bullet Architecture - The Old Mill


THE REV. PETER BOEHLER tells us, that while at Nazareth between May and December of 1740-whither he had led those of the Moravians who had been saved from the wreck of the Georgia Mission-he was wont to ride through the woods down to Irish's Mill on the Saucon, as often as his brethren who were engaged in putting up a large stone-house for George Whitefield, the owner of the Nazareth tract, needed flour for bread. It was at this mill, (the ruins of which are still to be seen in the rear of Mr. John Knecht's residence at Shimersville), that the Moravians who began to build Bethlehem in the spring of 1741, had the harvests of that year and of the next following, ground.

The want of a mill at their settlement being a grievous one, they sought to supply it as soon as practicable, and when on the 25th of January, 1743, Henry Antes of Falckner's Swamp, who was a true friend and disinterested counsellor of the early Moravians and for several years most intimately attached to them-selected an advantageous site for a mill, a few rods north of the "Big Spring" and near the creek, called by the Indians, "Menagasse," i. e., "winding dream,"-the first step was taken in that direction.

In April, we read, the work of building was already fully under way, Mr. Antes occasionally coming up from his farm to advise or assist. Gotthard Demuth, (a carpenter and joiner) a Moravian who had left Georgia in 1737, and was residing in Germantown, worked thirty-three days at the mill, at the rate of 2 shillings and 6 pence per day. On the 24th of June, Antes came for the last time, in the interests of the important enterprise and for the purpose of putting the mill-works in order, which having been done successfully, the first grist was ground on the 28th day of June. The wheaten loaf eaten next day by the brotherhood, was of grain of their own raising and of flour of their own grinding.

Thus Bethlehem acquired a mill. But others than the Moravians, also, had reason to congratulate themselves on so valuable an acquisition, for a thinly settled neighborhood: and the Bethlehem Mill was henceforth well visited by the yeomanry of old Bucks and Old Northampton ; and as we read, there came many from the East and from the West; but most from the " North Countrie," – from the land of the pine and the scrub-oak; -- and in February of 1747, numbers on sleds from beyond the Blue Mountains, where sturdy Germans had hewn them farms in the heart of the Indian country ; coming to have their scanty harvests ground into bread. And from these " outsiders " or barbarians, as the Greeks would have called them, had the Moravians been Greeks, there was, in 1744, the second year of the mill's life, taken toll as follows

Toll of wheat,

222 bushels.

" "rye,

170 "

" "Indian Corn,

27 "

" " buckwheat,

12 "

" " barley,

2 "

It is evident that the first Bethlehem mill was built up of hewn timbers, (as a saw-mill was not erected in the settlement until in the early summer of 1744) upon a substructure of masonry. Furthermore it was equipped with but a single run of stones, cut in May's quarry on the Neshaminy ; being, in fact of humble capacity. The mill-brasses were cast by Samuel Powell, brazier, of Bethlehem.

John George Jungmann, a well-known missionary to the Indians in western Pennsylvania and the Ohio country, subsequent to 1763, (he died at Bethlehem in July of 1008 at a great age) was the first miller. At the same time he followed the cooper's trade in a shop, not far from the mill.

Jungmann was succeeded by John Adam Schaus, (the ancestor of the Shauses of Easton) the first keeper of the ferry over the Lehigh, and he by John Henry Moeller (the ancestor of the Moellers of Nazareth).

On the 30th of March, 1747, there was a freshet in the Manocasy, and such was the pressure of the back water, that both the breast of the dam and the masonry of the mill suffered material injury. This damage, it is true, was duly repaired. Nevertheless the good people of Bethlehem were not satisfied with their first attempt at mill-building, and so in the late winter of 1750, they projected a more substantial and spacious structure, designed to supersede the mill of 1743, at an early day.

In January of 1751, we read, timber was felled and hewn for a new water-wheel ;-in May, stones were quarried in the quarry over against the saw-mill, the very best being set aside for the foundation-walls, and these preliminaries over, on the 14th day of June, the masons began to lay the foundation-wall of the structure. As harvest was at the door and the entire force of the settlement needed during its continuance, there was temporarily a delay; but when work was again resumed, the walls of the building grew apace. It was brought under its tile-roof by the end of August ; the millworks were put in order, and on the 2d of September, 1751, the first grist was ground by the mill, that ground its last on the 27th of January, 1869; it having done duty, therefore, for the space of full one hundred and seventeen years.

The second Bethlehem mill was built entirely of stone, its ground floor laid in square tiles, its upper floor and roof nicely pointed with mortar so as to be proof against vermin, and the inner walls of the gables smooth-finished in cement. There was a spacious open fireplace in the wall of the east gable on the ground-floor. The laths worked into the partition walls, were sawed at the Christian's Spring mill, on the Barony of Nazareth, and the mill-irons' were made at Durham Furnace.

