Restoring the Asbury Grist Mill
Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, as part of the Asbury Historic District
The Asbury Grist Mill forms much of the early industrial character of the Franklin Township, Village of Asbury. Since the mill's construction along the Musconetcong River circa 1865-1867 as a gristmill, the building has characterized the early industrial might of New Jersey with its use of water wheel, and later, turbine to power the early machines of industry.
The Musconetcong Watershed Association is committed to preserving the Asbury Mill and to raising public awareness of the rich social, agricultural and industrial heritage of the area.
Bringing history to life through preservation
Grist mill technology arrived with the earliest European settlers. Streams flowing through the region made it ideally suited to the early mills. By the mid-19th century, the area was dotted with self-contained, water-powered, grain-grinding factories.
Grist mills evolved through the centuries, but the basic concept is the use of the huge millstones to grind grain to produce flour and meal for baking bread. Many American grist mills have been preserved or renovated and are in use today. Some have become museums that seek to preserve the story of the early entrepreneurs who ran them.
The original Asbury Mill, built in the 1770s, existed in Hall's Mills in what is now called the Village of Asbury. In 1796, Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury helped lay the cornerstone for the church. In 1800, the name of the settlement was changed to Asbury in his honor. The original mill, which ground wheat into flour, stood until a new mill was constructed in 1885 and converted to mill graphite.
As the American Industrial Revolution was underway, in the quiet Village of Asbury and important American enterprise was born. A new mill replaced the original and was constructed along the Musconetcong River, circa 1865. The building reflects the early influence of New Jersey with its use of water wheel, and later turbine, that powered the first machines of the Industrial Revolution.
The new mill was constructed of stone with a lime stucco exterior finish on at least 3 sides. It rises up 5 levels, including the basement. Below the basement level is the mill raceway and tailrace, which runs through stone arches at each end.
Many mills in New Jersey were modernized and modeled in the mid-19th century after Oliver Evens' patent for "automated grist mills". Powered by a water wheel, this was the first continuous flow production line mill in the world. An early English book describes the mill: "Mr. Oliver Evans, an ingenious American, has invented... a flour mill upon a curious construction which, without the assistance of manual labor, first conveys the grain... to the upper floor, where it is cleaned. Thence it descends to the hopper, and after being ground in the usual way, the flour is conveyed to the upper floor, where, by a simple and ingenious contrivance, it is spread, cooled, and gradually made to pass to the boulting hopper." The product was not touched by human hands from the time the grain was dumped into the receiving hopper until the finished flour flowed into a bin ready for packing into barrels or bags."
As New Jersey farmland converted to residential use, grain farms that supplied the mills were the first to disappear. More efficient power sources and mass production quickly replaced the small, local grist mills.
In 1895, entrepreneur and visionary Harry M. Riddle saw an opportunity to lease the Asbury Grist Mill and convert it and its machinery to process graphite. Later on, during the First World War, graphite was in high demand since it was needed to manufacture weapons for military use.
An interesting part of the conversion was the replacement of the wooden water wheel with a cast iron horizontal Leffel turbine - which remains in the basement of the mill.
The mill remained in use into the 1970s, and then the business began to concentrate in the building across the river in what is now Asbury Carbons. In 1999, the MWA was gifted the mill by the Riddle family, the owners of Asbury Carbons, with the hope of seeing it restored.
New Jersey is home to many unique mills, some are constructed of stone, some timber, and others, a combination. They generally fall into a few categories: working, abandoned, and re-purposed. The Asbury Mill restoration is designed to re-purpose this historic building.
MWA is working to preserve and transform the mill to honor its past while providing space for today's needs. As this endeavor continues, it will become a leading example of smart growth, preservation, and environmentalism.
Plans to restore the mill include waterproofing the building, completing flooring, and adding security features - making it safe for public tours. The exterior restoration includes re-pointing the masonry, repairing the stucco coating, and replacing the doors and windows.
Interior systems also need updating (electricity, HVAC, plumbing), windows and doors, and eventually, a full interior restoration for adaptive reuse.
Once completed, the ground floor will serve as a meeting space and classroom with a portion of the area dedicated as exhibit space. The upper floors will be converted to office space for the MWA.
One of the goals for the mill is to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status. Plans have included green measures throughout the property. When fully restored, this historic mill will once again become a vibrant contribution to the Asbury community.
All of these projects take time, effort, money, and imagination. We invite your interest and help. Each of us has a part to play in saving a segment of our past and making it a part of our future.
Over the past few years, MWA has received several grants, which are partially funding the restoration. More fundraising will be required to complete the project. Help us preserve the Asbury Mill. Please donate below.
We invite you to join us in supporting this project! Donations will be gratefully accepted and put to good use. We would also appreciate any donations of your time to assist in this exciting project. To make a donation, please click the button above, and scroll to "Asbury Mill Challenge" on the online form.