St. Johnsville stone mill B&B on the market
By Catie O’Toole
From the moment Judith and Ron Hezel saw
the towering stone building with secret tunnels and cascading waterfalls
in Upstate New York, they knew they had found their new home.
But the Hezels also knew they had a lot of work to do when they
purchased the 1830s Stone Mill in St. Johnsville, a four-hour drive
from New York City, Boston and Niagara Falls. Twenty-five years
after beginning their journey to turn the historical mill into a
bed-and-breakfast on the Mohawk River inlet of Timmerman Creek,
the Hezels are ready to retire. They are selling the 1835 Stone
Grist Mill, along with a carriage house that can fit three cars
(or four carriages) and a guest cottage that overlook a private
gorge and waterfalls. The four-bedroom 1894 Mill House across the
street can be purchased separately.
“It’s time for a new chapter
in our lives where we’re not working so hard,” Judith
Hezel said. The couple is moving just up the hill, and hopes whoever
buys the “INn by the Mill” bed-and-breakfast, at 1679
Mill Road in St. Johnsville, will invite them back from time to
time. “We’d love to see a restaurant because then we
could continue to come to the mill,” Hezel said. She added,
however, the possibilities are endless. “It could make a wonderful
yoga retreat because it’s so serene,” she said. “Maybe
someone still wants to do the B&B or maybe someone will want
to have it as their own private retreat. It can be anything.”
Hezel also suggested the
old stone building might lend itself to a microbrewery.
“It’s a neat
place to live,” she said. The mill, originally powered by
a 30-foot overshot waterwheel that spanned three of the four floors
in the building, produced stone-ground flour through the 19th century.
The waterwheel was replaced in 1898 with a more efficient water
turbine. The turbine and other machinery used as early as 1835 when
the mill began operation are still in the Stone Mill building. A
tunnel and secret rooms where runaway slaves sought refuge below
the basement of the mill also are intact today. A miller who owned
the property in the 1800s helped the escaping slaves hide under
his tarp when he went to and from the barge to pick up grain along
the Mohawk River and Erie Canal.
“Since the millers here knew other
millers all the way up (the river toward Canada), they knew who
you could trust,” Ron Hezel said. “A bunch of slaves
would come here and wait until a barge was going to the next mill
further up, to somebody you could trust. It took a big faith on
the part of the slaves because you don’t know who you’re
talking to. You might be here a day or less, or you might be here
a week or so. The (idea) is not to be found out.” Escaping
slaves traveled to and from the mill through the underground tunnel
that ran 2,000 feet along the creek downstream to another mill,
which no longer exists. The rooms below the basement floor kept
them safe, and allowed them to rest while they waited for the next
barge that led them one step closer to freedom, the Hezels said.
The great-grandson of A.E. Seaman, the miller
who helped the escaping slaves, let the Hezels look at and copy
a 700-page diary that details life at the mill from 1881 to 1919.
The Hezels, who have tried to preserve the history of the mill,
say the new owners can have a copy of the diary, if they want. Roller
milling machines used to grind buckwheat flour and later, animal
feed for local dairy farmers; the driveshaft that used to run the
mill; the original willower that separated the grain from the chaff;
and all other parts of the mill will stay. A Jacuzzi on the top
floor, a piano, and a grandiose baker’s kitchen with double
stoves, a 15-foot solid oak counter with a built-in bookcase and
rock maple islands will remain. So will a hot tub spa that overlooks
the cascading waterfalls and gardens outside.
