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Jerusalem Mill Village - A Journey Back in Time

A picture of a sign that reads "Jerusalem Mills established 1772 by David Lee a Quaker from Bucks County, PA.  A gun manufactory back of the mill furnished guns for the Revolution in 1776.  The original tract called Jerusalem patented 1687."Wednesday, November 2, 2005, was a day for celebration for many at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). After years of careful planning and negotiating, the Board of Public Works (BPW) had approved the purchase of the Lee Mansion, the last link in the chain of State-owned properties that make up the Jerusalem Mill Village complex in Harford County. Known to the parties involved as the Pullen Property, its purchase marked the successful conclusion of a project that had been born many years before of a boy’s desire to see an old, derelict mill saved and returned to its former glory.

It was more than 20 years earlier that young Scott Sanders, a resident of the nearby Kingsville area, turned to his father and asked if there wasn’t something that could be done to repair the old mill. What began as an idea to simply fix up a forgotten building is now the restored Jerusalem Mill Village, a community that today appears much the same as it did two centuries ago.

A photo showing living historians enjoying tea and a game of flip-the-plank in the village's cozy gunshop.Located on the Harford County side of the Little Gunpowder Falls, at the stream’s fall line just outside of the town of Kingsville, picturesque Jerusalem Mill Village sits at the intersection of Jerusalem and Jericho roads. The village, which lies within Gunpowder Falls State Park, consists of 12 historic standing structures – all centered around the once-flourishing Lee grist mill built in 1772.

Once the centerpiece of the thriving Quaker settlement of Jerusalem in the 18th and 19th centuries, the grist mill operated continuously from 1772 until James “Jack” Bridges, the last miller died in 1961, after which the property was acquired by the Department of Natural Resources. Despite its critical role in the early development of the county, it was only through a concentrated grassroots campaign that the mill and other buildings within the village were salvaged. Today, Jerusalem Mill serves as both a museum and visitors center, headquarters for Gunpowder Falls State Park, and a symbol of what a group of volunteers dedicated to a common goal can accomplish.

An Example of Quaker Effort and Ingenuity
A photo showing gunsmith Art Benser explaining the construction of an 18th century rifle.Jerusalem Mill Village’s history dates back to 1769, when millwright Isaiah Linton and David Lee, a Quaker from Philadelphia, entered into a partnership to build a grist mill on the site. The duo selected a low-lying parcel along the Little Falls of the Gunpowder and their mill, originally known as Lee’s Merchant Mill, began milling flour under the “White Silk” label for Baltimore and the surrounding areas in 1772. The undertaking was so successful that it wasn’t long before the pair began shipping their flour to locations around the world. Lee’s was not only one of the most important early mills in Harford County, it was also one of the largest in the state.

Before improved roads, waterways were the chief mode of transportation and Harford County was home to between 100 and 400 water-driven mills, possibly due to its proximity to the major port of Baltimore. This area, situated at or just above the fall line (the part of the river above which navigation is impossible), was well-suited for this type of industry: The water that ultimately drove these mills tumbled southward through the rolling countryside, dropping gently and with enough momentum to turn the huge waterwheels.

Unlike traditional mills of its time, Jerusalem Mill’s waterwheel was not located on the exterior of the building, but centrally located in the building’s lower interior. Its ground floor served as the grinding level with 48-inch French millstones. A half-mile long race (or rapid current) channeled water in through the west stone wall and out the opposite wall to turn two vertical overshot water wheels.

The five-story, 60- by 30-foot mill building was framed using classic millwrighting techniques, featuring vast two-foot square white oak posts supporting the oak ceiling, floors and stairways. Two tiers of three dormers on each side of the room provided light to the upper levels of the building where textile operations were housed.

Over the course of its two centuries of operation, the mill saw great changes in technology and economy, including its ultimate conversion to electricity after a flood broke a dam upriver in 1940.

But the mill is only one part of the story: The surrounding village was largely self-sufficient and over the years featured a gun factory, blacksmith shop, wheelwright’s shop, sawmill, lime kiln, bank barn, general store and post office. Today, many of these structures remain and have been carefully restored to appear as they would have at the height of the village’s prominence.

It Takes a Village…To Restore One
A photo showing Terry Crawford and Robert Morris portraying Eastern longhunters, men who would take to the western frontier to hunt and trap during winter months when farms were idle.How this restoration came about is a story all its own, and would not have been possible without the commitment and guidance of a dedicated group of area volunteers. The Friends of Jerusalem Mill was founded by Harry Sanders, father of young Scott, and members of the Greater Kingsville Civic Association. At their first meeting, Maryland Park Service Superintendent Rick Barton, then manager of Gunpowder Falls State Park, presented the group with a $200 check from an anonymous donor who wanted it used to benefit the park. The money served to cover the cost of the group’s first mailing to solicit interest in the restoration effort.

