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 Village of Asbury in Franklin Township, Warren County. Since the Mill's construction as a gristmill along the Musconetcong River between 1863 and1867, the building has characterized the early industrial might of New Jersey. An early water wheel, and later, a turbine powered the first 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
Gristmill 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.
Gristmills evolved through the centuries, but the basic concept uses huge millstones to grind grain to produce wheat flour for baking bread and corn meal. Many American gristmills have been preserved or renovated and are in use today. Some are now museums that preserve the story of the early entrepreneurs who ran them.
The original Asbury Mill was built in the 1770s in Hall's Mills along the Musconetcong River. In 1796, Bishop Francis Asbury helped lay the cornerstone for the nearby Methodist 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 completed in1867.
During the American Industrial Revolution, an important American enterprise was born. The new mill was constructed of stone, with a lime stucco exterior finish on 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 in the mid-19th century and modeled after Oliver Evans' patent for "automated grist mills". Powered by a water wheel, this original mill in Delaware was the first continuous flow production line mill in the world. An early 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."
Over time, railroads were introduced and agricultural brokers used rail freight to convey the grain to larger, more efficient mills closer to population centers. Mills at the end of the freight line quickly replaced the small, local gristmills.
In 1895, entrepreneur and visionary Harry M. Riddle saw an opportunity to lease the Asbury Grist Mill and convert its machinery to process graphite. Later on, during the First World War, graphite was in high demand since it was needed to lubricate weapons as a component of gunpowder for military use.
An interesting part of Riddle’s conversion was the replacement of the wooden water wheel with a cast iron horizontal turbine in the basement of the mill. A replacement Leffel turbine, which remains today, was installed in the 1920s.
The mill remained in use into the 1970s, well after most graphite processing was moved across the river in what is now Asbury Carbons. In 1999, 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 is being restored to re-purpose this historic building as an interpretive center and convening space.
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.
The building is now secure and weatherproofed. New interior structural members and flooring have been installed. The exterior restoration includes re-pointing the masonry, repairing the stucco coating, and replacing the doors and windows. Code compliant safety measures will make the Mill safe for public tours and gatherings.
Interior systems (electricity, HVAC, and plumbing) currently need updating. Eventually, a full interior restoration will complete the building for adaptive re-use.
Once completed, the ground floor will serve as a meeting space and classroom with a portion of the area dedicated as exhibit space. Our present aim is to use the upper floors for MWA’s offices and additional meeting space.
One goal 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 make a vibrant contribution to the local 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 also appreciate any donations of your time to assist in this exciting project. To make a donation, please click the button above or reach out to Tom Dallessio, MWA Executive Director.