There was but one run of stones and these were new; the dam and race were both renovated: in January of 1752, a meal-room was built directly over the undershot water-wheel; in May of 175:3, a second run of stones was added, and finally an elevator and sundial completed the equipments of this well-appointed piece of the mill-wright's handiwork.

While in this way, the Moravians at Bethlehem again provided themselves with the means of making bread, they killed, so to say, a second bird with one stone; in as far, as when they engaged in the erection of a grist-mill, they at the same time built a fulling mill; its water-wheel and mill-works, together with a room for the clothier, and rooms for the blue-dyer, being included jointly in the mill-building, whose dimensions, as we learn from a draft drawn in 1758, were 98 by 30 feet. This property, was in that same year, booked at 1,200, Pennsylvania currency, equivalent to $3,600 and a fraction, and is described in these words: " a grist and fulling mill and dyer's-shop, built of stone 98 feet long and 30 broad, two stories high, has four rooms, one of which is occupied by the clothier."

It was Hans Christopher Christiansen, a Holsteiner, who designed the works of the fulling-mill ; the same Christiansen who built the oil and buckwheat-mill and the first successfully finished waterworks at Bethlehem. But who it was that superintended the construction of the second grist-mill, does not appear. Nor can we at present give the succession of millers, having ascertained the names of but two in that succession subsequent to the days of John Henry Moeller, i. e., in the interval between 1749 and 1762, to wit: Hartman Verdriess and Peter Worbass.

In February of 1752 the fulling-mill took fire ; in 1759 it was entirely rebuilt, and the tail-race of the two mills for the first time walled out; which wall may be seen to this day. Richard Popplewell, a member of the Lamb's Hill congregation in Yorkshire, O. E., was imported in this year, and subsequently until his death in November of 1771, was fuller. John Bernhard Miller, from Wurtemberg, who came to the country in the spring of 1753, first established cloth-making in Bethlehem.

In July of 1754, in order to reduce the expenses of their increasing wagon-service, it was decided to build a boat for the transportation of the products of their farms and mills to the capital, and for store goods and machinery on the return trip. Work was at once commenced and with such vigor was it pushed, that the " Little Irene," as she was named, on September 27th, was launched on the Lehigh. She was rigged with two masts and sails, made by some of the sailors of the "Irene," who had been sent over from New York for the purpose. When loaded with fifty-six bags of grain, which had been hauled down from the mill, she drew but eleven inches of water. With first officer Schout, mate Brinch and a crew of two negroes, a few days later she cleared for Trenton. Soundings were made, channels buoyed and rocks and sandbars marked for future voyagers. On November 6th, the " Little Irene " cleared for Philadelphia, with a cargo of linseed-oil ; reaching her destination within five days. With a miscellaneous cargo she set sail on her return voyage, but on reaching the Falls of the Delaware and being unable to sail around or be hauled over them, her cargo was discharged and she was sold at Trenton. Thus the attempt to establish a line of river-boats to trade between" the congregation" and the capital was abandoned.

To return to the history of the old mill. An item of interest is recorded by the annalist, in August of 1755, under date of the 15th day of that month, as follows : "After a protracted season of drought, throughout this section of country, it has again rained and our grist-mill runs day and night in order to meet the demands of customers, who are coming in from a distance of thirty miles to have grists ground."

In the Autumn of the above mentioned year, 1755, the disaffected Indians, at the instigation of French emissaries, came down upon the frontiers with torch and tomahawk, and the Moravian settlements on the Nazareth tract and at Bethlehem, were at times in a very critical posture. It was during the continuance of this first Indian war, which harassed the border settlements for three years, and again in the autumn of 1763, that exposed portions of Bethlehem, such as the farm-yard on Rubel's Alley and the schools on Main and Church streets, were palisaded. The old mill in these dangerous times literally became the citadel within the city, and was frequently crowded with terrified men, women and children, who had fled from their cabins and farms, for shelter and safety among the Moravians

As is well known, the Moravians who entered Pennsylvania and the adjacent colonies, constituted for upwards of twenty years, that is as late as the spring of 1762, one body politic, being united in a General Economy. During this period the Bethlehem mill was the property of that Economy; but when in April of 1762 it was dissolved, and superseded by more restricted economics, the mill passed into the hands of the so-called "Bethlehem Economy," at the head of which stood Bishop Nathaniel Seidel, who had been appointed proprietor of all the estates and properties of the Moravian Church in North America. It was he, who in virtue of his proprietorship, on the 31st of May, 1762, entrusted the mill to Abraham Andreas, he covenanting to be responsible for the care of said stock, valued at 212, and to work said mill for said Nathaniel Seidel, at a salary of X50 Pennsylvania currency, per annum. Andreas was succeeded as miller in 1765, by Peter Worbass, who was the first landlord of the Sun Tavern, of Bethlehem, and who built the first house in new Nazareth and died there in 1806. Worbass was succeeded by Andrew Holder in 1769.

