The Garland Mill, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a rare survivor of the type of water-powered sawmill that flourished by the thousands in nineteenth-century New England. Garland Mill is typical of its period and locale, having survived as a medium sized factory with a varied production. It has long been cited as the only commercial sawmill in New Hampshire that operates solely by waterpower.
Garland Mill was built in 1856 by Eben Crocket Garland (1817-1891), a carpenter who had come to Lancaster a few years earlier, after living in several towns of southern New Hampshire. Lying in the northernmost county of New Hampshire, Lancaster had been granted in 1763 and had seen the construction of several sawmills during the latter decades of the eighteenth century. The full exploitation of the timber resources of the town and others in the same region did not begin until the mid-nineteenth century. However, at that time the development of the water turbine provided a more reliable source of power than the waterwheel on small streams with a low hydrostatic head, while the extension of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad to neighboring Northumberland in 1852, and the Concord and Montreal Railroad to Lancaster in 1870 provided a broadened market for local lumber.
Garland and his son Charles enlarged and changed the sawmill several times to enable it to compete with comparable factories in the region and to meet the evolving demands of the marketplace. By 1870, after about a decade of operation, the mill represented an investment of some $6,000 by its owner. It employed six men and distributed a yearly payroll of $600. At that time the mill was powered by nine waterwheels which generated a total of seventy horsepower. The factory operated five saws, including one circular head saw, one upright (reciprocating) saw, one circular clapboard saw, and two shingle saws. Its annual production, though limited to about three months of actual sawing operation during the year, was some 250,000 board feet of spruce lumber, 250,000 shingles, and an indeterminate quantity of clapboards.
At that same period, New Hampshire had some six hundred and forty water-powered sawmills of the same type as Garland Mill, of which the greatest number, more than two hundred, were concentrated in the two northernmost counties of Grafton and Coos. Lancaster alone had five water-powered lumber mills; one water-powered mill for the production of piano sounding boards from the town’s extensive forests of large spruce trees; four water-powered mills for making potato starch and one for the manufacture of starch casks; one water-powered door, sash and blind factory; and several other prospering mills which used the town’s streams for motive power.
By 1875, Garland had added chair manufacturing to the mill’s production. Garland also manufactured other furniture, advertising “bedsteads in any quantity, kitchen and loafer’s chairs a hundred a week, bureaus, sinks and other furniture” at the same period.
In 1877, the Garland Mill was damaged by fire and was promptly rebuilt on an enlarged scale with modernized equipment. By 1880, Garland was operating his mill nearly full-time during eight months of the year, providing work for six men on ten-to-twelve-hour days, seasonal work for six more, and paying $1,175 in yearly wages. Garland was employing his own crews to do much of the logging for the mill, and was converting the timber into some 450,000 board feet of lumber, 100,000 shingles, and 80,000 barrel or cask staves each year. He had introduced a gang saw of ten blades, the second-largest such saw in the township. He had modernized his power source, replacing the nine wheels of a decade earlier with four Blake turbines of varying sizes, which produced a total of seventy-five horsepower from a head of sixteen feet. Although some other mills in Lancaster were using Tyler turbines, manufactured in Claremont, NH, Blake’s wheels, made in Pepperell, MA, had long been the favorite in Lancaster and were used in four of the town’s six water-powered sawmills in 1880.
The coming of the railroad to the Lancaster area had provided a market for the town’s forest products. The construction in 1887-88 of the Kilkenny Railroad, a logging line, to the very headwaters of the Garland Brook quickly depleted the timber supply upon which the Garland Mill and other small water-powered factories depended. Such mills were quickly transformed from profitable businesses to marginal operations, and many were abandoned. In 1888, Charles Garland, Eben’s son, sold the Garland Mill to William B. Alden. Alden eventually sold the business to his son Harold, who operated it until 1974, when he retired and sold the sawmill to Tom Southworth. Tom and his brother Harry ran the mill since then, recently selling the mill to their sons Ben and Dana, making this the third set of multi-generational family owners and operators of the historic mill.
The motive power of the Garland Mill has changed somewhat since Garland’s installation of Blake turbines in the 1870s. Until recently the mill machinery was powered by a Houston turbine, manufactured in Wisconsin in 1873. To improve efficiency, this has been supplanted by an S. Morgan Smith turbine of 1938 vintage, taken from a former grist mill in the area. Although Garland Mill has had turbines made by various manufacturers over the years, the type of motive power has never changes, nor has the mode of power transmission through shafting and belts. The sawmill thus retains its architectural and technological integrity as a Civil War era factory, one of the last operating examples of its kind in New England.