Stony Brook Grist Mill and Museum
The Stony Brook Grist Mill and Museum in Brewster was the first water-powered grist and woolen mill in the United States. Today, it’s the only structure that remains of Brewster’s Factory Village on Stony Brook, which was the area’s most productive industrial center for more than two centuries. The museum still features a functioning water wheel and a working loom and visitors can still purchase freshly ground corn from the gift shop.
In the mid-seventeenth century, Plymouth Colony Governor Thomas Prence purchased Stony Brook from the Wampanoag Indians in the area. Stony Brook, which flows south to north, pushes freshwater from ponds like Upper and Lower Millpond into Cape Cod Bay. The brook’s fast-moving water, as well as its proximity to the bay, made it the ideal spot to establish an industrial center on Cape Cod. In 1663, Plymouth Colony opened the first grist mill on the brook.
Two years after Plymouth Colony opened the grist mill, it constructed a fulling mill on Stony Brook. The fulling process involved washing handspun woolen cloth to remove lanolin and dirt. It pre-shrunk the wool and made it thicker, so it could be hand sewn into clothing. While the original fulling factory burned in 1760, the nineteenth-century textile factory that took its place was the first in the United States to produce factory-made woolen cloth from start to finish.
During the Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth century, the new textile mill and a number of other factories made Factory Village one of the most important industrial hubs in New England. By then, the village included the original grist mill, the textile mill, a tannery, a cobbler’s shop, a carding mill (for preparing wool), and a cotton mill. Brewster produced everything from overalls to mittens, paper to ice cream in these bustling factories.
Today, Stony Brook Grist Mill is all that remains of Brewster’s Factory Village. The grist mill that currently stands on Sandy Brook is not the seventeenth-century original, but a newer grist mill built in 1873 on the stone foundation that belonged to the fulling mill (in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) and the textile mill (in the early nineteenth century). The new mill combines the early history of Factory Village with the nineteenth-century innovations that transformed the village during the Industrial Revolution.
While Factory Village has seen a lot of change in the last three centuries, the brook that powers the village has mostly stayed the same. Every spring, for example, people still gather at Stony Brook to watch as thousands of herrings fight upstream against the rushing brook. These herrings, who are headed for freshwater spawning grounds like Lower Millpond, have been following the migration route up Stony Brook since long before settlers built the first factory.