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By the Way: Saving an old mill, the 21st-century way


The Durham Grist Mill has stood strong as a rock in the center of the Village of Durham as long as I can remember – and way, way before. It was powered by Cooks Creek as it tumbled its way down from the craggy hills that circle the village.

Built in 1820 by the Long family on the foundation of Durham’s early 18th-century iron furnace, the grist mill ground flour and feed for 147 years until the last miller, Floyd Riegel, sold it to Bucks County in 1967.

And now the people guarding and promoting this ancient structure have turned to space age technology to help pay for its restoration. Jim Walter, a director of the Durham Historical Society, has set up a gofundme site to raise the $80,000 or so an expert millwright has said it will cost for a restoration, including the repair of the long-neglected water wheel and milling machinery.

The township now owns the mill, and while it has stood alone and empty for years and volunteers, mainly members of the Durham Historical Society, have cleaned the building, cleared the overgrown millrace and made other small improvements.

Durham Township is a small community – its residents right now numbering fewer than 1,100 – and the township supervisors have never wanted to burden the taxpayers to update the historic landmark, but they have offered support for the mill in a number of ways.

Using grant money, the township paid for a new roof several years ago.

Earlier this month, the township supervisors approved about $15,000 for the repair of 40 windows in the mill. A portion of the mill also serves as the village post office and the township supervisors have promised to set aside the monthly rent paid by the post office in a fund to be used only for the mill. The historical society recently obtained more grants that paid for an upgrade of the electrical system and other repairs.

The mill is listed on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places, and David Oleksa, president of the historical society, recently told the supervisors the society is preparing for three significant milestones in the township’s history: in 2020, the 200th anniversary of the erection of the mill; in 2025, the 250th anniversary of the township’s incorporation; and in 2027, the 300th anniversary of the original Durham Furnace which once provided, among other products, cannonballs for the French and Indian War, weapons and ammunition for the American Revolution and forged the links for the great chain that crossed the Hudson River at West Point to keep the British from moving upstream.

If Durham could gather the money from the gofundme site, it’s possible, the mill could be restored in time for the celebrations.

Walter, who launched the funding site earlier this month, has appealed to residents to consider donating to the fund. “Even just $5 or $10, to get us closer to our goal, No donation is too small,” he said. “Once restored, the mill will be open to the public for demonstrations of grain milling and education about this little known historical area. Walter will be getting in touch with historical mill organizations throughout the country to notify them of the need for donations. The site is

“It’s a huge country, so if 40,000 people each gave just $2 we’d have enough to restore the mill,” Walter said.