One of the things that I like about getting off of the interstate is that I stumble across pleasant surprises when I drive along state highways. For example, when I visiting the town of Oneonta, NY in September, I took a drive along NY Route 23 east from town I noticed a sign for the “Hanford Mills Historic Site.” Having a couple of hours to pass and a very willing passenger, I turned off of NY-23 and into the past.
Two-and-a-half miles along the Meridale-Davenport Center Road (County Road 10) is the Hanford Mills Museum. This lumber and grist mill is over 150 years old. It has been fully restored, and today it functions as both museum and working lumber mill, providing specially made lumber and finished pieces. It is a working museum, using the water power that was put in place over 100 years ago.
The original sawmill was built in 1846, and in 1860 it was bought by Daniel J. Hanford. At that time it was a water-powered mill, using the nearby Kortright Creek for power. The mill draws water into a millpond that sits about 4-5 feet above the height of bottom of the creek as it flows downhill. This height difference is used to power a water wheel that sits in the basement of the mill house. The turning of this wheel powers the all of the equipment through a series of belts and wheels.
The mill became truly profitable when the Ulster and Delaware Railroad passed through the property. The railroad went from Kingston, NY on the Hudson River to Oneonta, passing through the heart of the Catskill Mountains. The rail line served a support to both the growing tourist industry and as a way to ship food and goods to the rest of the country via shipping on the Hudson River. The U&DRR passed right through the Hanford Mill’s property. This gave the Hanford family an easy way to grow their business.
In 1895 the Hanford family added a large furnace and steam engine. This allowed the mill to operate year round. Regardless of whether the pond was frozen in the winter or low during a dry summer, the furnace powered the mill. In the early 1900’s the mill began producing milk crates, and added grind stones in order to begin preparing animal feed from oats, wheat and corn. Later in the 20th century, a gasoline motor was added to the mill. The Mill also became the town’s first provider of electricity.
The Hanford Mills operated until 1967. It closed, but reopened that year as a museum. Today it is chartered by NY State and is open from May 15 through Oct 15th. It offers guided tours of the facility along with special event days. One of those is the museum’s Ice Harvest Day which is held on the first Saturday in February – 2/4/17 next year. Blocks of ice will harvested from the millpond and stored until July 4th when they will be used to make ice cream during the Independence Day Festival.
Drive up to Catskills. Enjoy some beautiful scenery and visit some historic sights. Get off of that interstate and watch for those signs that show where to stop.
Getting There – From Oneonta, NY – take NY-23 east from town for 8.5 miles. Turn right onto Meridale-Davenport Center Road (county road 10). Travel 2.5 miles, then turn left onto Doonans Corners-E. Meridith Road (county road 12). The museum will be on the left.