After 50 years of restoration, the centuries-old Kirby’s Mill in Medford has reopened to the public.
Visitors can now experience the water-powered millstones grinding corn every second Saturday of each month until October.
The land has been owned by the Medford Historical Society since it acquired the property from the Kirby family in 1969. Since then, members adopted an ambitious goal: to restore the mill as living history. Countless volunteers over five decades took part in engineering complex mechanisms, recasting gears and building a new water wheel.
Over the years, the Society garnered several important grants and awards, including one from the New Jersey Historical Commission and a special 1976 Bicentennial Award.
But even before then, the mill had a long and vast history, one that the MHS hopes to share to the electronic-savvy visitors of today.
“Nowadays, everybody just turns a switch on and something runs. You got to remember back then that without electricity when this mill was started, they depended on the man power,” said the mill’s curator, John Hines.
The mill was completed and opened in 1778, during the Revolutionary War. According to Medford Historical Society records, workmen at the mill could hear the roar of the cannons during battles at Red Bank.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the mill was grinding flour to ship to markets such as Philadelphia. But since the big factories in the 1920s were able to make loads of flour for a cheaper price, the mill quickly turned to just making animal feed and grinding corn.
Hines said that the mill’s place in living history is testimony to the work of the volunteers since 1969. According to Hines, the work continues as others step up. A more recent contributor, Bill Pflug, is an engineer by profession with many hours on the project. Every second Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., visitors can witness this team happily at work.
“Bill has unselfishly applied his expert engineering skills in so many ways to help bring the grinding operation back to life,” Hines said. “He’s been invaluable to us.”
Included in what the multi-generational crew accomplished over these five decades to get the mill working was re-establishing the water course from the mill pond, to the mill race to the water wheel. They also replaced the water wheel, the driving force for complex mechanisms, according to MHS. Gears were recast and restored, including adding wooden teeth to the principal massive gear for a simpler replacement in case of breakage. Even a new foundation had to be built just to hold the building in place.
The Society maintains an extensive calendar of popular annual events, including Apple Festival, House Tours, Quilt Show, Flea Market, Country Day and more. These sustain the mill project as well as the Society’s other undertakings.
The group also has restored the Historic Cross Keys One-Room School House where volunteers demonstrate education history to local schoolchildren. More information about all of these projects, events and open dates can be found on the Society’s web site www.medfordhistory.org.
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