Nelson Trails Committee Has a Run-of-the-Mill Expedition

by on August 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

Members of the Nelson Tails Committee and friends recently visited the Taylor Mill Historic Site in Derry New Hampshire.  The site is home to a 200 year-old “up-down” working sawmill that has lovingly been restored to working condition by caretaker, Robert Spoerl.  Nelson had a number of such mills in its early history. The group watched intently as water was released to turn the huge water wheel and the reciprocating saw cut a 2” pine board. The visit and a tour of the mill in operation was arranged by committee member, Dave Birchenough, an old friend of Robert Spoerl’s.

Mr. Spoerl explained that these early water powered mills replaced an earlier method of sawing out boards using two men, a long saw with handles on either end where one man stood in a pit beneath the log and the other stood above moving the blade up and down between them.  The water-powered version requires a site with a significant drop of water and a large investment in the mill itself.  At 60  strokes a minute, the mill is many times as productive as the pit sawing operation.  Circular saws didn’t come to New Hampshire mills until the mid-nineteenth century. Today Nelson’s old mills are marked by their extensive stone foundations, rock dams and raceways.

The recently completed trail to the Stephen Osborn saw mill site on Bailey Brook and the trail-in-progress along the east branch of Otter Brook below Granite Lake had sawmills similar to the Taylor Mill in Derry.  There were at least six other sawmills serving Nelson in the early nineteenth century.  The understanding of the operation of the Taylor Mill will help the Trails Committee write tail guides that interpret the remains of these early Nelson mills.  Guides are in draft form and soon to be published for the Old Road to Dublin and for the Bailey Brook Trail. They are available in mailboxes, gaily painted by the Nelson School students at the end of each trail and at the Olivia Rodham Memorial Library.


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