If old Maryland mills are your thing, then you’re in luck with the publication earlier this year of veteran Baltimore County historian John W. McGrain’s latest book, “Old Maryland Mills: A Portfolio.”
This is not McGrain’s first book on mills. Earlier works include “Grist Mills in Baltimore County, Maryland,” “Mills: Grist, Saw, Bone, Flint, Fulling … & More,” and “Jones Falls: Powering Industry That Propelled Baltimore.”
McGrain took his first mill photograph more than 50 years ago when he visited the Jerusalem Mill on the Little Gunpowder Falls River near Kingsville.
Built in 1772, the mill remained in business until 1961, when it and its surrounding village, which is said to be one of the most intact such industrial mill sites in the nation, was purchased by the state. It is an integral component of Gunpowder State Park.
In the ensuing years, McGrain has traveled the back roads of Maryland, hunting up mills that were located along streams and rivers that turned their huge milling wheels, while recording important historical details about their operation and function.
Many were abandoned, shuttered, or just a pile of collapsed lumber and bricks, remembrances from better days, but McGrain, for the historical record, photographed them anyway, for posterity.
As is his custom, McGrain has scoured archives and libraries for additional historical images and broadsides advertising the products they produced from lumber to milling of grains and flour.
He is up front about the ways that owners exploited African-American slaves for the mill business. He reproduced an 1815 newspaper advertisement in the American placed by Solomon Allen, who owned a mill on Liberty Road, west of Baltimore that stated: “I have Negro man, a good miller, that will be rented with the mill.”
McGrain ends this fascinating book, fittingly, with an epitaph for a miller: HERE LIES THE COLD BONES OF MILLER BROWN / HE DIED IN HARNESS AS THE STONE WENT ROUND / IT WAS A VERY SAD DAY / WHEN HE PASSED AWAY / HIS TIRED OLD BODY HAD SLOWLY GROUND DOWN