Hampton's Tide Mill

By Frank E. Perkins

Hampton Union, April 14, 21, 28, 1949

The old Hampton Tide-Mill on Brown River.
[Drawing was made by a Miss Noyes of Atkinson, N.H. from a badly blurred old picture, and republished in a Hampton Union column titled "Views and Reviews of Old Rockingham" by the Rev. Roland D. Sawyer.].]

After making many inquiries, without success, in trying to find a picture of the Tide Mill of the "Old Dock" it is thought best to have printed the valuable information and description given by Mr. Frank E. Perkins, of East Providence, R. I., a grandson of the former owner of the mill, Deacon James Perkins, of Tide Mill Road.

The first mention of the Tide Mill is thus given in Dow's History of Hampton, Vol 1. pp. 543-544: Oct. 13, 1681.

"At a town meeting by vote of the town, liberty was granted to James Johnson and Jacob Brown to make use of the river near the end of the highway by Jacob Brown's pasture, for the building of a gristmill; provided they build it and keep it in good order for the grinding of the town's corn; and that they make convenient gates to let out the water; that they flow not any man's hay in hay-time; and do grind the town's corn brought to them for the sixteenth part thereof; and have the mill ready to grind within two years from the date hereof. The privilege here granted was for a tide-mill ..."

In the winter of 1769, the tide-mill, then owned by Samuel Brown, Jr., and Gideon Shaw, the former a grandson of Jacob Brown, was burned to the ground. Brown rebuilt the mill about two years later and it remained in the Brown family until 1818, when David Nudd and Captain David bought it and put in a second run of stones. Six years later they sold to Moses and Benjamin Perkins and in 1814 the mill passed into the hands of their brother, Deacon James Perkins, who introduced an undershot wheel, of twenty feet diameter, and otherwise extensively repaired it. In 1855 he built it over once more, and fitted new gearing and for many years thereafter, it was in constant operation.

"Henry J. Perkins, son of Deacon James, became the next owner of the mill; and by him the property was sold to the town for $1,500 and the mill demolished in 1879, for the supposed benefit of the marshes, on which the water had been kept back till they had become of little value.

The Exeter News-Letter of March 1879 has this item: "The old Perkins Tide-Mill is being taken down."

The above snap shot was taken about 1925.
This shows the site of the mill dam.

The following letter dated February 3, 1947, written to Mrs. W. B. Folsom, describing the tide-mill, is a very valuable addition to the history of an early industry of the town of Hampton.

"It is not probable that I can give the exact information you would like to have concerning the old Tide Mill at Hampton, which for many years was owned and operated by my grandfather, the late Deacon James Perkins. I was a child of five in the winter of 1876-77 when I first saw the mill. A very heavy snow fall blocked the road down to the mill, and from the house I watched a number of men from the town dig through a drift that was fence high before they could get their loads of grain down to the mill to be ground.

As to the site of the mill, the place you reached last summer was, I am quite sure, what is marked on the old maps as the Old Dock, that term dating back to the days of the first forty-years of the settlement. At that bend in the creek the current has always scoured out a deep place so that vessels of some size could lie safely and could unload or load quite close to the edges and firm dry land which extend westerly from that point for about two hundred feet. It is a matter of historical interest that at a very early date the town reserved the free use of the ledges to the freemen of the town for drying fish for all time. About fifty years ago the then owner of the land allowed two persons to build small camps on the ledge, but there was prompt protest on account of the ancient reservation and the camps were soon removed.

The vote of the town permitting the erection of a tide mill extinguished the docking right at the "Old Dock." The mill site is at the end of a road, now only three ruts, that branches off in Y fashion to the right, close by the old red house that you noted. The three rut lane is hardly safe for the present day low hung car, but you can safely reach the location of the mill by driving as you did last summer to the Old Dock; at that point turn sharp right and drive up to the high ground back of the ledges to the three rut lane overlooking the site of the mill, and also the new landing a little farther to the right. If the tide is low you still see the remains of the dam and you know that you have the right spot. Quite a part of the dam was torn out when the mill was taken down to let the water flow off more quickly. It is possible to find some fragments of the old grinding stones, which are easily identified by the chiseled grooves on the working face.

I saw the mill only during brief visits to my grandparents in the course of three years before it was taken down. My memory may be at fault as I try to describe the structure and some of the operations that went on.

The mill was built over the stream, not on the bank, with the sluice gates and water wheel underneath. There was a narrow footway along the upstream side from which to open or close the gates; I call that a part of the mill although not protected by the house. The undershot wheel referred to by Uncle Dow in his history as put in after the date of 1834 was gone before I came around. It was perhaps replaced at the time of the 1855 rebuilding when Grandfather returned from his five years in California. When I knew the mill it had a horizontal wooden turbine power wheel which I was permitted to watch through a trap in the floor. I may mention that the winter ice cakes driven by tides and storms did much damage to the under water equipment, a danger not so affecting mills on an upland stream. This damage required somewhat frequent repair or replacement. The building was certainly unpainted; I think it was shingled. I would call it a one story structure, gable end to the land side, with one or two rather small square windows on the downstream side.

