Hughes Saw Mill, Zooks’ Dam (now Martin’s Dam), grist mill

There were other interesting terms of sale in regard to the transfer in 1800 of the old Hughes Saw Mill besides those referred to in last week’s column, which had to do with the flow of water into Zook’s Dam, now known as Martin’s Dam.

When William Carver and Abner Hughes bought the sawmill and acreage surrounding it from Isaac Bewley and his wife, Ann Bewley, for “the sum of 700 pounds current lawful money” they also had an agreement with Henry Zook in regard to the spring, which supplied much of the water for the sawmill and the dam. This is particularly interesting in view of the fact that the spring house, which the new purchasers were permitted to build, is still standing, and is now more than 150 years old. Mrs. DeWitt P. Pugh, who owns the original Abner Hughes homestead, has taken steps to preserve it as a landmark.

As agreed, the spring house was built by William Carver and Abner Hughes. The spring, which bears the reputation of never having failed, is one of the chief sources of water supply for Martin’s Dam Swimming Club. For many years it supplied all the water used in the Abner Hughes house. When Dr. and Mrs. William Z. Hill built their present house on the hill, across Croton road from Martin’s Dam in 1927, their water also came from this spring.

In 1816, Abner Hughes built his new mill and with it a new dam, which, with numerous changes, has now become the Colonial Village Swimming Pool, organized by J. Howard Mecke, in connection with his extensive building operation in Colonial Village. To quote the article written on the old Hughes Mill by Annie Brooke Simpson for a meeting of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, “In 1816, Abner Hughes built the new mill. The dam built by him is now the Colonial Village Swimming Pool … He had the race dug; and the race bank still stands, lined with yellow clay, which never leaked. This clay he had dug from the field above the present upper garage, opposite the mill site. The clay hole became a stump hole; as ground was cleared and stumps were removed they were put into the hole with stones and earth, and from time to time were set on fire in order to let the ground level up”.

Even before the building of this mill, however, water power was in use at the older mill. Before water power was used, logs were sawed by hand. According to Mrs. Simpson’s account, “a rip saw was used by two men, one above and one below the log, which was placed across the mouth of a pit. The log was stripped of bark and scribed above and below, and then sawed by hand. This primitive method must have been used much earlier, because water power was in use in 1800 at the old mill, which stood at the time of the purchase”.

Mrs. Simpson tells in interesting detail of the kinds of wood that were sawed for various purposes. Wild cherry, white oak, poplar and walnut were used, and from logs of other kinds of trees a variety of “stuff” was sawed. From 1800 on there are records of the sawing of planks, boards, pieces of scaantling [sic], lath, sled runners and sleigh runners.

By 1855 William Hughes had built a grist mill adjoining the saw mill at the rear. A new waterwheel of the overshot type was installed since, in order to run two mills, more water power was now needed. Mr. Cresson, a millwright from Barren Hill, built this waterwheel, while a Manayunk millwright, William Hutton, built the new grist mill. The former charged $500 for his labor alone. This wheel was replaced in 1887 by a new waterwheel, the last one to be installed.

According to Mrs. Simpson’s record, Joseph Brown, a nephew of William Hughes, was the first one to run the grist mill. He was later succeeded by Abram Supplee. To this old grist mill the neighboring farmers, many from the Chester Valley section, brought their grain to be ground. Graham flour and whole wheat flour were made here, while oats, corn, wheat and rye were ground. Later still, William Hudson leased this grist mill for a period of five years, during which time he manufactured spools, bobbins and croquet sets. Bobbins and spools were sold to Bullocks’ Mill, in Conshohocken, and to mills in Norristown.

William Hughes’ son, William Jr., who was born in 1848, worked in the saw mill with his father when he became old enough to assist with hauling logs, sawing and delivering lumber. Of those days, Mrs. Simpson writes: “Splendid trees for miles around in the counties of Montgomery, Chester and Delaware were bought, hauled to the mill, sawed and cured by drying in the mill yard, piled carefully so that the air could circulate about each board. The sun, rain, snow and wind seasoned the lumber, which was then ready to be sold and delivered to the cabinet makers and undertakers. Walnut trees were in great demand, and lumber made from these was regularly purchased by Mowday, of Norristown, and by Kirk and Nyce, of Germantown.

“Trees, which had been plentiful, grew scarcer and had to be found at greater distances, purchased and transported by log teams consisting of horses driven to a log wagon, one in the shafts and others ahead in single file. As many as nine horses were used at one time in this way. As trees grew on hillsides, and oftimes in places difficult to reach, the wagon was often overturned, carrying the “Shafter” or shaft horse over with it. This flourishing business had necessitated employment of men, horses and wagons. But in time there were no more walnut trees to be had.”

In 1922, this old saw mill, famous for so many years, was torn down, as was the grist mill which adjoined it, both having fallen into disuse. “Nothing remains today to suggest the old Hughes Mill”, Mrs. Simpson writes, “unless one pauses to observe the water flowing from the Swimming Pool, which still runs merrily along the race bank that Abner Hughes “lined with yellow clay that never leaked”. Beyond the former log yard one sees the spring house, above the “spring that never failed”. Across the road from the mill site stands the old house. With dignity and with a certain nobility, it faces the woods known as the “One Hundred Mile Woods.” Four generations have called it home, aand [sic] each one in turn has followed Abner Hughes to rest in the burying ground at Valley Friends Meeting.

“The old house, sheltered by the hills, basks in the sunshine and looks out upon one of the loveliest of scenes, with the Swimming Pool and Martin’s Dam on either side and the wooded hill between”.

(To be continued)