Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Hoppes Grist Mill at St. Peters Church, Mantzville, Mahoning Valley

(Photo courtesy of Abby Beerman)
Little about walking into the mill today gives the impression that it has sat idle for some 60 years. Entering it feels as though the owner momentarily stepped out the back door. The C. J. Homm’s “BB Feeds” sign, that lists prices of turkey starter and ground oyster shells, looks as vibrant today as any modern sign. The workings sit and wait as though their master will soon return to once again make them rumble.





Whenever Berlyn Miller (left) and Chester Mertz of the
Mahoning Valley get together, it always begins with
"Wie bist du?," Pennsylvania Dutch for "How are you?"
One can imagine all the Dutch conversations that
occurred in this mill, back when people came to
"mill about,"sharing gossip and news.


   
The mill was built by John Hoppes in 1845. And his great, great grandson, Berlyn Hoppes, has lived across the mill race his whole life. According to Hoppes, it passed down to his son David Hoppes who ran it up to the Great Depression. Then a partnership, formed by two men of Coombe and Shimer, ran it until Calvin J. Homm became the last operator, mainly as a cleaning mill. Then it went to Fred Johnson and he continued the Christmas Trees.  He also owned several companies including a medical equipment manufacturer.  (See the 1800s era birthing chair equipped with stirrups further down this post.)


Karl Jens, current owner of the Hoppes Mill near St. Peter’s Church, is a gracious, soft-spoken gentleman. He recently opened his home and mill property to a joint visit of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society and the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center.
Karl Jens shows how the grain could be diverted from one
chute to another.  The grain is first elevated to the top floor
and dispersed to the various mills or storage.   Chutes and
elevators run throughout the building.

The group was fortunate to have Jens’s hospitality and his detailed tour augmented by Hoppes’s color commentary. Near the steps leading into the first level, within the stone foundation, are two chutes with metal covers. In the working days, hoppers would be attached for farmers to pour their corn or grain into the funneled receptacle below the floor for the main elevator to pick up.
The group inspects the main elevator and grain hopper
at the immediate entrance to the Hoppes Mill.



Elevator cups mounted on belts: These elevator belts hang
in storage and appear to be the slightly smaller size.  (The main
elevator belt and cups were a bit bigger.)  Belts like
these run through wooden tubes in the mill to deliver the grain
upward to the 4th level, whereupon it can then be diverted
by gravity in any number of wooden chutes.
 The main elevator, as well as all the subsequent lesser elevators within the mill, consists of a cup-studded belt that scoops the grain, cup after cup, directly to the 4th level of the mill. From there, the grain could be diverted to any number of locations in the mill depending on what needed to be done to it, by way of rudimentary yet efficient square-wooden tubes or chutes.

A brush cleaner.
Grains could be stored in large bins on the 3rd level or sent directly to one of the roller mills or sent to be cleaned of chaff and have fungicide applied to it (“Saracen-M” according to Hoppes) and returned to the farmer who would store it for seed for the following spring.

The jaw dropper of the mill of course is the 26-foot steel Fitz water-wheel. Though the race is long gone, with just a few pulls, the giant wheel once again awakens to life. Once started, it can spin and spin like a fly-wheel with little sustaining effort. Imagine the water shooting from the race over the top of the wheel, catching the tread-like sections that run across the 4-foot width all around the outside wheel, each one big enough to catch about two gallons of the falling water each.

Paul Borits of Packerton remembers assisting Johnson to convert the water wheel into a hydroelectric power generator.  However Johnson passed away before he could see the idea through.

The steel Fitz 26-foot overshoot wheel that
replaced the original wooden wheel in 1920 will still
turn with enough elbow grease.  The wheel
housing is inside the mill to the left as you walk in.
Another view of the spokes.  The housing
plank only has room for two people and is
difficult to get pictures.

On the second level of the mill, above the wheel housing is a 35-foot lever on a suspended fulcrum. A rope, now missing, would have been attached to the end of the lever and run through a hole in the floor. The operator could start or stop the flow of water from his control center from the 1st level. The inside edge of the wheel is lined with teeth. From this same location on the 1st level, the operator could engage a smaller toothed wheel to the water wheel to engage the power train of the mill.


This is the ceiling of the 1st level, just outside the wheel
housing.  The main drive shaft and belts power everything
throughout the mill.  The "spit" sign is visible on the beam,
a closeup shot of which can be found below.
 Though the dam, 1,200 feet to the rear, is today filled with dirt and the race long gone, at one time held enough water for a day’s operation. Hoppes recalls that during the dry months, the dam only recharged enough each evening to give the mill 5 or 6 hours of operation.

Following the workings of this grist mill is an exercise in the Zen of efficiency. Everything from the bag-filler, to all the “mills,” to the giant wooden spool in the 4th level for hoisting out the top bay, was powered by the water.
Originally the mill was a grist mill that used grist stones. Two stones with a diameter of about 3-4 feet sat flatly on top of the other. The top stone did the turning, driven at the center with an 8-inch square axle. Some of these stones were solid with domed tops while others were made up of pieced together stones held together with a steel band.

Berlyn describes to Chester how the channels had
to be re-chiseled.  One millstone on the property
was specially designed to channel buckwheat, which
technically wasn't a grain.
Occasional maintenance was needed to re-chisel worn grooves. Jens has many millstones from the mill on display in his yard.  Some of which are European in origin, as millers knew the stones used as ballasts of ships made good millstones. A few millstones remain inside the mill. One rests on the 4th level of all places, undoubtedly hoisted there with the hope of some future use. A round shroud that encased the grinding stone was also found there.

But what the group was able to see, still in their place of operation, were various roller and cleaning mills. One all-wood flour mill, complete with wooden auger, was made in Chambersburg Pennsylvania by August Wolfe and Co. Mill Works. Inside, the silk filters remain largely intact.

The wooden auger of one of the flour mills.

The August Wolfe Mill from Chambersburg PA.

Having all wooden parts is an important feature in a mill to avoid sparks. Dust created in the milling of grains can be highly explosive. (Recall the mini-explosion created when your 5th grade science teacher added a spark to a puff of flour.)

Hoppes recalled the days of the mill’s operation and how the window panes in his house across the stream would rattle.

In fact, vibration in a mill was a problem. We were told that the mounting of the mill stones was done in such a way to keep them independent of the structure of the mill to minimize this ear-numbing, teeth-jarring rattle and grinding.

The sign posted by C. J. Homm on the main beam reads, “If you spit on the floor at home, spit on the floor here, because we want you to feel at home.” Coincidentally, a similar, albeit more concise version of this sentiment, was found on a website picture of the “American Midget Marvel Flour Mill,” of the same type housed here at the Hoppes mill (see pictures).
Pictured here is an "American Midget Marvel" from another mill that
coincidentally has a similar warning about spitting in the mill. 
("Don't spit on the floor.")

The Hoppes Mill’s “American Midget Marvel Flour Milll” is on the 2nd level. Perhaps not the most politically correct of all names by today’s standards, the “Midget Marvel” was built by the Anglo-American Mill Company in Owensboro, Kentucky. The “Midget Marvel Mill” was invented by an English milling engineer, A. B. Tattersall, of London, England. Mr. Tattersall had written a number of books advertising his mills, such as "The Story of a Wonderful Mill."

The header beam in the gable end of the 4th level
shows a rope burn from years of hoisting. 


This is the wooden spool in the peak of the mill with belt drive power from 3 levels down.  The rope went out the
gable end and used to hoist things from level to level
if needed.  (See previous picture of rope burn and outside
of the mill up and the peak to see the hoisting hatch.)

Homm's advise.

Mills were dusty places and dust in a mill
held the potential for explosions.  This vintage
air filtering machine was removed from its
working location.

Remains from millstone days: A millstone shroud.
Another device in this mill, perhaps not seen in many mills, is an air-filtering machine that looked like something from the Willy-Wonka factory or from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. It was a drum-like machine studded with piston heads draped in a silk covering. The pistons pumped dirty air from the mill to filter out the explosive dust. (I hope you were awake for that science lesson.) There were two wooden-chambered ducts leading out a window on both the 2nd and 3rd levels.
Karl explains the American Midget Marvel roller mill and the corresponding
wooden chutes that direct the grains throughout the mill as Bill Lampert
and Mason Rabenold stand by.  Wooden chutes frame the shot.


Karl explains how to adjust the scales on the
sack packer to Steve Hlavka.


Hoppes also had some stories about Homm’s use of a Buick engine to drive the works in later years. Later, he used a V-8 Ford engine equipped with a working radiator for cooling. Other modern improvements were added including an electric-motor-driven conveyor to lift grain bags to the window on the 1st level.
Ruminating over the stones: Members of the Mauch Chunk
Historical Society and Museum Boards
review what they've discovered.

Attending the tour were: John Drury, Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center director and founder, Steve Hlavka, Mauch Chunk Historical Society president, Board members of both the MCMCC and the MCHS, Jack Sterling, Ron Rabenold and intern Abby Beerman, Lifelong Mahoning Valley resident and a Baldwin Steam Engine employee Chester Mertz, Pennsylvania Canal Society Vice-President Bill Lampert, as well as Kim, Rick, Lisa, and Mason Rabenold.

The Karl Jens Story:

Karl enjoys sharing the workings of his mill with others.  The silk screens
in this flour mill are still intact.  (Photo courtesy of Abby Beerman.)

When Karl and his wife Candy purchased the mill, they fell in love with the property not knowing that the mill went along with it. Ever since, the Jens’ have devoted themselves to its history.

Karl was born in Germany. Arriving in the states as a young man, he worked for 6 months in a tropical greenhouse on Long Island until Uncle Sam sensed his presence.  He was promptly drafted and sent back to Germany. It did not matter that he wasn’t yet a citizen. It did not matter that he knew little English, they only tested his proficiency in German and deemed him worthy of the job of interrogator for Military Intelligence Service (MIS).

