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Group wants to restore Washington’s old grist mill

Years back, the hangout for Perryopolis children was the ruins of George Washington’s old grist mill.

Pam Newmeyer used to be one of those kids who passed some time kicking in old boards and jumping off foundation stones.

Nowadays, as a member of the Perryopolis Area Heritage Society, she’s helping to restore the grist mill.

“I’m rebuilding what I once helped tear down,” she said.

The society’s latest restoration project was the addition of a replica water wheel for the grist mill, which it will be showcasing next weekend during its annual Pioneer Days festival.

Pioneer Days will be held Friday to Oct. 5 at Sampey Park in Perryopolis.

The wheel, which is more than 15 feet tall, is the piece de resistance in the restoration of the mill.

“It makes it complete,” said Newmeyer.

At one time, the wheel was the engine that drove the mill’s grinding stones. It was also the most notable feature of the mill, a big timber-framed building.

The group had been trying for the past several years to find someone to build the replica wheel. Their hopes didn’t come to fruition, however, until a chance meeting at a gas station, according to society member John Martinak.

Martinak said they had originally turned to a millwright from Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon, to build the wheel. But he was asking for $95,000, much more than they could afford, Martinak said. Then they asked local builders, who once they realized the size of what they would have to build, turned the project down.

So one day, Martinak was at a gas station when he noticed a truck with a handmade, wood tool box and old-fashioned wood-working tools in its bed. He thought to ask the truck’s owner what he did for a living.

Martinak said the two got to talking and, as it turned out, he specialized in tearing down old and reassembling old barns.

He said he asked the man, James Koenecy, a Wisconsin resident, if he would be interested in tackling the water wheel project.

Koenecy agreed to do it for $17,500.

And by August, the wheel was finished and in place.

The heritage society has been working on restoring the mill since the late 1980s. In 1992, they restored the foundation, the only thing to survive from the original mill. By 1999, they had rebuilt the structure, courtesy of some Amish carpenters who did the work for $190,000.

According to Joan Lyons, director of the Old State Bank Museum in Perryopolis, the original mill dates back to 1774, when work first began on it. It was completed in 1776.

Washington eventually leased it to a man named Israel Shreve, who ran it until his death in 1799, the same year Washington died. In 1802, the mill fell into the hands of Shreve’s heirs. After that, the mill changed hands several times, and ceased operations in 1917.

It began to fall into disrepair, and in 1937, was knocked down in a storm.

The mill is one piece in a group of historical buildings at Sampey Park. There’s an old bakeshop, a fulling mill, a block house, and two log cabins, all of which will be open and housing demonstrations during Pioneer Days.

“We’re all proud of what we have here,” Martinak said.

Pioneer Days activities begin Friday with a performance by The Bobby Nicholas Band at Sampey Park. The gate opens at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.

Saturday’s events will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays events will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There will be grist mill tours, crafts, a quilt show, music, pony rides, a children’s area and Colonial and Civil War re-enactments. A parade begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at Frazier High School. It will head down Independence Street and end at the park. Also Saturday will be a Civil War ball, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at Fisher Stage.

On Sunday, a pancake breakfast will be served from 8 a.m. to noon at the park.

For more information, log on to www.perryopolis.com/pahspioneer03.shtml .


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