I have often driven past Colvin Run Mill along Route 7 and finally made it a point to visit the property. Our family decided to make the most of our excursion by attending the Maple Syrup Boil-Down event. Quite a crowd gathered, but the parking lot is large. We paid our admission fee and were given a brochure all about maple sugaring and how we could do it at home. Bummer, there are no maple trees in my backyard.
Mason the miller gave a talk about the history of sugaring at Colvin Run Mill. After watching woodpeckers tap the sap from the trees, Native Americans realized the birds were onto something. The concentrated sap is extracted right from the trees, and boiled down over to remove water and insoluble sugars. The end result is delicious maple syrup. Since cane sugar was expensive coming from the West Indies, people decided to make their own maple sugar.
While I enjoyed the miller’s history lesson, I was disappointed with the experience. I expected to gather around the maple tree and watch the staff drill into the tree and watch the sap ooze out. All we saw were containers that said “Maple sap collecting – please do not touch” on a few trees. What you witness is a huge pot filled with sap being boiled over an open fire. Children can view examples of different kinds of syrup along with maple sugar crystals and tools used to extract the sap. I visited the website after going to Colvin Run Mill and saw a short video demo showing the actual process that I wanted to see in person.
The Colvin Run Mill and surrounding points of interest are a short walk on a gravel path. Adjacent to the blacksmith shop were two “coolers” filled with hot chocolate. Inside the barn are samples of mini cornbread muffins with an optional topping of maple syrup tapped from the trees on the property. An array of kitchen furnishings showed how much physical work went into preparing food by hand. The same philosophy applies to the work used to grind the flour and corn in the mill.
On one side of the barn are several copies of The Little Red Hen and Eric Carle’s Pancakes Pancakes. They were hidden next to a small replica of the Colvin Run Mill so none of the children noticed them. What did grab kids’ attention was a hands-on-history trunk filled with tools and items used by the Milliard Family, the last owners who operated Colvin Run Mill. If my daughter had a spoon I think she would have started to take up washboard playing! She thought the rug beater was like a tennis racquet. I picked up what I thought was an unusual candlestick holder until I read that it was a hog scraper.
The staff informed us that the 19th century water powered gristmill is not operational during the winter due to the cold weather. While the half doors to the building were closed, we were able to peek inside and get an idea of how the restored mill operates. On the first and third Sundays from April through October, see grinding demonstrations from noon to 3pm. Be sure to call ahead to verify that grinding conditions are available.
The diamond in the rough was the Colvin Run General Store. It was originally located across the mill on Colvin Run Road until developers threatened to knock it down and was moved to its current location. Walking into the store takes you back to the time period of the early 20th century when it was a prominent fixture in the community. From butter and spools of thread to a pot belly stove and chess board it was clear that the general store served the purpose of grocery, hardware supplier, post office and social gathering place. In fact all the artifacts hanging from the ceiling and displayed on the top shelves are authentic down to the antique cash register. Penny candy can still be purchased today along with a water mill 3-D puzzle and sundries. My child bought a bracelet for $1 and a candy stick for $.25. You can’t beat a price like that! The store also sells cold drinks, whole wheat flour, white and yellow cornmeal and grits ground at the mill. The two pound bags range in price from $3-$4. While you’re there, pick up a free brochure which features recipes using Colvin Run Mill grains.
Restrooms are to the side of the general store and have changing stations. If the weather is nice, pack a picnic as there are plenty of tables on the property. Down by the mill ducks and geese can be seen looking for bread from visitors. The park authority suggest the mill for ages 3 and up, but I would recommend this for school age students. The nice thing is that there are areas that would interest both younger and older children.
Colvin Run Mill is open every day except Tuesday from 11am to 4pm. You can walk around the grounds for free, but there is a fee to enter inside the actual mill. Guided tours are offered on the hour and cost $7 for adults, $5 for children and $6 for students. Note that the miller’s house is closed due to unsafe building conditions. There are discussions about renovating the home to its former glory.
Colvin Run Mill also host spring break camp, summer camp, and Girl Scout and Cub Scout programs. There are two more opportunities to attend the Maple Syrup Boil-Down on February 24 and March 3, 2013. The program is held from 12 to 2 pm and costs $3 per person.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.