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. It also houses an 1873 Lane #1 Circular Saw, now restored and reconstructed, a 1928 Studebaker straight-eight engine that allowed the Mill to continue operation through the 1960s, and an early Muzzy shingle machine identical to one that belonged to the Mill for many years.
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 telling the mill’s story.
Water-powered Mill, in operation- 1933.
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 as 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, in keeping with technological changes pursuing greater efficiency, the mill was reconfigured to accommodate a more modern water-driven turbine and circular saw. The current Mill building dates to just after 1900.
Two significant natural events of the 1930s again changed the course of the Mill’s operation. The Great Flood of 1936 overtook the Mill’s dam and destroyed its water-power capacity. Two years later the 1938 hurricane presented an abundance of felled trees and the opportunity to revitalize the Mill, replacing water power with a 1928 Studebaker engine to drive the 1873 circular saw that remained intact. A hay conveyor was enlisted to remove sawdust, no longer deposited in the Still River. Though oxen continued to haul logs to the Mill, they too were replaced in time by a home-made motorized skidder. The Chamberlin family’s ingenuity kept this Mill alive through the 1960s when operations ceased.
The Great Flood of 1936
The Mill remained in the Chamberlin family until 2008 when it was sold along with an 98-acre parcel of land to The Nature Conservancy. The Mill, though structurally relatively sound, needed significant repairs and its equipment, such as the 1928 Studebaker engine that had been its power source after the 1930s, was badly deteriorated.
People connected with the Mill
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.
Manasseh Hosmer (1702-1791) served in five sessions of the CT General Assembly before the American Revolution, and had an interest in the New Roxbury Iron Works.
Col. Abijah Sessions (1753-1834) was the first member of the Sessions-Stone- Chamberlin-Tayler family with known connections to the mill, and a resident of nearby Union, CT. He was one of the first fourteen from Union who heeded the call to arms for the American Revolution, serving as an attendant to General Israel Putnam, and fighting at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was the nephew of Darius Sessions, Deputy Governor of Rhode Island, famous for his role in the 1772 Gaspee Incident that helped fan the fires of revolution.
Lyman Sessions (1793-1880), son of Col. Abijah Sessions, was born in Union, but moved two miles down the road to Woodstock. His house is still standing, just west of the Still River. Besides running a sawmill, Lyman Sessions traded in lumber, and was a farmer, store owner, and prominent figure in the booming 19th century Woodstock shoe manufacturing business.
Closson Holley Stone married Marcia Sessions, Lyman’s daughter, and became directly involved in the mill operation in the late 1800s.
Frederick Stone, Closson and Marcia’s son, worked at the Mill in the 1890s, and kept a daily journal, now belonging to the Connecticut Historical Society.
Edward Leonard Chamberlin (1860-1934), husband of Lyman Sessions' granddaughter, May Evelyn Stone, moved his family to the property in 1900. He ran the sawmill, introducing his son Raymond, and in turn his grandson Gordon to the mill operation. Gordon's son Dan helped out at the mill as a young boy in the 1960s.
Pearle Chamberlin Tayler (1895-1993), daughter of Edward Leonard Chamberlin, was the last Chamberlin resident of the long-held family property. She and her husband, William Lonsdale Tayler, a political science professor and signer of the 1945 United Nations Charter, took ownership of the property in 1954. While they were not centrally involved with the mill operation, they maintained and took pride in the mill structure for many years. After their deaths, the Chamberlin Family Trust took responsibility for the family holdings, selling a portion to The Nature Conservancy in 2008.
Pearle Chamberlin at left, Mill right background.
After Chamberlin Mill ceased operations in the late 1960s, the mill building remained unused for over forty years. However, it was still remarkably intact when The Nature Conservancy acquired it in 2008 as part of a 98-acre parcel to preserve the headwaters of the Still River. Led by the Woodstock Historical Society, in partnership with the Woodstock Historic Properties Commission, studies determined that the building was in condition meriting restoration, and that a path could be found to preserve and sustain it over the long-term.
In 2014 Chamberlin Mill, Inc. was deeded the site by The Nature Conservancy and began long-term restoration efforts. The building has been stabilized, with rebuilt foundation sections, timber framing repairs, and roof replacement. The Mill’s 1873 circular saw is again operational, powered by the rebuilt 1928 Studebaker engine that was in use in 1939 and decades following. A replacement Muzzy shingle machine, identical to one that once belonged to the Mill, has been added to the Mill’s collection. A logging sled and other artifacts that originated in the Mill are stored offsite, until a permanent display is finalized. Chamberlin Mill, Inc. (CMI) is working under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council to make plans for this future.