Looking for a fun little afternoon adventure or a step back in time? Let’s drive to Chester and check out the Nathan Cooper Gristmill.
Most libraries have museum passes that you can borrow, which let you visit a local museum or attraction with your family for free. I’ve been good at taking advantage of that this summer, and lately, I’ve been going beyond just our local library, and using the passes at our county library as well. Each library has slightly different passes available, so your library card is really a passport to all sorts of fun adventures.
And last week, it brought us to the Nathan Cooper Gristmill in Chester, New Jersey. Built in 1826, it is one of the few, still-operating water-powered mills in the state of New Jersey, and it’s listed (and protected) on the State and National registers of historical places. The Morris County Park Commission bought the property in 1973, and opened it to the public in late 1978. Retired General Nathan Cooper originally bought the mill in 1878 for $750 (!) and built onto the mill to create the four-story structure you see here today.
Easy to find using the Waze app, we pulled into the mill parking lot. There was a large white house on one side of the parking lot, and the mill on the other. I wasn’t entirely sure where we were supposed to go, and it wasn’t really marked, but for everyone else…? Check in at the white house. Tours are given all day by a costumed master miller, with the last tour at 3:30 pm. They last roughly forty-five minutes.
Our guide started us at the Black River, which is, of course, the water source for the mill. We followed the water over the plume and then entered the gristmill, where all the action happens. Once you’re inside, the miller started up the water wheel and explained how it works. It’s amazing to think that the entire process is powered by water … zero electricity. The wheel (and its associated gears and shafts and whatnot) can pound out up to 800 pounds of flour per hour. Per hour! Crazy.