After four decades shuttered to the public, the Thompson-Neely Grist Mill will open its doors on Saturday, March 17 at 10 AM, the same day all Washington Crossing Historic Park sites reopen for the season.
The grist mill, a red and white building across the street from the Thompson-Neely House and Farmstead, processed corn and wheat for commercial sale throughout the 19th century. The building will be able to function as a period-accurate grist mill, and tours will explore how the mill once fit into the farmstead.
A New Historic Site
During the regular season, a 60-minute walking tour of the Thompson-Neely House and the grist mill will be available daily from 10 AM to 4 PM.
Tours will start at the Thompson-Neely House and conclude at the mill. Cost is $7 per person. For $15, visitors may access all three park sites (the Historic Village, the Thompson-Neely House and Farmstead and mill, and Bowman’s Hill Tower).
Visitors will need to park and check in at the Thompson-Neely House across the street from the mill.
“For many of our regular visitors, the mill was an integral part of their experience at an early age,” says Joe Capone, executive director of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. “To be able to reopen it after all these years will hopefully rekindle fond memories for them and create fresh ones for new visitors.”
More in-depth programming at the mill is also planned, including a special program for children during the park’s annual Sheep-to-Shawl Day on May 19. The mill will also be open in the coming months to area schoolchildren who visit the park for a Colonial Days Field Trip.
“This gives us the opportunity to tell a more complete story of the Thompson-Neely Farmstead,” says Jennifer Martin, assistant director of education and public programs for the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. “It was always included in the Thompson-Neely family’s narrative that we shared, but now we can actually walk visitors through that part of the history.”
Restoring the Past for Future Generations
The mill was acquired by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the early 20th century and was at one point open to the public before being shuttered in the late 1970s.
Much of the structure remained intact, although trees and debris clogged the waterways, the water wheel was damaged, and the grinding stones fell into disrepair.
Tucked along the tree line away from Route 32, the grist mill isn’t as visible as the Thompson-Neely Farmstead’s other buildings. But it was never far from the eyes of the park’s staff or volunteers.
About a year and a half ago, a group of those volunteers led by Glenn Blakely and Ray Kasper began the long process of restoring the complex to a working mill.
In July 2017, the old water wheel installed by the state was replaced by millwright Ben Hassett. The new wheel functions just as it would have when the mill was last operational. Pieces of the damaged wheel have been preserved for exhibition. Hassett also restored the grindstones and serviced the remainder of the equipment that transports the grain within the building.
Over the following months, the volunteers undertook the labor- and time-intensive process of clearing out the space where the water flows from the dam into the mill, a distance of about a third of a mile.
“With a project of this magnitude, there are always going to be issues that crop up that turn out to be larger than what we expected and, in turn, take longer to address,” Capone says. “But we have a great team of volunteers who have been dedicated to this restoration. We’re grateful for their passion and commitment.”