Water wheels turning on an old mill make for a pretty, nostalgic picture on calendars or greeting cards.

SOUTH STERLING - Water wheels turning on an old mill make for a pretty, nostalgic picture on calendars or greeting cards. There was a time when this was the scene of industry, and the abundance of mills on the south and east branches of the Wallenpaupack River valley have been chronicled in a book by Diane B. Smith.

An active member of the Greene-Dreher Historical Society and editor of their public quarterly journal, The Greene Hills of Home, Smith will be available for a book signing hosted by he Society, Saturday, October 14. This will be at the Society’s headquarters and museum, Peggy Bancroft Hall, on Route 191 in South Sterling. She will be available to sign copies of the book, “Mills on the Wallenpaupack” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This is part of the Society’s “Jammin’ Jelly” Open House

Richly detailed

Richly illustrated maps and vintage photographs, her research is detailed in extensive text throughout the 236 page book.

The story begins in the early 1800’s when the first settlers built gristmills and sawmills to serve local needs to the early 20th century when the local lumber supply was exhausted. Large flour mills also were dominating the Midwest. These factors help lead to seeing local mills disappear one by one. The last stick factory, F. A. Madden & Son, remained in operation until the 1950’s.

The mills created jobs within the mills and in support industries. This strong economic base and jobs market allowed those local villages to become independent economic centers, supporting a growing population.

“The Greene-Dreher Historical Society has a long history of publishing, beginning with our founder, Peggy Bancroft, and we feel that this book is an outstanding achievement for both Diane Smith and our organization,” said Ellen Drake, board member, in a press release.  “Very few historical societies of our size, with only a volunteer staff, have produced such a library of publications.”

How this started

Asked about why she wrote this book, Smith stated, “A couple of years ago I interviewed Tom and Frank Madden for an article about F. A. Madden & Son, the last "stick factory" in the area to close its doors in 1955. Having spent some time with the woods crew, at the sawmill and on the factory floor when they were growing up, the brothers were able to describe the operations in great detail. This piqued my interest in documenting other mills in the area. When I started I had no idea there would be so many!”

“I thought it was interesting how vital these water-powered mills were to peoples' lives, not only here but across to the country,” Smith said. “Families depended on the mills for the lumber to build their homes and farms, the flour to bake their bread, the leather for harnesses and shoes, and for the countless small items needed in everyday life when almost everything was made of wood.

Dangerous calling

“It's a part of our history I hadn't really thought much about and I enjoyed learning about how the mills operated and the role they played in the development of our area. It seems like owning and operating a mill, and working in the lumber industry, was a calling for the men who performed such dangerous work. In the face of fire, flood, and accident, they rebuilt their mills and factories and went right on working. Ownership often remained in the family, passing on to sons, grandsons and even great-grandsons, until such time as the local forests were depleted and the industry followed the railroads west.

“I wanted to shed light on the earliest chapter in the settlement of our area—the era of the water-powered mill,” Smith continued. “The gristmills and sawmills built along the Wallenpaupack and its tributaries were engineering marvels of their day. I wanted to explain how the mills were designed and operated, how they used the water flowing in the creeks to power the machinery to grind the grain, saw the logs and shape the lumber. I also wanted to describe the families who owned and operated the mills and the workers who ran them day-to-day—these were the men and women who founded and influenced the development of our communities.”

Bluegrass music

The “Jammin’ Jelly” Open House also includes a bluegrass jam session with local musicians throughout this free event.  There will be a homemade jam and jelly sale featuring 14 different varieties.  The hall museum, barn museum, and the outdoor exhibits will be open for the public. 

Hot dogs and apple cider doughnuts will be served.  All proceeds and donations will support the Greene-Dreher Historical Society and its mission to preserve local history.

Visit the Greene-Dreher Historical Society site for information, directions to the hall, and the remaining 2017 events at www.greenehs.org or on Facebook. The Open House is sponsored by 2017 business partner, Tammy L. Clause, Esq.