These were the three millers responsible to Nathaniel Seidel, during the time of the so-called Bethlehem Economy. It remains to be stated that in 1760 already, the mill began to assume the character of a merchant-mill, in as far as flour was made for the Philadelphia and New York markets ; and in order to preserve the good name of the Moravians for fair dealing intact, an Inspector of Flour was appointed to see that all wares produced and shipped were as represented.

In the spring of 1766, a great freshet caused considerable damage to the town. On the night of April 14th, a heavy rain set in and continued until near eleven o'clock on the evening of the 15th. By midnight the waters of the Lehigh and Manocasy flowed together up to the bleaching-house. At seven o'clock on the morning of the 16th, the water had risen to one hundred and twenty-five inches above low-water mark; but by noon a north-west wind arose, when the water fell to one hundred and sixteen inches and by sun-down to one hundred and four inches. On the morning of the 17th, there was still eighty inches passing the ferry-house, and communication could only be had with the houses along the Manocasy by boats. According to the calculations of the oldest inhabitants, it was just 27 years ago, (April 15, 1739) that the Yslestein house on the south bank of the Lehigh was carried away by a freshet.

In January of 1767, the following notice was posted at the ferry-house:


ALL such persons as bring wheat, rye, Indian corn and buckwheat, to the Grist Mill at Bethlehem, for grinding, are free of ferriage, provided they observe the following regulations, to wit:

One horse with 2 bushels of wheat, rye or Indian corn.

" " " " 3 " buckwheat.

One wagon and 4 horses with 2o bushels o wheat.

One " " 2 " " 15 " "

One cart " 2 " " 12 " "

One " " 1 " " 8 " "

One sled " 2 " " 12 " "

One " " 1 " " 6 " "

In 1771, the Administrators of the Unity, consigned to the Administrators of the Bethlehem congregation, sundry estates and properties, amounting together to 29,000 Pennsylvania currency, among which was the Bethlehem Grist and Fulling Mill, valued at 700 Pennsylvania currency. This consignation was the origin of the "Bethlehem Diacony," so called, because the Bethlehem congregation pledged herself to work these consigned properties, jointly for her own support as a church, and in aid of the Church at large. The agent and treasurer of the Administrators at Bethlehem was called Warden or Steward ; and it was the successive wardens who now let the mill on salary or lease to the millers, between May, 1771, and April of 1830.

The first of the Warden's millers was John David Bishop. Bishop was succeeded by Christian Giersch. During his incumbency fell the Revolutionary War. In the memorable year 1776, the "Bethlehem Farm" furnished the mill with 300 bushels of wheat, and the "Bethlehem Plantation," 276 bushels of wheat and 142 bushels of rye. The stock on hand April 17, 1776, amounted to 588 7. 4., and the net profits for the fiscal year was X92. The mill account is charged under the same date for one year's interest on the stock X34 7d.; rent for mill X64, and ground and water rents X12 7. 6. Deputy Quarter Master General Hooper is, under date of February 25, 1778, charged 6 for rent for a large room and kitchen in the Fulling Mill from September 13, 1777, to January 15, 1778, occupied by " sick Doctors " officers and stewards attached to the Continental Hospital during its occupation at Bethlehem, subsequent to the disaster to the American arms at Brandywine.

Early in the morning of August 16, 1777, the lifeless body of the Rev. John Brandmiller, who for some years had retired from active service in the Church, was found in the mill-race, where he had fallen in an apoplectic fit. Coroner Peter Roth of Allentown viewed the body. Brandmiller's last appointment was chaplain at Friedensthal, where he printed (he had been a printer by trade, in Switzerland, before uniting with the Moravians) between 1763 and 1768, a "Harmony of the Gospels;" and a Hymn Book, translated into Delaware by Rev. B. A. Grube, and "Die täglichen Loosungen der Brüder Gemeine für des Jahr 1767," on a press which had been sent from England to Bethlehem and thence to Friedensthal.

Hermanus Loesch, (the last miller at Friedensthal) the third of the Warden's millers, succeeded Giersch in April of 1781 Daring his incumbency, viz.: in 1784, a stone house was erected for the miller's dwelling, next to the mill. This house was enlarged and remodeled by Charles A. Luckenbach in 1831. It was also during Loesch's tenancy, in 1786, that the mill-works were thoroughly overhauled and improved, and that the town was visited by one of the most destructive freshets known in its history. Rain began to fall on October 4, and continued all the following day and night, and by the morning of the 6th, the water had inundated the lime-kiln on the Allentown road and the lowlands. The waters of the Manocasy were forced back and by noon it was seven feet deep in the oil mill and butchery, and four feet deep in the fulling-mill, dye-house and tannery. The loss at the latter alone was estimated at 100. In the old mill the "mahl küsten" was filled with water, the spring-house covered all but the roof, and the brewery standing in the Single Brethren's garden was completely surrounded and it was feared that the walls would be undermined and fall. At the saw-mill, rauch lumber was carried off and the fences on both sides of the river were swept away. By two o'clock in the afternoon, the water began to subside, and the following day the brethren could walk to the Lehigh.

