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Early Water Powered Mills

The earliest mills in Vermont were powered by direct drive water wheels. From the earliest settlement through the early 19th century, the water mills changed little. Small stone, brick, or timber frame buildings were located near small waterways, often in village centers but sometimes in remote locations. Often a loft door with a pulley was located on the upper story. The most distinguishing feature of the water mill is, of course, the water wheel. The large, wooden wheels turned with the current of the water and powered the mill. Dams were generally constructed to create mill ponds to store water, and the mill was often elevated onto a large stone foundation, allowing gravity to pull water over into the dam.

The water wheels are quite prominent in the two images below. Also notice the long, tunnel-like structure approaching the top of the wheel. Water passed through and spilled down onto the wheel to generate power.

Water Powered Mill

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Vermont Historical Society

Water Powered Mill

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium

Water Powered Mill

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Vermont State Archives

The water wheel is not visible, and may no longer be present, on this old mill. However, its location along the water, and its small, gable-roof construction characterize the structure as an old water mill.

Water Powered Mill

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the University of Vermont Special Collections

Notice in the images below how the mills are elevated on walls of stone, allowing the use of gravity. The lower, concrete portion of the foundation in the top image is likely a 20th century repair to the original structure. The image at the bottom is likely an early 19th century structure, as it is larger than the typical 18th century mill.

Water Powered Mill

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Vermont State Archives

Water Powered Mill

Water Powered Mill: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program

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