Industries Along the Shekomeko

This page is dedicated to Elizabeth Jordan Klare (1914-1995), a charter member of the Little Nine Partners Historical Society, who had always wanted to write a publication for the Society on the industries along the Shekomeko Creek.

The harnessing of water power goes back at least 2,000 years. When the surveyors for the Little Nine Partners Patent began their task in 1743, one of the things they looked for were streams that would make good mill sites. A good mill site would be next to a natural waterfall, but power could be increased by building dams.

The Shekomeko Creek certainly fit that requirement. A tributary of the Roeliff Jansen Kill, it was named by early white settlers after the Mahican Indian village that existed in the current hamlet of Bethel. The name Shekomeko is sometimes translated as "place of eels", suggesting that at one time the creek may have had a sizeable American eel population. Today it has both wild brown and brook trout populations. The creek has its source on Carpenter Hill in the Town of Stanford, runs south into the Town of Northeast before winding back north through the hamlets of Bethel, Hammertown, and Patchins Mill in Pine Plains, then into Columbia County where it empties into the Roeliff Jansen Kill in Gallatin.

The "Old Mill" Pine Plains, 1907 (not sure where)

Grist Mills

A grist mill uses the energy from running water to power a water wheel, which grinds grain (corn, wheat, etc.) into flour or meal by turning large millstones. These products were used to make bread and many other staples. Cornmeal was used to make Johnnycake and Indian pudding. The cob was separated from the corn kernels using a machine called a cracker, which is also how cracked corn was made.

The local farmer would bring his grain to the local mill for the miller to grind it for him. The fee for the miller's services was called a "toll" which was a portion of the grain brought for milling.

There were several grist mills in Pine Plains and its environs, usually co-existing with other kinds of mills. The ones we know the most about are detailed here. The only one still standing is the one in the hamlet of Patchins Mill.

The Phineas Carman Mill

Carman Mill

Located in the Little Nine Partners Patent but not in Pine Plains, the Phineas Carman Mill, possibly dating from as far back as 1749, was on the Pine Plains - Amenia Road (County Route 83), about halfway between the hamlets of Bethel in Pine Plains and Shekomeko (not to be confused with the Native American village of that name) in North East, and today it lies in North East. It is interesting to note, however, that between municipal name changes and changing boundaries, the mill site location changed multiple times over the years without it ever physically moving, from being in the Little Nine Partners Patent to Crum Elbow Precinct, then Amenia Precinct, then the Town of Amenia (the latter three in the Great Partners Patent), and finally ending up in the Town of North East where it is today (the part that was in the Little Nine Partners Patent, back where it originated).

Lot 14 of the Little Nine Partners Patent went to James Graham in the deed of partition, and this is where the mill was subsequently built, but the Grahams soon discovered that what was on paper did not necessarily translate into physical possession. That's because the southern part of the lot where the mill was located was in "the Gore", a hotly contested wedge-shaped strip of land between the Little Nine and Great Nine patents which the patentees of both fought over for half a century (see "The Little Nine Partners Patent" page). In those days, possession was nine-tenths of the law, so when in 1768 Joseph Harris, who owned land in the Great Nine (possibly the same Harris who was the scythe-maker, uncle of John Harris), took possession of the mill by putting a fence around it "in the night", the Grahams struggled for years to reclaim it. It wasn't until 1789 that James Graham's son Augustine was able to regain possession by suing to evict the current squatter, Coonrad Smith, and then requiring Smith to take out a lease on the property. The terms of the lease were for an annual rent of one hundred twenty bushels of wheat, twenty to be ground "toll free" and payment of all taxes. However, Augustine was only able to hold onto the mill for a short time, and Huntting discusses the ongoing legal battles over ownership in his history.

From the "Political Barometer" of Poughkeepsie

When the mill was put up for sale in 1807, a notice was placed in a Poughkeepsie newspaper (inset).

Mill closeup - Phineas Carman in middle

The mill came into the Carman family when Richard Carman purchased it around 1816. Phineas Carman (1786-1875), who the mill is named for, was Richard's son. The Carmans were Quakers who attended the meeting house in Bethel. Phineas' son John was the last of the Carmans to own the mill (see "People" page for information on the grandson of Phineas, Isaac P. Carman). After being in the Carman family for sixty-three years, in 1879 it was sold to Walter Loucks for $2520.

Carman Cider Mill. Image courtesy of Brian Gerber

The mill was later named the "Enterprise Mill" and was used to produce cider in its final days of operation.

This was also the later site of a fulling mill and a sawmill. The fulling mill was in use from 1796 to 1807.