Along this side of the room under the windows was the bolting box with a hinged top the whole length. I sat on this box to eat my lunch, or kneeling on the box watched the changing ebb and flow of the water below. My cousins fished from these windows in the swift water below; sometimes I failed to share their glee when a big eel came up and slithered rapidly all over the floor. However, to get back to the work done in the bolting box: within the box a long shaft was fitted with skeleton wheels at short intervals, and around the wheels was a cover of bolting cloth, a little coarser than cheese cloth. The meal from the grinding stones could be fed inside this cylindrical bag at one end, and as the shaft turned, the finest flour was sifted out into the open box while the coarser particles worked their way to the other end of the box. The bolted flour, was used for the finer grades of bread. This flour was of rye or cornmeal by my time, as the western mills were by my time sending the wheat flour to the coast area in more uniform quality that our mills could produce.

A considerable part or the floor space was taken up by the big grind stones. I do not clearly remember more than one set. (See Dow under date of 1818). The grain brought by the farmers was dumped at the door into a hopper from which a belt conveyor with tin cups scooped it up and carried it up to one of several hoppers above. From each of these storage hoppers a wooden spout led down to the central hole in the upper mill stone. As the stone turned under the fixed upper stone the grist was directed by the angle of the grooves toward the periphery of the stone and was led by a spout to the waiting mouth of a bag. The miller must watch the bag and be ready for a quick shift with an "empty." By feeding from two or three hoppers to the stones, it was possible to produce a mixed meal in any desired proportion.

There were several windows, three or four, in the upstream side of the building to watch the work going on. And when the stones became dull from use it was necessary to sharpen the lower one cutting the main grooves deeper and freshening the shallower grooves feeding to them. Once when I went alone to watch Grandfather at work I heard a sharp pounding in place of the grinding noise. Inside I found that Grandfather had rigged the big wooden crane over the top stone and with pulleys and windlass had lifted the stone and swung it one side. With plain window glass spectacles to protect his eyes he was using a stone chisel and hammer to freshen the grinding surface.

The door, of ordinary size, and the loading platform were on the land end, and I think there was a narrow sheltering roof to keep rain off when loading the wagons. I remember on one occasion when the tide was very high the water was running perhaps a foot deep over the dam and roadway. A nervous horse was much fretted by the rushing stream over his feet. The building was very commonplace and drab in its appearance. I do not know of any photograph, but that does not bar the possibility. About ten years ago, my cousin, the late Clarence Johnson, who played and worked at the mill from this earliest recollection showed the some photographs of the centennial year, 1876, and among the pictures were some of Grandfather's house and his own house, the white cottage, opposite. I think he had none of the red house, but it is possible that the tide mill was taken at that time. I think that his half sister, who is Mrs. Eugene Nudd of Boar's Head may have pictures. Her father was the last owner of the mill and she is one of the last persons who knew the mill. I wish that she might edit and correct my very hazy memories.

Operating the tide mill was more exacting on the owner's time than in the case of an upland stream mill. Since the tides change around the clock it may he necessary to grind in the night. If the miller had several cows the milking times became irregular, or that duty might fall on the wife and young children. Still as the miller's toll was paid in the proportion of two quarts of meal per bushel it was almost certain that he would keep a barn full of animals with all the labor that implies.

When Grandfather went to California for five years, my father, the oldest of the boys, was fifteen and a half, his next brother was fourteen and the others were nine and six. My father and the next brother carried on the heavy farm work, which meant, for example, doing all the mowing by hand. They ran the mill as trade required, day or night, attended the Academy and studied their lessons as they could, and prepared themselves for Dartmouth, my father entering in '55 and my uncle two or three years later. I think my uncle got in part of his seagoing before he went to college. Ha sailed on some coasters and was half owner and skipper of one schooner trading country produce to Boston. His copy of Bowditch's Navigator is still in the old house. If the mill owner did not need all the grain he earned, there was a convenient way to dispose of such surplus by loading it on a boat at the mill door with such other farm products as turnips, potatoes and apples, and with favorable wind they six hours later. If winds were very unfavorable, it might take a month for a round trip. The call of the sea was strung and my Grandfather built at last one schooner beside the mill, "in his spare time," probably with the help of his boys and his brother. There was always a good chance to sell boat and cargo as well, and make double profit.

When my uncle did go to Dartmouth, the civil war was soon to begin, and he enlisted three times, getting in some college between terms in service, and finally graduated in '64. He may have gone down to the sea in ships again before he started West and grew up in Kansas City. In the case of both boys the mill was a good school master, for they did well in college and in their respective lines of life work.

P.S. I'm very certain that there was a stove in the mill. Stoves came to Hampton within my father's memory. He was born in 1834. Pity the miller before that time if no heat in winter!

The following information written by Mr. Perkins on February 15th, 1949, adds to the foregoing history of the old Tide Mill.

"Two years ago the gap where the Perkins Mill stood was cleared of loose stone and the bed logs of the mill foundation show better than I remember the small extent of the mill structure."

E. K. F.