Location: Willow Mill Road, adjoined with Willow Mill Park.
The Conodoguinet Creek powered many mills. The mills of Cumberland County were
the small industrial centers of their time. Besides grain, cider, nails and wood, these mills
refined products such as sumac leaves, which were made into tanning and dyeing
materials. Distilleries were also located at a number of these sites. In 1840, The
Conodoguinet Creek provided the power for more than 140 mills throughout the county.
But by 1909, only 13 mills remained, and today the industry is largely forgotten. Huston
Mill, still standing, is one of these remnants of the past.
The history of Huston Mill begins in the late eighteenth century. This mill along the
Conodoguinet Creek was supported by a rich agricultural economy. John Walker,
Esquire, constructed the first mill between 1793 and 1795. Walker purchased 150 acres
from James Irvine. Walker was taxed for a gristmill and acreage in 1795. By 1802,
Walker built a sawmill and a forge on the property. The exact appearance of the original
gristmill is unknown. The mill water was powered with an interior wheel turned by water
flowing through the millrace and tailrace arches in the east and west walls. Millrace is a
channel in which water runs to turn the wheel driving the machinery in a mill. Tailrace is
a lower millrace that provides a channel for water to flow out.
John Walker became indebted to Robert Coleman and John Arthur. In 1809, the Walker
property was transferred to Thomas Fisher and Jacob Halderman through a sheriff’s sale.
Halderman later sold his share to Fisher. In 1814, Fisher acquired an additional 193 acres
from Joseph Miller and his wife Margaret Irvine. Tax records indicate that Fisher was
taxed for a gristmill, a sawmill and four houses in 1820. A covered bridge, south of the
mill at Fisher’s Ford was completed in 1824. The covered bridge burned in 1938.
In 1835, George H. Bucher became owner of the property. Bucher expanded to include a
clover mill by 1841 and a plaster mill in 1844. Bucher also owner a farm nearby and by
1850 had three tenant houses and a mill house.
In 1880, the real estate was transferred, including the mill to James S. Huston. The mill
burned twice during Huston’s ownership. In 1881, the mill was entirely destroyed by fire
with large amounts of grain and flour, plus the miller’s home. The mill was rebuilt in
1885 after a second fire. This rebuilt mill is the current structure standing near Willow
Mill Road. Photographic documentation from the last quarter of the nineteenth century
and early twentieth century depicts the mill with six over six sash windows, a brick
chimney in the southeast corner used for a stove in the miller’s office, and a wood
shingled roof. The chain of title is incomplete from Huston’s ownership into the
twentieth century. The milling operation ended either in the last decade of the nineteenth
century or the first decade of the twentieth century.
In 1929, Annie W. Huston sold the farm to Raymond E. DeWalt and George Messinger
for $50,000. DeWalt invented the DeWalt radial arm saw in 1929. DeWalt also
conducted a machine shop class at Mechanicsburg High School in the 1940’s. In the
1930’s and 1940’s, the DeWalts operated a restaurant and inn on the property. During
this time, a recreational and amusement park was created. Willow Mill Amusement Park
closed in 1989.
In 1995, Silver Spring Township bought a large parcel of central property. The Mill,
along with one acre, was donated at this time. In 1996, the Friends of Willow Mill
formed. In 2008, the Friends of Willow Mill began a Capital Campaign to convert the
Mill into a Community Center. A groundbreaking ceremony was held at Willow Mill
Park on April 26, 2009.