 

Patchins Mill (Hoffman's Mill)

The Shekomeko Creek ½ mile north of the hamlet of Pine Plains was recognized for its potential as a mill site at the time of the Little Nine Partners Patent survey in 1743, when surveyor Charles Clinton noted in his field notebook that the stream here "had fall fit for a mill". Arabella Graham, sister of Lewis Graham of the Graham-Brush House, later inherited this property from her father James Graham.

In 1801 Henry Hoffman purchased the property with his brother Matthias and built the grist mill which came to be called Hoffman’s Mill. In 1807 Henry bought out his brother’s share. Beginning in 1816, the mill was rented for many years by Thomas H. Chase.

The original mill had an undershot wheel. In 1840, a new mill was built on the same site with a turbine wheel. Mark Patchin, a millwright, installed the machinery and constructed many of the wooden fittings. In 1873, Mark bought the mill and house from Henry Hoffman’s grandson Anthony Hoffman Jr.

Besides grinding wheat, rye, buckwheat, and corn, the mill was also used to grind gypsum from Nova Scotia into plaster for fertilizer. The gypsum was brought to Barrytown on the Hudson River and from there by ox carts and wagons to the mill site. Farmers also brought grain to be ground into feed for cattle and horses.

The current mill building was built in 1917 and was the third mill built on this site.

The trade name of the mill was Shekomeko Stream Mill. The market for flour was from Boston to Chicago, with buckwheat in particular demand, and at one time, the mill was run round the clock, with day and night shifts. However, as the country moved west so did the manufacture of flour, and farmers here in the East stopped raising wheat. The buckwheat mill at Patchins Mill was closed in 1920. The mill closed completely in 1945.

There were three dams built at the mill site. The first one was made of logs, the second of stones and lumber, and the third of cement and stones. This third one was built in 1917 and still stands today.

The mill stands on the north end of the dam, and on the south side was a sawmill (long gone). Logs were brought in at the top of the hill south of the sawmill and rolled down the hill. A straight up and down saw was used to cut the logs.

There was also a carding mill northwest of the grist mill built in 1840. It was run by race water from the grist mill.

Harris Mill

When John Harris first came to Pine Plains in 1783 from Andrus Rowe Corners where he had worked in his uncle Joseph Harris' scythe-making shop, he settled on Willowvale Road. Here he set up his own shop and operated a sawmill, and four years later purchased the grist mill. The 1867 Beers Atlas map shows a paster mill here in place of the grist mill.


a carding machine

Carding and Fulling Mills

Carding was the first step in the process of transforming wool into a finished cloth product that could be worn. It was the act of brushing wool to make yarn and was mechanized in the late 18th century. After mechanization, carding mills popped up all over.

After carding, the yarn was spun or woven at home and then the cloth was brought to a fuller to be shaped (made fuller), cleansed, and dyed. Fulling, also called "cloth dressing", had been mechanized for centuries.

In the hamlet of Bethel, a carding mill was built by Isaiah Dibble in 1815, with fulling being done in the 1802s by Jonathan Young. A dam was built at the bend of the Shekomeko west of the iron bridge and a race cut along the bank northerly to the fulling mill. The industry was profitable for a time, but soon after Isaiah's son Abraham took over the farm in 1837 he took down the mill.

Another fulling mill was built down the Pine Plains - Amenia Road by the Samuel Deuel farm around 1830. A race was cut adjoining the highway to intersect the creek nearly opposite the grinding works, and the water for the power taken from there to the mill.

 

Sawmills

 

 

 

 

 

Harris Scythe Works, 1850

Harris Scythe Works

Pig iron was taken from the Ancram Furnace to the Steel Works at Wassaic where it was refined and carted back to Hammertown.

In 1816 a stove shop was built and a second trip hammer added. The annual output was about five hundred dozen.

 

 

Cornelius and Peter Husted Tannery

 

Sources and Suggested Further Reading:

Hawthorne Valley Farmscape: "Charcoal Pits"

"Historic Charcoal Production in the U.S. and Forest Depletion", by Thomas J. Straka

200 Years of Soot and Sweat: "Historical Overview of Charcoal Making"

The Department of Environmental Conservation Public Fishing Rights: "Shekomeko Creek"

The History of Dutchess County, ed. by Frank Hasbrouck, S. A. Matthieu, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1909

History of Columbia County, New York, by Capt. Franklin Ellis, 1878

The History of Flour Milling in Early America, by Theodore R. Hazen

Gray's Grist Mill: "How the Mill Works"

Paper on Patchins Mill in the LNPHS collection, written by Claire Robinson, 1973

Historical Echoes of Chemung, New York: "Carding and Fulling