Delaware by Day: Abbotts Mill Nature Center

Ever get confused by all of the “Mill” names in Delaware? We’ve got Milford, Milton, Millville, Millsboro, Milford Crossing, and even tiny Milltown along Mill Creek in Wilmington. 

Once you get to know the general history of the prevalence of mills in the First State (although Milton and Milford were primarily shipbuilding towns), you gain an appreciation for the role of agriculture and the mills throughout the state. 

Historian and expert on Delaware mills, Steve Childers also teaches classes for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), and is passionate about one historic mill in particular. Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, located near Milford features a restored and working grist mill open to the public for tours. It’s not to be missed! 

As Childers explains during his class, the original mill was built in 1795 and utilized the adjacent 20-acre damned pond, roaring water turbines and traditional grist stones that ground wheat and corn. Soon, however, the mill utilized a new patented invention: roller mills.  

Instead of stone grinders which produced course meal, rollers were far more sanitary. Most importantly, rollers separated the bran (outer layer of the wheat) from the inside – producing snow white, fine flour which was suddenly in high demand. The rollers revolutionized the milling industry practically overnight because of the demand for “pure” white flour. 

The roller technology was invented and patented by Delaware native Oliver Evans. His patent was only the third ever issued in the US; the patent was signed by none other than George Washington! Both Washington and Thomas Jefferson embraced this new milling technique in their own mill properties, even paying royalties to Evans. Modern mills still use this technology. 

What eventually became Abbott’s Mill changed ownership several times until Delaware native Ainsworth Abbott purchased the mill in 1919 and operated it with his wife Ann for over 40 years, surviving storms and devastating flooding in 1935.  Despite having only a fifth grade education, the Abbotts were well known throughout the area for their high grade flour, corn and buckwheat.  

Visitors can experience a visit to the delicately restored working mill every third Saturday of the month from March through November. Forty-five minute tours are given at 1, 2 and 3 pm. Private and group tours can also be arranged. 

The Abbott Nature Center is owned by Delaware Nature Society. More information on scheduling tours is available on the mill’s site. 

An informative weekly blog about mills throughout Delaware (also includes sawmill, sorghum and other grain mills ) is co-written by mill expert Steve Childers and Paul Layton, who writes about Delaware flora and fauna. 

Take the opportunity to learn the significance of all of those “Mil-“ towns in Delaware in an easy half hour drive to Abbott’s Mill. Enjoy!  

By Bridget Fitzpatrick, Resident Journalist

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