Lancaster County Grist Mills

Lancaster County’s mills were an extremely important part of the commerce of the county in the early days. An 1840 census showed 383 mills in the county, which amounts to 1 mill for every two and a half square miles. They were hubs of the local economy. Today, they stand as testaments to a bygone era. Several of the mills in the county are set up as museums and are worth a visit. Most notable is the Mascot Mill on the Mill Stream south of Leola. You can tour the mill and learn about this part of Lancaster’s history.

The first mills in the county were typically structures made of logs near the smaller water courses. The mills were usually built by one man and his family. The engineering skills and tools necessary to dam the larger streams were beyond the ability of the first millers. The mill was used to process the owner’s grain as well as his neighbors in the immediate area. Later, if the mill was successful, the first log mill would be replaced with a larger, stone mill. These mills could serve a wider area and were called Custom mills. The miller would receive a share of the grain or flour in payment for processing the farmer’s grain. If the mill was at a prime location, along a main road and a major water source, the mill would be enlarged again, often to 3 or 4 stories, and would sometimes contain multiple water wheels. These were the Commercial, or Merchant mills, which would process grain and ship it to locations all over the region.

Much of the information on these pages is taken from the book “Water-Powered Grist Mills, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania” published in 1993 by Arthur C. Lord. The photography is mine. Choose one of the following links to browse the mills.

Fair Conestoga’s waters
  In shade and sunlight flow,
I hear amid their ripples
  A tale of long ago!
Adown the long dam splashing
  They turn the fuller’s mill
And then go, swiftly flowing
  Past valley and past hill!

Still flows the river onward!
  The mill no more is there,
The water gleams and flashes,
  The scene is bright and fair;
Gone is the dam forever,
  Gone—they who toiled of yore!
To us, who seek their story,
  A name—and nothing more

(Mary L. Robinson)

If you are interested in fine art photographs of Lancaster County Mills you can visit my photo site at