Chamberlin Mill, Inc. intends to preserve the mill for the enjoyment of future generations, opening it for historical interpretation and demonstrations.
Research into the people behind the mill is ongoing, and Chamberlin Mill, Inc. would welcome any contributions to this process. Information about any existing business records would be especially appreciated. A little of what is known follows:
Chamberlin Mill is a rare example of a water-powered circular sawmill that was later converted to gasoline power. Located on Old Turnpike Road in Woodstock, CT, this two story post and beam building with expansive loft, is supported on a high, dry laid, field stone foundation which incorporates the penstock and turbine. This sturdy structure still houses many of the historic cast iron gears and flat belt pulleys that transferred the power of water via the turbine to the circular saw on the main level.
For most of the mill’s lifespan it was powered by water from the adjacent Still River, which was dammed to form Lower Chamberlin Pond, with a small millpond below the dam. In summer, the water level of Lower Chamberlin Pond was drawn down to grow hay, and in the winter it was raised to provide power to the mill. Today, the dam and ponds remain visible and intact while the surrounding historic neighborhood and landscape contribute to the telling of the mill’s story.
Structurally, the mill is considered overall in very good condition. Critical foundation repairs have recently been completed, and timber-frame restoration is beginning in 2017. Roofing, drainage, accessibility and other issues will be addressed in turn as part of the Mill's phased restoration plan. Thanks to volunteers from Mystic Seaport, the 1928 Studebaker engine that saved the Mill after The Great Flood of 1936, has been rebuilt and is again operational. Parts are still needed for restoration of the Mill's 1873 Lane#1 circular saw.
Since the 18th century, a mill has stood at this place along the Still River. The earliest known use of the site was as a grist mill, operated by Manasseh Hosmer. By the early 1800s, Abijah Sessions had a sawmill at this location. His descendants would continue to operate a sawmill through the 1960s, and retain ownership of the site until it was sold to The Nature Conservancy in 2008, part of its 98-acre Still River Preserve.
The earliest mills at this site are likely to have been driven by a large undershot wheel, with an up-and-down saw in operation through the early decades of the 19th century. Then sometime after the Civil War, the mill was reconfigured to accommodate a more modern water-driven turbine and a Lane#1 Circular Saw. The turbine, gears, and pulleys from this period remain.
The Great Flood of 1936 presented a turning point for the mill. Floodwaters overtook the mill area, and in their aftermath the penstock (or large pipe) that delivered water to the turbine was blocked. In keeping with the tradition of Yankee ingenuity, a 1928 Studebaker was driven to the site, cut down, and used to drive the saw and other equipment through its last years of operation. While oxen were still used to haul the mill's logging sled through the 1930s, they too were replaced in time by a home-made motorized skidder.