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Old Texas Gristmills

As Texas was settled, gristmills came to dot the land, providing a necessary link between harvest and table. Although few mills remain, an 18th-Century relic at a San Antonio mission is still grinding wheat.
Built more than two centuries ago, the gristmill at Mission San José, in San Antonio Missions National Park, continues grinding away. Park ranger and head miller Kevin Crisler (pictured) tells visitors, “We could grind 600 to 800 pounds of flour every day if we had to, just as they did years ago.”

Do you remember the story of the little red hen? No one would help her do anything. “Then I’ll do it myself,” said the little red hen. One time, after she had harvested and threshed her wheat all by herself, she carried it to the local mill. There, a miller ground it into flour, and the little red hen carried the flour back home, ready to bake some delicious bread.

Surely many self-sufficient little red hens remain in Texas today, and surely many are still baking their own bread. But if any still grow their own wheat, they’re having major trouble finding mills to grind it into flour. It wasn’t always that way.

Gristmills played an important role in frontier Texas, as they did elsewhere. Early settlers required and developed ways to turn grain into flour to make bread, the most universal of foods. Farmers grew wheat and corn for sustenance as well as profit. Large plantations had their own mills. Small communities had at least one mill—ideally no more than a day’s ride from area farms. A farmer would sling a sack of corn or wheat across a horse or mule, ride to the mill, and bring home the same sack filled with meal or flour.

At one time, some 350 water-or wind-powered gristmills dotted the state. During the mills' heyday, a number of counties had more than a dozen. In some locales, signs mark the sites of old mills, even if little remains beyond a stone foundation (the John F. Torrey Mill in New Braunfels, for example) or traces of a millrace channeled through limestone (the Thomas McKinney Mill at McKinney Falls State Park near Austin).

Operational Mills

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo opens daily 9-5 except for major holidays. The gristmill ordinarily operates every day, though at unscheduled times, so call ahead. A visitor's center offers an exhibit on the mill's history and a film about the mission. Admission: Free. Wheelchair accessible. Write to 2202 Roosevelt Ave., San Antonio 78210; 210/932-1001; www.nps.gov/saan/.

Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth opens Tue-Fri 9-5, Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5 (gates close at 4:30 each day); closed Mon. Demonstrations at the Shaw Grist Mill take place throughout the day. Admission: $2, $1.50 ages 4-17 and 65 and older, free age 3 and younger. The grounds are wheelchair accessible, but the mill and some of the cabins are not. Write to 2100 Log Cabin Village Lane, Fort Worth 76109; 817/926-5881.

The 1820 mill at the Yturri-Edmunds Historic Site, at 128 Mission Rd., about 3 miles from Mission San José, still grinds corn, but only occasionally. Visitors may tour the site by appt. (at least 2 weeks' notice is needed to see the mill in operation). Admission: Free. Partially wheelchair accessible. Write to 107 King William St., San Antonio 78204; 210/224-6163; www.saconservation.org/.

Larry Parker's portable gristmill is based in Granbury. He inherited the mill from his father, who was a miller in Crosbyton. Larry mounted it on a flatbed trailer and now drives it to tractor shows and other events. Write to 2007 Roberts Dr., Granbury 76048; 817/573-7378.

Nonoperational Mills

The following old mills merit a visit, even if your imagination, and not the millstones, does the grinding.

Near the rear of Landmark Inn State Historical Park in Castroville, on the banks of the Medina River, lies the 1854 Haass-Quintle Mill (see Texas Highways, August 2001). While the building itself is closed, the museum offers an exhibit on milling. Hours: Daily 8-5. Admission: $1, free age 12 and younger and those born before Sep. 1, 1930. Partially wheelchair accessible. Write to 402 E. Florence St., Castroville 78009; 830/931-2133; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/.

The 1882 Miller Grist Mill is in Wright Historical Park in Dublin, at the intersection of Elm and Park streets. Steam-powered from the outset, this mill is being refurbished. Write to the Dublin Historical Society, Box 155, Dublin 76446; 254/445-4550.

Barnard's Mill, built in 1860 in Glen Rose, may be better known today as the site of Barnard's Mill Art Museum. In 1979, Richard H. Moore Jr. purchased the building, made it his home, and reconfigured its adjacent buildings into an art museum (see Texas Highways, May 2001). The museum opens Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5. Admission: Free. Wheelchair accessible. Tours of the mill itself must be arranged with Mr. Moore. Write to 307 SW Barnard, Glen Rose 76043, or call the Glen Rose Chamber of Commerce at 817/897-2286.

The Dutch Mill Museum, at 1515 Boston Ave. in Tex Ritter Park in Nederland, while never a working mill, reminds visitors that wind as well as water once powered Texas gristmills. Hours: Thu-Sun 1-5 Sep-Feb; Tue-Sun 1-5 Mar-Aug. Admission: Free. Wheelchair accessible. Write to Box 89, Nederland 77627; 409/722-0279.

The 1870 Old Dutch Windmill (the grindstones and some of the millworks predate the Civil War) in Victoria's Memorial Square further testifies to the might of Texas' wind. The mill's top can rotate so that its four sails catch optimal wind. Fun fact: To get the heavy, German-made millstones home from Indianola, the mill's original owner, Rudolph Witte of Goliad, used them as wheels on his wagon. Although surrounded by a sturdy fence, this mill can be seen anytime. Write to the Victoria Parks and Recreation Dept., 476 McCright Dr., Victoria 77901; 361/572-2767 or 573-1878.

Resources

The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM) publishes a directory of old mill locations and a quarterly magazine. Write to SPOOM, 1531 Folkstone Court, Mishawaka, IN 46544; 219/259-4483; www.spoom.org/.

Look for Bobbie Kalman's The Gristmill (Crabtree Publishing, 1990) in your local library or bookstore. Two out-of-print books are especially helpful: A.T. Jackson's Mills of Yesteryear (Texas Western Press, 1971) and C.W. Wimberley's Stone Milling and Whole Grain Cooking (Von Boeckmann-Jones Press, 1962).

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