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Back Alley Garden Tour features Shepherd Mill

By Staff | May 21, 2010

Visitors to this year’s Back Alley Garden Tour & Tea will have the rare opportunity to tour the historic Thomas Shepherd Grist Mill.

The Shepherd Mill, located near the intersection of Mill and High streets, was included in the tour because it is one of the first mills in the area. Its very construction established the area that would become Shepherdstown as a hub of economic and industrial activity in Northern Jefferson County.

The Shepherd Mill dates back to at least 1739, when it is first mentioned in court records. The original mill was a two story stone building and almost certainly used a smaller wooden wheel. For the early European residents of the area, most of whom would have been involved in subsistence frontier agriculture, the construction of a grain mill meant that farmers could more easily process and market their grain, allowing them to expand beyond subsistence farming and into merchant agriculture. The presence of a mill usually indicated that an area had access to skilled technical labor necessary to operate a mill. Mill’s were the first factories, and the geared, belted, and water-powered machinery found inside would have been considered cutting edge technology in its day.

In its heyday, the Shepherd Mill would have employed between 20 and 25 people. Most of those employees would not have been millworkers per-se, rather most would have been working in accounting and shipping, managing a flow of grain that ran from the farms in the Shepherdstown countryside, through the mill, and then shipped to all of the major port cities in the Mid-Atlantic. From there, grain produced in Shepherdstown was shipped around the world, mostly to Europe and the West Indies.

The Shepherd Mill, while dating back to the 1730s, is more indicative of grist mills of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is during this era that the Shepherd Mill acquired its current exterior form. The current 40-foot diameter Fitz Water Works model I-X-L overshoot water wheel was installed during this time, and a third story was added to house additional machinery. The Fitz wheel is one of the largest American water wheels still in existence.

Currently the mill is the home of Patrinka Kelch who acquired the mill in 1990. She spends most of her time in a small apartment built into the mill which overlooks the lower section of the Town Run. Were Luther Thompson, Jr. to be transported into the present day, he would hardly recognize the interior. The walls are decorated with large contemporary paintings of 17th century British aristocracy. The floor where the eight grinding stones were located is now a large reception area. The third floor is an opulent great-room.

A $25 ticket buys admission to all gardens on the tour, one-time admission to the mill and the tea and cookies and savories and china teacups generously donated by the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation. For $15, visitors can choose between the tour or the tea. Tickets can be purchased through BackAlleyGarden.org and at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop.