Lancaster County Water-Powered 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 one mill for every two and a half square miles. They were hubs of the local economy. The location of the mills often dictated the formation of the county road networks. Today, the approximately 85 that remain 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.

Choose one of the following links to browse the mills.

Or, click on the following link to view the mills on a map: Lancaster County Mills

Mascot Mill
Mascot Mill

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.

Some 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, supplemented by information from the Lancaster Newspapers archives and a few other sources. The photography is mine except where noted.

Brownstown Mill
Brownstown Mill

Mills of Lancaster Poster

Available now, this 18×24 poster of Lancaster County mills. Go to the Merchandise menu to order.

The Lesson of the Water Mill

Listen to the water mill,
All the live-long day
How the clicking of the wheel,
Wears the hours away.
Languidly the autumn wind
Stirs the greenwood leaves
From the field the reapers sing,
Binding up the sheaves
And a memory o’er my mind,
As a spell is cast –
The mill will never, never grind
With the water that is past.

Take a lesson to yourselves,
Loving hearts and true
Golden years are fleeting by,
Youth is passing too.
Strive to make the most of life,
Lose no happy day
Time will never bring you back,
Chances swept away.
Leave no tender word unsaid,
Love while love shall last
The mill will never, never grind
With the water that is past.

- Sarah Doudney