Benjamin Hassett, the talented and experienced millwright I have been lucky to find to work on my old mill, sent me these brief videos of the millstone turning—for the first time in three decades.
Before I left Louisville for Santa Fe, I did manage, with help, to get the old unreconstructed mill wheel to turn, running water through a white plastic hose from the millpond because the original sluice was so deteriorated. But I only tried the experiment once because as the great wheel turned, off balance, the whole stone structure shook and shuddered until it seemed likely it would fall into the creek. You can get a sense of the noise the mill stone makes as it turns by listening to the video. To that was added the loud creaking of the old, half-broken wooden machinery and the rush of creek water over the protesting wheel.
All that has changed now, due to Ben’s diligence; for over a year, he has been traveling from his home in Virginia to doctor our beautiful but fading mill. And the result is we have already had a few test grinds, with corn, and made tentative plans for a grand opening, for neighbors and supporters of River Fields (the enormously successful conservation organization that holds the easements on Wolf Pen Farm as well as many other farms in the area) to gather and tour the mill (it is actually three stories tall!) and perhaps take away small sacks of the ground corn, to make corn bread. Eva Lee Smith Cooper, who owned the farm and the mill for decades, once ground corn for the L&N railroad dining cars, but later health regulations prevented her or us from selling the meal. Apparently you have to have a bathroom on the premises to make that possible.
Never mind. The small paper bags of meal—we hope to copy the logo Mrs. Cooper used—will bring delight to all the people who have been involved with the mill for years or are just beginning to feel its enchantment.
A detailed history of protecting the Wolf Pen Branch Farm’s mill with River Fields and the Kentucky Heritage Council is available on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website.