“You look out the windows and there
are waterfalls,” Judith Hezel said. “In all the different
seasons, it’s just a spectacular view.” In the winter,
the falls can freeze and ice formations hang. But when the temperature
rises, the ice breaks and “there’s an incredible explosion
of ice,” Ron Hezel said. “It blasts and the water flies
all over. It’s very exciting.” As the ice breaks, stones
tumble and break apart double-pointed quartz crystals commonly called
Herkimer Diamonds. Located near the Adirondack foothills, the Hezels
said the 3.74-acre property has plenty of “diamonds”
in its park-like setting with more than 20,000 perennials that bloom
each spring. One guest found a quartz crystal the size of a duck
egg, the Hezels said. “They are incredibly beautiful,”
Ron Hezel said. “When you dig, you will find the stones all
over the place. At night when you walk out with a flashlight and
it’s a little misty, they shine and visitors pick up diamonds
on the way back to the house.” When the Hezels first saw the
property in 1988, it had been neglected for years. Garbage and broken
furniture was stacked to the ceiling in some spots. There was no
electricity or plumbing. And there were no bathrooms inside. But
they saw its potential.
“The Hardy Boys would have loved it,”
Ron Hezel quipped.
Hezel, a retired teacher and school administrator who lived in Downstate
New York, was still working at the time so he and his wife drove
150 miles every weekend to slowly restore the old stone mill. He
replaced the roof and all 37 windows. He added electricity, and
installed bathrooms, the large kitchen and maintenance area –
still keeping pencil and chalk writings from the late 1800s intact.
Judith Hezel scrubbed the original hardwood floors, and planted,
on average, 2,000 perennials each year in the gardens. Today, there
are more than 20,000 tulips, daffodils and other perennials planted
on the grounds. They also carefully sifted through the junk inside,
searching for treasurers – such as one miller’s trademark
stencil and milling machinery -- that would help keep the mill’s
history alive for years to come.
The Stone Grist Mill complex was named to
the State and National Registers of Historic Places in the mid-1990s.
Today, it remains an example of the pre-industrial, water-powered
Rendering of Mill in its prime.
The waterwheel is an inaccurate depiction.
Pen and Ink drawing by www.GordyArt.com
Mill complex based on old prints and photos.
Pen and Ink drawing by www.GordyArt.com
Mill complex based on old prints and photos.
We have on hand the
Diary of Mr. A.E. Seaman the Miller of the Grist Mill covering the
years 1881 - 1919, Copied from the original 700 page ledger.
The Stone Grist Mill construction
started around 1830 and was completed in 1835. The Mill opened for
business on February 20, 1835 and produced Flour & Animal Feed.
The tunnel is three feet square
and about 1,000 feet long. It is constructed of large square boulders
on the top and sides that sit on the bedrock.
The grounds are set in a park-like
setting overlooking cascading waterfalls and extensive gardens.
The Mill overlooks private waterfalls and gorge. Views from the
Cottages show the deer feeding in the woods across the waterfall
The Sanders' Ferry starting
point was on the Mohawk River. It was located at the foot of Mill
Street, now west St. Johnsville. Mill Street is now called Mill
Road. At one time it crossed the Mohawk Turnpike and ran to the
The ferry was probably serviced
by someone named Sanders who may have kept a canal grocery on the
opposite bank of the river, and fronting the canal. Canal groceries
were numerous before the building of the Barge Canal and their owners
did a thriving business with the boatman, they furnished hay, wood
and groceries as well as whiffle trees and repair parts for harnesses,
because horses and mules provided the power for the canal boats.
For years, there was also a
canal grocery at Countryman's Lock, one mile east of the village,
kept by Joseph Kyser ( not the Kyser House proprietor). There was
another at Mindenville Lock, kept by Henry (Buckeye) Winnie. There
were several others between here and Little Falls and all along
Under the date of March 28,
1839, James Klock, Jacob H. Flander and Benjamin Groff being commissioners,
an entry reads: "Application by persons residing in said Town
of St . Johnsville, and liable to be assessed for highway labor
therein, having been made to the Commissioners of Highways of said
town, for the laying out of the alteration of the highway leading
from Messrs. Leonard & Curran's grist mill to the Mohawk Turnpike,
and thence to Sanders' Ferry, across the Mohawk River. " Then
follows the surveyor's technical description of the road in which
he mentions "a stake and a stone in the ground in the Mohawk
Turnpike in front of Daniel Leonard's dwelling house." From
this it is clear that Daniel Leonard lived at the four corners and
that the grist mill of Messrs. Leonard and Curran was what was later
known as Beekman's Mill and then McCrone's Mill. Mr. Curran lived
on the farm which now belongs to Stanley Shuster.
