletown Road, then return later in the day for their flour, Birnbach said.

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A mill started in 1751 originally stood at the site. Established by Benjamin Beeler, it was a carding mill, which was used to make cloth, Birnbach said.

Fire spread through the carding mill in 1875 and it was rebuilt using the steel water wheel that exists at the site today, she said.

Birnbach, who runs an organizational consulting firm for businesses, purchased the property in 2000 and lives in a historic home near the mill.

Birnbach hired the Bridgewater, Va.-based Shickel Corp. to replace a broken axle in the wheel and repositioning it, among other work.

The only thing Birnbach has to do now is remove a dam that diverts water from the millrace, and the water wheel will turn once again.

"I love it. It's so wonderful," Birnbach said of the place she calls home.

Other phases of the restoration included patching holes in a metal pipe that carries water through the millrace and cleaning out mud in the millrace, Birnbach said. Independent Fire Co. members helped remove the mud from the millrace, Birnbach said.

In addition to Beeler's Mill, the mill had several names over the years, including Robarder's Mill, Weirwick's Mill and Clipp's Mill. The mill, which was powered by Evitt's Run, closed in 1946, Birnbach said. An attached building that housed the grinding operations also was dismantled that year, Birnbach said.

It is rare to have such an artifact still in existence in the county, said Bill Theriault, former chairman of the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission who now works as a consultant for the organization.

The only other historic mill in existence is in Shepherdstown, W.Va., Theriault said.

Before the Civil War, there probably were 30 mills in the county, Theriault said.

"Grain was the major crop in Jefferson County before the war," Theriault said.

Birnbach said the restoration has cost nearly $14,000.

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