About the Mill
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.
1933. Mill powered by water.
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.
Gears and pulleys remaining from water-power era.
Great Flood of 1936 overtakes Chamberlin Mill.
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.
2009. Studebaker after many years of disuse.
Penstock blocked after Great Flood of 1936.
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.
A little of what is known follows:
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), the first member of the Sessions-Chamberlin family with known connections to the mill, was 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.
Edward Leonard Chamberlin (1860-1934), husband of Lyman Sessions' granddaughter moved his family to the property in 1900. He ran the sawmil, introducing his son Raymond, and in turn his grandson Gordon to the mill operation. Gordon's son Dan, now a middle-aged man, recalls helping 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 over the family holdings, selling a portion to The Nature Conservancy in 2008.
Working at the Mill. From Chamberlin Family album, !939 - early 1940's.
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. The Woodstock Historical Society assumed interim stewardship of the property, with support from the Woodstock Historic Properties Commission. Together, they commissioned an architectural conditions assessment and undertook temporary stabilization measures while details were developed for the Mill’s long-term stewardship. In 2014, a newly formed non-profit corporation, Chamberlin Mill, Inc. took on that role and was deeded the Mill and a small surrounding parcel of land.
Since that time, a program of phased stabilization measures has been underway. Critical foundation repairs and timber frame restoration have been completed, and a fifty-year-old corrugated metal roof has been replaced. Drainage, accessibility, window repair and other issues are being addressed.
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. Chamberlin volunteers are rebuilding the Mill’s 1873 Lane # 1 circular saw. The goal is to connect the engine and saw to produce boards by late 2020 or early 2021.
Chamberlin Mill, Inc. intends to preserve and sustain its site as a historic and educational asset for the enjoyment of future generations.
Once operational, it will expand its current calendar of walks, demonstrations, local school programs, experiential learning, and participation in regional and national programs and events. Artifacts now in storage will be returned to the site for exhibition.