Dexter Grist Mill in Sandwich, Massachusetts
In 1640, according to Plymouth Colony Records, the colony granted Thomas Dexter six acres in Sandwich to build a grist mill on Shawme Lake. The mill, which Dexter ran remotely, was immediately a success. Like other seventeenth-century factories, it was powered by water. A single water wheel, located where Shawme Lake emptied into Mill Creek, provided enough energy to power the entire mill.
During the Industrial Revolution, Dexter’s Grist Mill took on new importance. In the early nineteenth century, new factories processing wool and producing woolen cloth, marble, and glassware began to open in Sandwich. These factories brought more people to Sandwich, which increased the demand for the cornmeal produced in the grist mill. During the town’s industrial boom, its other factories depended on the grist mill to provide food for their workers.
To improve efficiency, Dexter’s Grist Mill replaced its wooden water wheel with an iron turbine in 1856. During the Industrial Revolution, new iron production processes made new machinery, like the iron turbine, easier to find and less expensive to install. The iron turbine produced more power than the water wheel in a shorter amount of time.
In the late nineteenth century, industry began to decline in Sandwich. Factories in Sandwich faced fierce competition from factories located in places where resources were more abundant, and labor was cheaper. The factory that produced marble, which was located just east of the grist mill, stopped producing marble and began repairing wooden wheels, then producing jewelry boxes, then making paper cards and tags.
As people began to leave Sandwich to find work elsewhere, the demand for cornmeal declined and the grist mill closed. In the 1960s, the town restored the mill to its early nineteenth-century glory by reconstructing the undershot wooden water wheel and installing authentic nineteenth-century grinding wheels from France. Today, the mill produces freshly ground cornmeal the same way it did before the Industrial Revolution.
Many people visit Dexter’s Grist Mill not for the history, but for the picturesque view. The mill, which is located in the center of Sandwich’s historical district, sits on the tranquil waters of Lower Shawme Pond. Where the lake meets the mill, a beautiful cut-stone millrace directs rushing water through the mill’s water wheel and into Mill Creek. It’s not uncommon to encounter wedding parties and other groups taking photographs in this beautiful historical spot.
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