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The Heritage of the Grist Mill

(Or Why We Believe in Total Lot Traceability)

Grist mills have been an important part of society for over two-thousand years. The earliest record of a grist mill is dated before 71 BC and was found near the palace of king Mithradates VI Eupator at Cabira, Asia Minor. Though the grist mill has seen many changes and improvements over the years, the basic concept of grinding grains between stones has remained the same.

Grist Mill at George Washington's Mt. Vernon

The Grist Mill at Mt. Vernon

The importance of the grist mill is testified to by the shear numbers of them at any time in history. A survey taken in England in the year 1068 listed the number of water-powered grist mills at 5,624. It is estimated that over 100,000 grist mills were scattered throughout America by the 1850’s. And while one will be hard pressed to find an accurate number of grist mills, an idea may be had by considering that there were at one time seventy grist mills in Wake County, North Carolina. That is approximately one mill every twelve square miles!

In order to understand the large number of grist mills, it is important to know that the transport of goods in commerce over roads in early America was cost prohibitive. In the vast majority of cases, the cost of shipment over roads significantly exceeded the cost of the goods transported. This fact led to the grist mill becoming an important center of local commerce. Such mills regularly served as the nucleus of a developing town.

The miller was at the center of this society, acting as inventor, builder, banker, businessman, and host to the local population. His role was clearly one of great importance which led to his being well-known by everyone from the farmer to those purchasing products milled from the grains the farmer grew. The grist mill became a social center to such an extent that the consumer of milled products knew both the farmer who grew the grain and the miller who milled it.

Yate's Mill in the 1890's

Yate’s Mill in the 1890’s located in Wake County, North Carolina

With the invention of roller mills (first used in 1876 in John Seller’s mill in Philadelphia) the stone mill began to decline. Combined with the later invention of steam power and eventually the rise of electric power, the water-powered mill fast became a thing of the past. Improvements in roadways, the rise of automotive transportation, and industrialization in general contributed to the final extinction of the grist mill as the center of the social unit of a town, and along with this came the loss of the vital connections it ensured between the farmer, the miller, and the consumer.

Time will never return to those picturesque days of the small, intimate society built around the grist mill and its social relationships. However, thanks to current technology, Heritage Grains & Milling Co. is able to help bring back the long lost connection between the farmer, the miller, and the consumer of milled grain products. We are even able to extend this to include the baker from whom consumers might purchase goods baked with grains flowing through this chain of individuals. We do this through our Total Lot Traceability program.