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Grains of history

Published September 14. 2012 05:03PM

Karl Jens of St. Peter's Church Road, Schuylkill County, welcomed members of the Palmerton Area Historical Society to a tour of his mill - the Hoppes Mill. It was built in 1845 by the great-great grandfather of Jens' neighbor, Burlyn Hoppes, who lives across the mill race - an unnamed creek.

Jens said Pennsylvania has the most old mills of any of the states.

The grist mill was last used for grinding grain in the early 1950s, but it was used for seed cleaning into the '70s.

Although it is electrified, it was water-driven for many years. The mill pond was 2,000 feet to the north toward the mountain. A 1,500-foot race brought the water to a flume which carried the water into the mill and fed it to an overshot waterwheel which gains some of its energy from gravity since the water hits the wheel at the top.

The 150-foot flume carried the water through the mill to the top of the wheel. The amount of water could be controlled by a lever on the second floor or with a rope connected to the lever that dropped through the floor to the first floor. Outside, the flume is no longer in existence but the portion inside the building is still there.

Although there was a wooden wheel, or possibly two said Jens, the mill now has a metal wheel 20-feet in diameter. He said most wheels are now built in North Carolina.

"It's the heart of the matter," said Jens referring to the waterwheel. It is so perfectly balanced that Jens said it can be turned by hand.

There are no stones in the mill, but Jens has a wall made of used grindstones. He said the smallest one was for grinding buckwheat and the second and third ones from the right were used as the top stones when grinding was being done.

The grooves in the grinding stones had to be chiseled to keep them sharp. The earliest stones were shipped from Europe as ballast in a ship.

He was not sure where the grinding stones were but knew they set off such a vibration that they had to be placed on a separate foundation within the building. When the mill was running the vibration could be felt in the house across the road and 75 feet away.

Farmers would bring their grain and drop it in a chute on the first floor where two elevators - cups on a belt, carried it to the fourth floor from which it could be diverted to whatever machine or storage area that would take it through the next step.

A pulley and rope could carry bags of grain directly to any floor. There is a peak jutting out from the front of the mill at roof level and a door at each floor level. On the fourth floor a beam is worn from the rope rubbing over it.

Much of the equipment in the mill was shifted to different locations when something new was installed. Jens thinks an area of the second floor may have held small grinding stones.

There are wheels to which belts were connected and could provide power to any of the equipment in any part of the mill. The belted wheels were set in motion when notches on the wheel were fit into notches on one of the belted wheels. Jens said the entire mill could be run by one man.

A Sack Packer had a weight to cut off the flow of flour when a bag was filled.

A dust collector was found in the Hoppes Mill but is not a common piece of mill equipment. The collector, now on the third floor, is no longer in its original location. It collected dust in silk-lined cups. Flour dust is explosive and cleanliness as much as possible was the order of the day.

On the right hand end of the mill an addition was used as a feed store. In the mill double doors marked "office" connect the two.

When Karl Jens and his wife Candy bought the property they did not realize the mill was part of the deal. Now they happily research its history and share it with others.

As Betsy Burnhauser, society secretary, stood in the doorway with Jens as he answered questions, she turned and looked at the buiding, saying, "Look at the beams and stonework."

Pictures and a story about the Hoppes Mill are available by googling hoppesgristmill or information about mills in general at the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills, The organization puts out a newsletter about mills four times a year.

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