Interest grew and by the end of 1985 approximately 25 citizens had banded together to save the old mill. The effort began to attract the attention of local press, which only strengthened support from residents of the nearby communities. The Friends of Jerusalem Mill soon split from the Kingsville Association and was granted non-profit status in 1987. Bylaws were prepared and Harry Sanders was elected president, a position he still holds today. That same year, the mill and its 11 surrounding buildings – the entire village – were listed on the National Trust’s Register of Historic Places, described as “one of the oldest, most complete, and least altered mill villages in Maryland.”

In advance of restoration, funding for the massive undertaking would have to be secured. Since the village was state-owned and leased to the Friends, this funding would have to be incorporated into the park’s budget and approved by the legislature.

To demonstrate the group’s commitment, the Friends began to refurbish the small gun shop behind the mill, which was overgrown with ivy and in desperate need of total rehabilitation. The two-story gun factory, constructed out of local fieldstone, had an illustrious history of its own, once making gunstocks for use by the Maryland Militia during the American Revolution. Several Friends members also approached local businesses for financial support.

A photo showing Eric Carl preparing an axehead as Paul Roberts assists.Before work could begin on the old mill, its ancient stone foundation began to crumble. Emergency stabilization work was done but it became obvious that without additional reinforcement, the building was in danger of being lost. The Friends pressed the park to intervene in the matter and in 1987, $20,000 was allocated and Preservation Associates, Inc. of Hagerstown was retained to do the repairs necessary to halt the mill’s further deterioration. However, it was estimated $1 million would be necessary for the mill’s total restoration.

Friends’ members and other volunteers worked tirelessly to get legislation passed to fund the work to the mill. Finally in 1992, funding was authorized pending a total community buy-in to the effort. Baltimore and Harford Counties stepped up and each pledged $100,000 to the restoration. Sanders committed $15,000 – all the money remaining in the Friends treasury – which, when factored in to the roughly $500,000 supplied over the years in in-kind contributions, proved to be the support the project desperately needed. The Board of Public Works formally approved the funding for the complete and total restoration of Jerusalem Mill.

Not Just a Mill, A Working Community
A photo showing 18th century living historian Kathy Scholl stokes the hearth in the restored gunshop.While altered to accommodate advances in technology, the work to Jerusalem Mill was finally completed in the mid-1990s. Its historic exterior remains authentic; its interior, while incorporating many original components, has been adaptively restored to serve as public meeting space, with museum exhibits mounted by the Friends of Jerusalem Mill. At the suggestion of the Friends, the Park’s headquarters are now located in the mill’s upper story, an excellent example of adaptive reuse of an historic site.

In the years since, other buildings in the village have been restored and are now part of the community’s living history. The gun shop is now used for colonial dinners, demonstrations of daily life, and other special events throughout the year. Just a hundred yards away, a restored blacksmith shop draws small crowds with regular demonstrations. Centuries ago, the blacksmith was an integral part of the community, serving the residents of Jerusalem by supplying many useful items and fixing parts used in the mill machinery.

Like most mill communities, Jerusalem Village boasted a general store that still stands at the east end of the town. The store enjoyed brief infamy when, during the Civil War, it was raided by troops under the command of Confederate General Harry Gilmore. In 1940 it was divided into apartments; today rents collected by the Friends are applied to its further restoration and return to its original purpose.

The Jericho Covered Bridge, built in about 1865, is one of two that once connected the village with the surrounding towns of Franklinville, Jerusalem and Jericho. The other was torn down in the early part of the 20th century to accommodate the increasing traffic along Jerusalem Road and a modern span was erected in its place. Remarkably, it is the only permanent structure to have been added since the Lee family left in 1886.

A Village Reassembled – Twenty Years in the Making
And so it was that last November, with a BPW-accepted Agreement of Sale to purchase the nearly nine-acre Pullen property, the final link in the village “chain” was finally secured. The residence of Dr. Phyllis Pullen, a general practitioner now in her 80s, Lee Mansion still functions as her office, continuing the tradition of the self-sufficient village. With the sale of the property to the State, Dr. Pullen was granted lifetime residency in the house that has been her home for more than 40 years.

Three photos showing Lee Mansion, the restored gunshop and the village blacksmith shop.

This acquisition completes the project and brings the entire historic village under State ownership and protection. Not only is Jerusalem Mill Village a resource of exceptional historic importance, it is also a model of public-private effort to preserve, restore and operate an extraordinary outdoor museum for all to enjoy.
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