He then ran a successful nursery in New Jersey before retiring to this beautiful section of the Mahoning Valley. The impeccably kept property is located along St. Peter’s Church Road and is replete with a greenhouse of some vintage and exotic plants. He was also so kind to show us his Lehigh Valley Railroad train display.

The Hoppes Mill is far left and the Karl and Candy Jens
property as it looked in the Cal Homm days.

That's Cal Homm in the back left discussing Christmas tree
practices with the Penn State Cooperative agent below right
along with other Mahoning Valley tree growers.

Just previous to Jens’ purchase, the land was used by the Terry Graver family for growing of Christmas trees, which evolved from Calvin Homm to Fred Johnson.  When Fred passed away, Terry Graver continued to take care of the property and the trees until the estate was settled.  Much of the original farmland is serparately deeded today.

Cal Homm was a tinkering genius and is said to have several patents to his name.  Berlyn says he invented an early 3-wheeled hydraulic tractor that self-leveled itself when cutting between rows on a hillside. (Cal's homestead is the brick home at the "T" of Golf Club Road and St. Peter's Chruch.)
The birthing chair:
A leftover from Johnson who
dabbled in medical supplies.












The Berlyn Hoppes Ancestry:

The following is a cursory stab at the Hoppes history.  (It sounded correct when I discussed it with Berlyn.) The most reliable piece is the 1860 Census record showing John Hoppes (born circa 1805) married to Elizabeth (b. c. 1813). John was listed as a “miller and farmer.” They would be Berlyn’s great, great grandparents.

Their children and their ages in 1860 were: David 18, Mary 14, Solomon 10, Margaret 22, Sally 6, Rebecca 4, and Catherine 1. According to Berlyn, the Jens/Hoppes/Homm mill was built by his great, great grandfather John who would have been about 40 in 1845 the year the mill was built. The mill then passed on to John’s son David who ran it up to the Great Depression.

According to the “History of Schuylkill County (1881), the “Hopples” built a mill in this vicinity of the Mahoning Valley in 1831 and another in 1835. Whether these mills existed at this site and whether these were indeed predecessors of the John Hoppes family is pure speculation.

Talking to Berlyn and Karl, both pointed to another grist mill on Golf Club Road, just about a mile further west in the Mahoning Valley.  Both Berlyn and his wife felt that could have been the mill started by Solomon Hoppes.  In that mill, the residence and mill were all contained in the same building.  I couldn't imgaine living in a place of constant daytime vibrating rumblings if you were feeling under the weather and had no other place to go.
Solomon Hoppes lived in West Penn and was born on July 3, 1809 (died December 11, 1860).  By age comparison, he could have been a brother to John Hoppes (b. 1805). Some accounts claim he was a miller and his son Elias (c. b. 1844) was a miller who later relocated to Heidelberg Township.

In 1880, Elias and Anna Maria were still listed in the Mahoning Valley, Carbon County. He was as a “miller” and she a “milliner.” (Whether indeed she sewed clothing and hats or the census worker erroneously assumed a miller’s wife was a “milliner” is not known, but the word play is interesting to think about.)

Elias was 35 and Anna was 29. Their children were Minnie 7, Albert 6, and Odilen 3. Not unusual for that time, a 19-year-old servant named Ellen Arner and a miller’s apprentice named Moses Snyder, age 23, were living with them. But there were 3 other non-relatives living with them.

Curiously, they had two “scholars” and a “professor” living with them. Scholars Emma Kistler 18 and Frank Klingaman 21 were taught by William H. Raush age 23. Where this mill was and whether it had a relationship to Berlyn Hoppes’ family is only speculative.

Author and historian Wilma Dykeman wrote the following poem about a mill in Tennessee:

"The Blowing Cave Mill"

"Nature determined the rhythm of life at that place. Stones had been a long time forming, trees had been a long time growing, water had been a long time flowing, before they came together shaped into a wall, into grinding stones, into siding and shingles and a great wheel fed by a long, tight trough gathering the streams clear flow to turn the creaking wheel outside, and inside the heavy stone grinding corn into meal, wheat into flour. Food. They came with their bulging sacks from summer's harvest and waited their turn for the miller's time. Nothing could be hurried. The water flowed, the wheel turned, the millstone ground, flour and meal gathered in the bin. Patiently the farmer's talk gathered:


An early picture from the Cal Homm farm.


Berlyn Hoppes' home is far left from the mill.
neighbor's news, twice-told jokes, political denunciations, all grist for this welcome fellowship. Like progress of the seasons or procession of the constellations life in that place turned at its own rhythm."

Looking out from the past of the 3rd level: A reminder that these
historic places need constant attention or they will
fade away from us.  (Photo courtesy of Abby Beerman.)


1 comment:

  1. Just a minor correction....the land was never deeded to Terry Graver or the Terry Graver family. Terry was employed by Fred Johnson as a caretaker of the property which included cleaning grain, managing the tree farm & caring(mowing) for all the property owned by Fred Johnson. The Graver's were very close friends of the Johnson family but never owned any of the property. Kathy Graver

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