Once essential to the economy, old mills and covered bridges are now historical relics

Left, this picturesque sawmill four miles south of Kingston was used to convert trees into cut wood; right, a rare image of the interior of a sawmill in Shandaken. (Images from New York State Archives)

Mills were a common sight throughout Ulster County in the nineteenth century. They were built near easily accessible water sources that provided power, and often spurred other development such as workers’ houses, taverns, and shops sprung up. 

Mills had a variety of uses. A gristmill was used to grind grain, usually wheat or corn. The phrase “grist for the mill” remains in use today. Farmers brought grains to be ground into flour and cereal as well as meal for their animals, and the miller took a portion as payment. The Tuthilltown Gristmill in Gardiner was the oldest in continuous operation in the New York State. It once ground kosher flour for matzoh and today offers a variety of liqueurs and spirits. 

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The Gomez Mill was built in the early eighteenth century by a Sephardic Jewish immigrant named Luis Moses Gomez. The sawmill and stone house at the southern tip of Ulster County have been preserved as a museum. 

Cantine Paper Mill in Saugerties, today the site of the Diamond Mills Hotel, was founded in 1888 and closed in 1977. (Stephen Blauweiss Collection)

Paper mills used enormous quantities of water. Cantine Paper Mill in Saugerties, today the site of the Diamond Mills Hotel, was founded in 1888 and closed in 1977. Turning mills used lathes to create handcrafted wooden products and furniture. The region also had powder mills, carpet mills, cider mills, knitting mills, and many others, and no shortage of creeks and streams to power them.

Covered bridges were built in New York between 1825 and 1912 to facilitate horse-and-buggy travel over small rivers and creeks. The roofs protected the wooden structures from rain and snow before cast iron and wrought iron became more common construction materials in the mid-1800s, only to be replaced by steel towards the end of the century. 

While more than 300 of these picturesque bridges once dotted the state’s landscape, less than two dozen remain, having become obsolete when larger, heavier vehicles and two-way traffic became the norm. 

Perrine’s Bridge in Rifton, just south of Rosendale, was built in the 1840s to cross the Wallkill River, It is one of seven still standing in Ulster County. (Stephen Blauweiss Collection)

Perrine’s Bridge in Rifton, just south of Rosendale, was built in the 1840s to cross the Wallkill River. The second oldest covered bridge in the state, it was constructed with Rosendale cement, bluestone, and white pine trees dating back to the 1600s. It served the transportation needs of nearby Dashville Mills, where 20 mills and factories churned out all manner of products. The bridge was closed to traffic in 1930 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. 

Kingston’s  covered bridge stood where Washington Avenue today brings drivers from  the Exit 19 roundabout into Uptown Kingston. The iron bridge made in the late 1800s collapsed in the 1960s.

To see sample pages and information about supporting this 450-page book featuring 850 images that will be released in December 2021, please visit:  HudsonValleyHistoryAndArt.com.

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