Grist Mills in Northwest Florida




     The simple  water-powered mills and later, the early turbine and steam powered mills,  were an important part of the development of northwest Florida. The many swift creeks that drain the panhandle provided many favorable settings for water-powered mills.
     Some of these mills became large industrial complexes, while others, like Carpenters's Mill in Escambia County, Jernigan's Mill in Santa Rosa County and Keyser Mill in Okaloosa County, remained small operations.
     A number of these small water-powered mills brought about the use of mills to cut and transport lumber from the pine forrests south to the Gulf of Mexico seaports.  From there the wood could be shipped around the world to markets in other parts of America and even to Europe.  As the lumber industry grew in importance, however, the small water-powered mill was gradually replaced by large steam powered lumber mills.
     These days we can just pour our dry grits out of the box and microwave them – or, pour our soft whole kernel corn out of a can and heat it.  That was not true for many families in our area in the days before electricity.  We can buy sliced bread at the store instead of kneading flour, milk and oil to bake the bread at home.
     That is one of the reasons why there were several grist mills around here. The mills had many different uses.  In northwest Florida the mills would grind grains such as corn, oats and wheat into meal and flour.  Many grist mills used water to power the grinding stone which crushed the hard corn kernels into a fine grain.  Some mills operated only during harvest time.  Other mills would grind grains for individuals whenever they needed. 
     Later, Okaloosa County resident, Isaac Cadenhead, had a small grist mill built onto the back of his old truck.  As late as the 1950s, farmers would call him to come to their farm to run their feed corn through his portable mill to grind it into feed for their livestock.
     It was not uncommon for the oldest daughter in the family to go to the grist mill taking a bag of corn with her.  She would wait until the corn was ground and then return home with it.  Sometimes she might have to leave the corn and come back the next day, after school, to get it.
     The miller, who operated the mill, was paid for his services of milling by collecting a toll. A toll is a portion of the grain brought to the mill for grinding.  There were other ways to pay, of course, cash or barter (trading one thing for another).
     The machinery of the mill usually was one pair of millstones, sometimes two pairs of millstones. Pressure built up by the water makes the stones turn.  The corn is poured into a chute, or long tray.  The corn passes between the moving mill stones and gets crushed.  There are diagrams on line and in books that explain the process in detail.  Do you know anyone who is old enough to remember grist mills?

Learn more:

 Baker Block Museum Educational Services. 2008. Baker, Florida