Listen up! At this spot, in the 18th and 19th centuries, you would have heard the rumble of a waterwheel or the whir of a turbine working hard in a nearby mill on Stony Brook. At one time or another, there were some twenty watermills spaced every few miles along this drainage system, mostly gristmills grinding grain into flour and meal, and sawmills cutting lumber for construction. Prior to and continuing through the early years of the Industrial Revolution, watermills were the principal engines of the agricultural economy that sustained the farms and villages of southern Hunterdon and northwestern Mercer counties.
LHT History Stony Brook Mill
Stony Brook Mill with dam in the foreground, circa 1890 (George H. Frisbie Photograph Collection, Hopewell Valley Historical Society).
This mill, most recently known as Reed’s Mill, had many owners and operators. It enjoyed a long and productive history serving nearby Pennington homes and surrounding farms as their principal grain processing facility.
The precise date the mill was founded is unknown, but by the mid-1750s, it was owned by Cornelius Polhemus. Beginning in 1775, two generations of the Vankirk family – first, John, and then his son, Josiah – took control of the mill until the younger Vankirk sold the mill property to local farmer and horse breeder, Peter S. Schenck, in 1811.
The mill burned down in June 1823, but was soon rebuilt and back in operation. Following Schenck’s death in 1840, a succession of mill owners and operators took over (among them George White, William D. Blackwell, Charles M. Updike, Jonathan H. Chamberlin, Robert Drake and Melvin Snook) until around 1880 when the mill came into the hands of Charles A. Reed.
Reed, a prominent Pennington-area flour and feed dealer, ran the mill until his death in 1937 at which point it ceased operation. In its twilight years, Reed’s Mill played a role in the emerging Mercer County park system: the mill property came into public ownership; the milldam was rebuilt as a Civil Works Administration project; and the millpond took on a new lease of life as a recreational amenity. The mill building, by this time deteriorated, was finally torn down in 1941.
The mill formerly stood across Old Mill Road, on the left bank of Stony Brook, at the end of a dam that held back a sizeable pond.
Aside from supplying waterpower to the mill, the pond was a vital source of ice each winter. The mill chiefly functioned as a gristmill, but in the late 18th century there was also a sawmill on the site, while in the 1840s a plaster mill ground up gypsum for fertilizer. This latter mill also operated as a clover mill for collecting and cleaning clover seed.
LHT Stony Brook Mill
This mid-19th-century wall map shows the Stony Brook Mill in the hands of William D. Blackwell, one of many members of the Blackwell family living in the area (Otley, J. and J.W. Keily, Map of Mercer County, New Jersey, 1849).
LHT Stony Brook Mill
Postcard view of Stony Brook Mill, circa 1910 (William Walsh New Jersey Mills Postcard Collection).
LHT Stony Brook Mill
By the early 1830s Peter Schenck’s gristmill was equipped with a new Henderson’s Patent Reacting Iron Water Wheel, a type of proto-turbine that operated fully submerged (Emporium and True American, March 15, 1834).
LHT Stony Brook History Map closeup
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