Hampstead author Joan Prall takes Carroll County's ancien mills and old schoolhouses seriously.
Both subjects have been grist for her own writing. And she lives on Lees Mill Road, named after a mill that has been on the site in one form or another since 1791.
Mrs. Prall, born in Pennsylvania in 1931, grew up in Hackettstown, N.J., and was graduated from Beaver College in Glenside, Pa., in 1952 with a degree in English, then worked as a teacher and technical editor.
"I never had any plans to be a writer," she recalls. But her first book, "Mills and Memories," published in 1985, grew out of mill-hunting expeditions after she and her husband George moved their family to Carroll County in 1965.
"I came to realize that this was a special place, and old mills and schoolhouses had been an essential part of life here," Mrs. Prall said.
"I interviewed 57 people who had been connected with mills and milling. I made hundreds of phone calls and heard from many others who either shared reminiscences or loaned material," she said.
"I even traveled to Philadelphia to interview a man way up in his 90s who once sold mill wheels for Hanover's Fitz Water Wheel Co. His entire dining room table was covered with miniature sample wheels."
One of her favorites is Roop's Mill, two miles outside of Westminster on Taneytown Pike. Built of red brick baked in a nearby meadow, the mill operated from 1795 until the 1950s. It remains in the Roop family today after nearly 200 years with a descendant who is thinking of converting it into a restaurant and museum.
Mrs. Prall said she has found locked or abandoned mills to be virtual time capsules.
Describing a visit to The Mill in Pleasant Valley, she writes:
"But before one sits on the chair, wait! The seat has departed. Near the desk are calendars outdated by 30 or more years. The sawmill operator's license is dated Aug. 2, 1950. And someone has played a trick, for the four-sided clock frame on the wall holds nothing but dust . . ."
After the mill book, Mrs. Prall said she was determined to do the same for the county's old schoolhouses. The result was "Schoolbells and Slates," published in 1990.
"People have a real fondness for schools," she said, "and I had no problem finding people to recall their days either as students or teachers."
Single-room and double-room schoolhouses really didn't vanish from the county until mid-century. Oakland Mills, the last one-room school house in the county, closed in 1953. In 1964, Robert Moton was officially closed as a segregated school. Parrsville, the last one-room school for blacks, closed in 1950.
The county's schools were built of brick, stone or wood and were often located near crossroads, but some were located on primitive roads -- some of which still exist, Mrs. Prall found during her research.
The research also revealed nearly 80, former one-room schools and seven two-room schools still in existence.
"This isn't surprising," she says. "They were built to last."
Springdale School near New Windsor and the Uniontown Academy in Uniontown, have been restored, she said, and sometimes are open for tours. Others are being restored and still others have been altered for other purposes. One even had its bricks recycled into a sidewalk.
"Schoolhouses are easier to visit because people live in them and they are interested in restoring them to their original condition," she said.
One of her favorites, Meadow Branch, was partially destroyed by fire last October.
"It really hurts when a school or mill is destroyed, because we have lost something from the fabric of our past," she said. "Vandals find abandoned mills and schools and then they wreck them. It's so sad."