The highway records for 1839
definitely establish the partnership of Leonard and Curran in the
operation of the old grist mill, but from 1838 to 1841, inclusive,
the assessment of highway labor on account of the joint ownership
appears to have been against the partners as individuals. In other
words, the assessment against each represented the assessment on
his home property, plus his tax liability on the mill property.
In 1838 Daniel Leonard was assessed 40 days, and James Curran, 26
days. In 1842 and 1843, the partnership is recognized by the commissioners
and the property assessed accordingly. In 1844, there is no partnership
assessment, and the name of Daniel Leonard disappears from the list,
and an assessment against James Curran and Samuel Sadler indicates
joint ownership of the mill. That same year, the name of Anthony
Beekman (1798-1864) is listed and in 1845 the firm of Anthony Beekman
& Co. appears to be in possession of the property. Anthony Beekman
was succeeded by his sons, Noah W., Benjamin and John Groff, under
the firm name of Beekman Brothers, who also conducted a grocery
and feed store in St. Johnsville for many years.
In June, 1884, A. E. Seaman
took possession of the old mill and operated it until October 1,
1921 when it passed into the ownership of McCrone Brothers. Mr.
Seaman operated the mill for 37 years, the longest period under
On acquiring the property, Mr.
Seaman learned the history of the ancient structure, and recalls
that it was built by Leonard and Curran, and that a memorandum made
by the original owners, or by some workmen, showed that the mill
was completed in February, 1835. Mr. Seaman also recalls that Samuel
Sadler was the first miller employed and that his home was at Ingham's
Mills, to which place he returned when Beekman Brothers entered
into possession of the mill after the death of their father. Loami
Beekman, another son of Anthony Beekman, but not a member of the
firm of Beekman Brothers, was employed as the miller by his brothers,
until the property passed into the hands of Mr. Seaman.
The mill, at the time it was
built, was regarded as one of the finest and best equipped flouring
mills in the State. In the early part of the last century, wheat
growing was one of the most important products of agriculture in
the Mohawk Valley. Local flour had a fine reputation for its quality
and was in great demand.
The milling of wheat was a profitable
business. In the early days, when money was scarce, the farmers
paid for the grinding of their grain by giving the miller one-tenth
part of the grain offered for processing. Each mill had a measure
holding exactly one-tenth of a bushel which was used in the tithing
process and the portion deducted by the miller was known as "toll."
In Mr. Seaman's day as miller, most of the
farmers paid cash for the grinding. During this same period the
local farmers stopped growing wheat and became dairy farmers. The
shortage of local wheat forced Mr. Seaman to install roller machinery
for the grinding of buckwheat flour. Farmers had begun to raise
this grain and it was milled in large quantities at the old mill.
The shift to dairying also made it necessary to grind other grains
One of the outstanding mechanical features
of the old mill was the large overshot water wheel that furnished
the power for grinding. It was 30 feet in diameter and 8 feet broad,
built around a shaft or axis that was a foot and a half thru, all
poised on metal bearings. Along the face of the wheel were wooden
pockets that filled as water was admitted from the raceway. When
the weight of the water was sufficient, the wheel began to revolve
and transmit power to turn the heavy "upper and nether millstones"
to produce the flour.
Because of the severe winter weather in this
section, the wheel was enclosed in a wheel house. Even with this
precaution, ice did form on the wheel in very cold weather.
When Mr. Seaman displaced the old mill stones
with the roller machinery, he also removed the old mill wheel and
installed a modern turbine. This furnished greater and more dependable
Amish Farms & Markets
Antique Shops & Fairs
Barge-Canal Locks - Including the only Historic
Double-Lock left in the state.
Beardslee Castle - Fine Dining
Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame
Fort Klock & Fort Johnson
General Herkimer’s Home
Herkimer Diamond Mines
Howe's Cavern & Others
Indian Castle Church
Memorial Shrines & Spa
Saratoga Race Track
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