Aberdeen Mills - A Part of History

There is a lot of history at Aberdeen Mills. We are trying to piece it all together.  The Mill dates to 1774 and the homes to 1770. The mill was active until the late 1960's.


Formerly known as Redsecker's Mill, this photo is Circa 1895. This photo clearly shows a third story of stone, which no longer exists. this was destroyed by a fire near the turn of the 20th century.

 Main Residence Circa 1895.

  

Aberdeen Mills - Historical Features

The buildings of Aberdeen Mills date to 1770. they consist primarily of the original stone house, a distillery which had been converted to a second residence, and the old mill, complete with race (like an aqueduct to channel water - built of stone). They remain in excellent condition and retain their historical integrity.  
Mill race coming from the creek.
   In 1762, Ulrich and Barbara Staufferin Scheer bought 100 wooded acres on the Conewago creek. In 1770, they built their house into the hillside of native rock, well above any flooding. The house is constructed of red sandstone with an elevated porch situated on the sheer rock wall fo the millrace. in 1774, the mill building was erected of red sandstone and the water diverted down from behind a rock dam through the millrace. The original rock dam is still intact between the millrace and the Conewago Recreational Trail on the far side of the creek.

Original mill owners Ulrich and Barbara Scheer, as well as a grandson, are all buried in the edge of the woods by the pasture on the hill. After vandals damaged the grave markers inscribed in German, subsequent landowner Herbert Miller brought the headstones down to his shop where they remain to this day.

 
  Other buildings and businesses were constructed to take advantage of the water power. Distilling whiskey was a frontier way to market 200 bushels of corn to Lancaster and Philadelphia on the back of a horse. The distillation residue was a high protein, highly palatable ruminant feed. The second house, clearly visible from the road across the creek, was built as a distillery and had a walk-in fireplace all along the ground of the east side. 

In the late 1800's, an extension of the Cornwall-Lebanon Railroad was constructed along the Conewago Creek by iron ore magnate Robert Coleman to connect the regions east of Elizabethtown with the iron mining industry of Cornwall. Passenger trains also transported visitors to the Victorian-era resort of Mt. Gretna via this route. Even in later years, before the bridge and one side of the railroad underpass was taken away, horns would sound warning of the approaching traffic that a vehicle was about to enter the narrow opening, turn sharp left and then right to cross the Conewago creek. The railroad was later abandoned and converted to the Conewago Recreational Trail, a popular hiking and biking path owned by Lancaster County.

 
            

On their wedding night in 1938, Herbert and Mary Miller moved into the residence in the old distillery. Herbert's brother, Azriel, and his family were already living in the larger house by the mill. There was also a creamery and sawmill on site to take advantage of the available water power.

Herbert Miller and his brother purchased Aberdeen mills from the bank after operating it for a short time. Azriel was showing the slowly turning wheel to a friend home from boot camp during World War II when he slipped off the icey ledge and was crushed between it and the rock wall housing.

Using poplar two by fours sawed from logs timbered from the property, Herbert constructed the grain storage building east of the mill building. in 1952, the cement block storage and warehouse was built on to the south with all ingredients and some finished feed brought in to the rail siding across the creek. The business was sold to Grubb (now White Oak Mills) in 1968.
 
   
   

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ABERDEEN MILL
By H. E. REEM
Written in 1953

Oftimes the inhabitants of a particular community journey many miles to view some point of interest that may have historical prominence and is therefore appealing to the public, and forget places of interest in their own community.

During the year 1774, an elaborate building program was started at what is now known as Aberdeen Mills, located along the Conewago creek about three miles north of the borough of Elizabethtown.

Here 179 years ago (written 1953) was erected a large grist mill in a remote section. Then an area that was inhabited by very few white people. The red man, or Indian, roamed the forests and surroundings in the quest of the food animals, fish and birds that were abundant.

Prior to starting the construction of this mill, the owners of the land obtained a direct grant from the Penns which required a peaceful settlement, or rather had to gain the friendship of the red man.

As one views this particular industry today, the question naturally arises: Why did our forefathers journey into the wilderness to establish places of industry? If one takes time to study the natural advantages of this particular point, the answer to this question is not difficult.

The natural power forces to operate this mill were a great factor in the selection of this particular site. At this point the Conewago Creek flows between elevated points, and within less than a half mile has a drop in elevation sufficiently large to afford an ample supply of water to flow by gravity to operate the mill. Merely by the erection of the dam across the creek and the building of a race that was fed from the stream, the required power was supplied.

The structure originally was three-story, built of brown sandstone. As one views the walls today, it will be noticed that many of these stones are massive and cut to exact shapes and sizes. One realizes readily that there was an unusual amount of manual labor necessary to complete a structure like this.

Besides the mill proper, two large 2 ½ - story dwelling houses were also erected and are of like material. Where these stones were secured we of today cannot tell. The closest areas where brown sandstone are minded is in the vicinity of Hummelstown. If secured from there, it was necessary to transport the material from the quarries on wagons as this was the only means of transportation during the period this grist mill was erected.

In addition to the grinding of the grain which was by the huge stone process then in vogue everywhere, a distillery was also built adjacent to the mill where the surplus products of the grain were used to manufacture liquor.

During the early years when our forefathers started forging their way into the wilderness and opening new territory, one of the first industries to be established generally was a grist mill. If any surplus grain was forseen between harvests, the distillery was operated and the surplus used to make the beverage that was a common item in almost every household.

