A visit to historic Shank's Mill in nearby Waynesboro is like a step into yesteryear. The mill, the dam and the miller's house are situated on six acres of rolling farmland. A range of mountains provides the perfect backdrop for a scene that hasn't changed much for over a century.
Built in 1857 by Christian and Mary Stauffer on the site of a burned out mill, it was originally known as Springdale Mills. A number of different families operated the mill until it was purchased in 1935 by the Shank family, who gave it its present name. The Shank family has owned the mill since 1935. The magnificent brick and stone mill supported by huge timbers, the water wheel, the huge buhr stones and all the gears are still in use after 130 years. A note penciled on a windowsill by one of the sons reads: "I wooped O. J. Shank on this floor March 25, 1938. R. W. Shank." Yula Shank is the present owner and operator, having taken over when her husband Odell died in 1973. Yula Shank is dedicated to the preservation of the mill. She avidly scours farm auctions and estate sales to find appropriate equipment and accessories such as scoops, scales and corn shellers.
In 1976 she was successful in having the mill, the dam, the headrace, the tailrace and the six surrounding acres of land placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1987 her years of dedicated work were rewarded locally when Franklin County Heritage Inc. named her "Historic Preservationist of the Year". She believes that "the mill's importance lies not so much in its functional value as a flour and feed mill, but its role as a relic of our cultural heritage. The beauty of this mill also is that it's still intact. In most mills either the machinery is gone or they don't use water power anymore and have converted it to electricity."
Shank's Mill is one of the few left in Pennsylvania still operated solely by water. The 24-foot high water wheel, located in the depths of the mill, is an awesome sight in action. Yula pulls on a weighted rope above, letting the waters of the headrace thunder in through the gate. The earth trembles, the wheel begins to churn and all of the gears and machinery creak into life. It's not hard to imagine the bustling life of the mill when it served area farmers and bakers. One can almost see trucks lined up during wheat harvest, of farmers continually stopping by for feed.
Even the walls of the mill are alive with history. Throughout the building, workers figured weights and grain prices on the walls. Sections of wall near the scales and loading areas are covered with their penciled ciphers. In the hired man's room, the following quote is written in pencil on faded wallpaper, "D. B. Clay Slept in this room from November 16, 1893 to November 17, 1894 and moved to the house then on account of burglars for fear of being robbed. There were three men trying to get in the mill on Sunday night Nov. 11, 1894 but Mr. and Mrs. Hander discovered them and chased them away." In the same room an earlier wayfarer wrote "Sleep sweet within This quiet Room and Let no mournfull Yesterdays disturb your peaceful heart, a visitor."
The old mill stands in solid tribute to the sturdy workmanship of those who built it in 1857. A fitting tribute, Yula is a wonderful tour guide and will gladly show visitors every inch of the structure, from the huge storage bins on the top level to the water wheel four floors below. She can tell wonderful stories from the days when the mill was operating in full swing. She proudly points out the carefully preserved machinery and describes every function. Though not actively involved in the operation during her years as a miller's wife, she apparently absorbed every detail and is a treasure trove of information.
Yula has also lovingly restored the miller's house, which has been her family home since 1940. She gladly includes the house with its beautiful period furnishings on a visitor's tour. Her future preservation plans include the restoration of the cooper house, a structure where wooden barrels were made for shipping flour. She also hopes to create a wildlife preservation area along the mill's water way. She would love to begin an archeological dig on the former mill that burned down in the early nineteenth century.
Shank's Mill is located on the intersection of Old Mill and Amsterdam roads off of PA 16. The mill is open for sales each Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p m. Yula says she "doesn't mind waiting on people other days" if she's there. She also provides recipes, such as Shank's Mill Country Cookies, that use flour and cornmeal for those who ask. More than a museum, flours are still ground the old-fashioned way at this working mill.
Yula's husband, Odell, was the last to operate the mill fulltime until 1972. A huge buhr stone on his brother's property had been previously split in two by a falling tree. When he died in 1973, the brother offered one half to Yula to use as a headstone for Odell. Carved simply with the name of Shank, the mighty half circle of pink stone that once ground grain is a fitting memorial to a man who devoted his life to the mill.
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