Loesch died in 1781, but in 1790 he was succeeded by Peter Jungmann, who in turn was followed by Samuel Steup, who was miller from June 1793 till April 1803, and died in 1822. About this date flour was consigned to the house of Boller and Jordan, in Philadelphia, on commission. Next came John G. Pietsch, to the spring of 1808, and then John Schneider. It was during the incumbency of the latter, that John Steup fell from out the door on the second floor of the mill, and was picked up dead. Schneider was succeeded by G. Henry Woehler, who was the first actual lessee of the mill from Warden Stadiger till 1830.

In April of the last mentioned year, Charles A. Luckenbach purchased of Warden Stadiger, the Bethlehem Mill (both grist and fulling-mill, the latter having been discontinued in 1817) for $7,500. He took out the old mill-works, equipped it with improved ones of modern style and workmanship, substituted two breast-wheels in place of the old undershot wheel, and adding two run of stones, increased its capacity to 200 bushels per day. He furthermore inserted a plaster-mill, which produced annually some 200 tons of plaster. Having thus fitted up his mill for doing the business of a merchant-miller, Mr. Luckenbach, having a monopoly in the neighborhood, would during the winter months accumulate as many as 3,000 bushels of flour, which on the opening of navigation on the Lehigh Canal, he was wont to ship to Philadelphia. In 1847, he sold the mill to Jacob Luckenbach for $12,000, who in October of 1861, disposed of it to his sons, David and Andrew Luckenbach, the present proprietors. During the year 1866, they removed the works of the plaster-mill.

At 11 o'clock on the night of the 27th of January, 1869, the old mill was discovered to be on fire, which is presumed to have originated in ground feed having worked its way through chinks into a flue, and there gradually ignited. It was soon apparent that the structure was doomed, and then the special efforts of the firemen, who, for the first time brought the steam fire engine of the Perseverance Fire Company (1) into service, were directed to the saving of two dwellings, on either side of the mill.(2)

This disastrous conflagration involved the destruction of another of the few surviving monuments of early Moravian dominion in the Forks of the Delaware. The old grist-mill carried us farther back into the past than any other of its remaining land-marks, except the "stone row," on Church street. It had weathered the storms of 117 years, and outlived great changes in the history of our country, and in the history of the people by whom it was erected -- Pennsylvania, a Province of the British Crown, and the Moravians in North America a very closely united fraternity, and a people who had earned a good name for their remarkable zeal in doing good to others. It was always a busy place without--down by the old mill on the creek, with its sunny face to the south, and cool in the shadow of willow-trees. It was always a busy place within-was the mill with its whirling stones and dripping wheel and trembling hopper,that poured out untold wealth of golden grain to be transformed into the staff of life. And even now, before us who have long lingered among the olden records, there pass pictures of the days of "auld lang syne" --scenes which occurred repeatedly in the times of John G. Jungmann, the first of a long line of dusty millers; and in the times of his successors, pictures in which we see, perhaps, a cavalcade of settlers from the outskirts of Pennsylvania civilization dismounting before the mill and having tied their jaded beasts with rope halters, shoulder each one his grist and on crossing the threshold into its busy precincts, unwittingly make obeisance to the mysterious sun-dial overhead ; or perhaps a bivouac at night before the great fire-place where a dozen or two men with their heads pillowed on their saddles, sleeping as best they could, on the hard tile-floor, and dreaming for all we know, that next day their turn would come to be served by the miller; and then they would load up their grists, and filing into the caravan set off for their far off homes, with bread for their families, wives and little ones. Now because the life of this old mill was a long life of good to the race of bread-eating men, hence these chronicles and hence this pious requiem.

(1) In the summer of 1763, Captain Christian Jacobson purchased in London a fire engine for Bethlehem, for the sum of 43 12 stg., which was first tried on the afternoon of November 22. In April of 1777, it was repaired, taken to the Brethren's House, where a jet was thrown twenty feet above the "Alt," the engine forcing seventy-eight gallons per minute. This engine is still an object of curiosity to visitors to Bethlehem.

(2) Messrs. D. & A. Luckenbach at once set to work to repair their loss, and entered upon the erection of a well-appointed modern merchant mill. This was so far completed as to permit of grinding flour on the first day of August following (1869)


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Updated: 16 November 2005

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