Saturday, April 9, 2016

Bark Mills

There were many types of mills on Delmarva; they ranged from saw mills to grist mills, one type, not often thought of was the Bark Mills.  The Bark Mill would grind bark into a powder, which was shipped to a tannery to be used in tanning hides.  In our area Oak bark was favored because of the high tannin levels in oak.  The bark is about 10% tannin and the oak wood is about 6 %.  The color of tanned hides from oak bark is usually a yellow brown color.

Since a bark mill was sometimes part of a saw mill operation and sometimes part of a tannery operation they were not often marked on maps in the 1800's, instead the title "saw mill" or "tannery" was shown on the map.  There were however bark mills that stood alone by them selves.

The Bark mill may have been as simple as this one shown above in Connecticut, almost similar to a sorghum mill operation only on a larger scale.  Sometimes the bark was ground by stone mill stones the same as flour and grain mill stones.

usually though purchased cast iron mills made to grind bark were used. 

The mill was turned by a mule (frequently a blind mule as all it had to do all day was walk in a circle).  Usually boys operated it by thrown bark in the mill than shoveling up and packing the powdered bark into barrels.  In turn the barrels were shipped to a tannery, (local or by ship to Baltimore) where the powder was watered down in vats and allowed to sit for several weeks to absorb the tannin in the bark and then the liquid was drawn off to other vats where hides were soaked in the solution it for six months to a year. 
 
 
 
In the July 24, 1880 "Salisbury Advertiser and Eastern Shoreman" Newspaper  is the above article about John,  a bark mill horse.

Interestingly in China in the 1800 and 1900's a blind man was used to push or pull the shaft on the grinder, as it employed the person and he worked cheap.

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