The business at this particular point became one of real profit, and was followed by the construction of a sawmill and cooper works where the barrels and kegs were manufactured generally from the butt end of white oak logs. The balance of the trees were cut into different sizes and lengths of timber and sold for building purposes.

The product of this distillery soon became widely known and the farmers for many miles distant brought their wheat, rye, barley, corn and buckwheat to this mill to be converted into wheat and rye flour, cornmeal, and buckwheat flour to make griddle cakes to satisfy the ravenous appetites of the sturdy backwoodsmen.

A certain amount of grain was taken in exchange for the grinding, and generally after the family supply of food was laid by, the balance of the grain was traded for several kegs or barrels of good corn whiskey or rye or barley rum.

This mill continued operations for a period of practically one hundred years without interruption save on one or two occasions. On one occasion, when the Ruckseckers (now Redseckers) had possession of the mill, a man by the name of Shearer purchased the land on the east side of the Conewago extending about one mile above and below the mill property. Some controversy arose as to who legally owned the stream; since no amicable agreement could be determined, Mr. Shearer employed a force of men to change the course of the stream, and had a channel dug through his land which diverted the course, thus shutting off the supply of water that operated the grist mill, sawmill, cooper shop and distillery.

In order to overcome this piece of trickery, the Ruckseckers promptly erected another dam across the creek several hundred feet above the one that was drained by the Shearer channel. They also extended the race line to the new dam, after which operations were again started and continued with only brief shutdowns until about fifty years ago (1900) when fire destroyed a large portion of this place of activity. The third floor was damaged beyond repair, and the stone walls were therefore lowered to the height they are today.

Some years after the second dam was erected an unusual flood almost completely demolished the dam and also partially closed the channel built by the Shearers. A new site for the more convenient and better dam was selected and constructed across the stream from where the present structure now stands. The last dam required an expenditure of much money, really more than the owners were able to finance without making considerable loans, which resulted in a heavy financial burden, and consequently a higher charge was made for grinding grain. This extra charge was resented by many of the patrons and finally terminated in the construction of the grist mills in different areas thus taking away much of the trade which seriously affected the Rucksucker mill.

Mr. George Redsecker who resided on Cottage Avenue of this borough is one of the Ruckseckers and during his boyhood days spent much time with his grandparents on this present day historic spot.

He relates an interesting method of estimating the number of bushels of corn contained in a certain field area. The method used then may seem antiquated today, but nevertheless during those early days the individual who was at the head of any business venture very rarely made an error in his calculations. Ofttimes farmers decided to sell their entire crop of corn “on the field”. To determine the amount of bushels, the purchases usually counted the rows of corn, then counted the number of stalks in a row, and finally counted the number of grains on a number of the ears selected from the different parts of the field. A measure, usually a half peck, was then filled and the number of ears determined the necessary to make a bushel of shelled corn. This was an ancient custom but was usually accepted by both the seller and the purchaser as a fair method of dealing.

The machinery of the original grinding equipment of this old mill, excepting the grinding stones, of course, was of wood. The wheels that operated the mill were all wooden. The master wheel was about eight feet high and the gears or teeth, 12 or more inches long, which meshed a smaller wheel that was attached to the main, or master, shaft which was also attached to the huge water wheel furnishing the motive power. The speed was regulated by the amount of water allowed to flow through the chute to the master wheel.

The labor necessary to prepare these huge grinding stones was really a difficult and accurate piece of work. Those who were schooled in the profession of milling as well as the caring for the dressing the huge stones to properly grind the different grains into the proper products could command a good wage and were continually in demand. This really was an art that few persons of today can duplicate.

Some years ago Mr. Ressler came into possession of this historic mill, the old method of grinding was replaced by more modern machinery, and the grinding of grain for glour was the leading feature.

The ownership changed several times during the recent years and today, with modern equipment, the products have become known for many miles. In order to cater to the trade, the present owners are compelled to operate to capacity to fill the orders that are continually on the books. In addition to grinding grains for various purposes, the present owners also manufacture several products in the cereal family.

A few hundred yards north of the mill you will find two immense rocks located along the hillside adjacent to the dam. These rockers are termed by some as “Twin Rocks”, “Swinging Rocks” and “Pulpit Rocks”. They are about equalin size, the top of each has foot space sufficient for at lease fifty persons to stand. They rest on what may be termed a small pivotal rock and not so many years ago several persons standing on the top of the extreme southern edge could rock these huge boulders.

There is another legend to the effect that previous to the white man’s entering this territory, the Indian chiefs would use these rocks as a place to offer their sacrifices to the “Sun God” and legend has the story that several lives of Indians have been sacrificed on these rocks to the gods they worshipped.

Close by, north of the residential stone house, can be found a few tombstones. This was an established burial ground where the inhabitants within a reasonable distance interred those of families. This burial plot is overgrown with poison ivy, blackberry bushes and various scrub trees usually found in deserted areas.

Mr. Herbert Miller (owner and mill operator from 1938 to 2002) visited us in August of 2008. He shared a lot of history and pictures with us. Pictured to the right is the team of men that helped run the mill at the time the picture was taken (1940's ish). In the background are Aberdeen Mills delivery trucks and portable mills that were taken directly to the far,s for the processing of grain.   
  This picture was taken in 1900. It depicts a view of the Mill that we had never seen before. The bank barn, a horse and buggy, a mill stone in the front of the mill and a loading ramp in the front.

 An ariel photo graph circa 1950's.