by Steve Dryden
Way back in the last century, there was a restroom at Peirce Mill – actually next to the Peirce Barn, but it did serve the purpose of making it easier to “use the facilities” without crossing Tilden Street and walking to the picnic pavilion. When the mill was restored, and the landscape altered in 2011, the dilapidated old restroom was torn down.
Passersby have probably noticed this winter that a small, cinder-block structure has taken shape at the same place the old comfort station sat. Yes, a new restroom is on the way! It will be covered later with siding to make it blend in with the mill’s style. The National Park Service has had the project on its agenda since the mill’s reopening, and moved ahead when funding became available. The restroom will have separate facilities for men and women, and is projected to open in late summer. The cost: $740,000, due in part to the expense of connecting the building to sewer lines up the hill.
In other unfinished business, the Friends of Peirce Mill has launched a capital campaign to complete the restoration of the machinery inside the four floors of the mill. The machinery is known as the “Evans system,” after its inventor, Oliver Evans.
This secondary, and quite complicated part of the mill was mostly left untouched during the earlier work, during which a new waterwheel was installed, the wooden gears were repaired, and the enormous round grinding stones put in place.
The Evans system includes a series of grain elevators, sifting drums, and a cooling mechanism that together automate the production of flour. This breakthrough substantially reduced the number of workers needed to run the mill, and became the standard system at mills in the U.S. and Europe – one sign of the Industrial Revolution. The components are all powered by the energy of the exterior waterwheel, a design that reflects the genius of the Delaware-born Evans (1755-1819), who received the third patent issued by the U.S. government for the invention.
One of the most prolific and influential early American inventors, Evans also designed the first high-pressure steam engine, as well as a crude amphibious vehicle. He spent much of his later years, however, pursuing mill owners whom he believed owed him for violating his patent rights. Angered that the courts didn’t always support him, Evans went to the U.S. Congress for relief, and got it, through a limited extension of his patent. The act was signed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1808.
The price tag for the work on the Evans system is approximately $300,000, and will also include structural repairs to the Peirce Barn, which currently serves as a visitor center and office for the Friends of Peirce Mill. It is expected the National Park Service will contribute one-half of the cost, with the Friends required to match that amount.
In the nine years since the mill re-opened, more than 3,000 schoolchildren have attended educational programs, and overall visitation now surpasses 13,000 annually. DC Greens, a nonprofit food education organization, has given its “Farm to School” stamp of approval to the mill, and now lists the mill on its website as one of the agricultural sites in the region that actively engage students, acquainting them with a wide variety of plant and animal species, and drawing the connection between plants on the farm and food on our plates. The mill’s historic fruit orchard, based on the extensive orchards cultivated by the Peirce family, features heirloom apple and pear trees. The orchard is the only such agricultural resource inside the District of Columbia.
Last year, Casey Trees donated 129 trees to fill in spaces around the Peirce Mill estate, continuing the improvement of habitat in Rock Creek National Park. Many trees went to the meadow (just up the hill from the barn), which has regenerated itself with an impressive array of native grasses. The mill and its environs have become a model of balancing open historic space with targeted restoration of an environment damaged by overuse in the centuries of human occupation.
Coming up this year at the mill:
March 21: Rock Creek Morris Dancers celebrate the coming of spring with a free performance
April 11: First Milling Day (Corn is milled every second and fourth Saturday until the end of October.)
April 25: “Herring Heroes” – Children’s activities coinciding with the annual migration of the native fish upstream on Rock Creek
May 16: Art Barn Reunion and Open-Air Painting Event
June 6: Tea Party
June 27: Square Dance
July 25: Ice Cream Social
Sept. 12: Children’s Day and puppet show
Oct. 10: Heritage Day, featuring music and Americana demonstrations
Nov. 14: Cider Gala
Steve Dryden is executive director of the Friends of Peirce Mill. More information is available at friendsofpeircemill.org.