The Oldest Grist Mill in Texas

Trip Start Oct 15, 2006
Trip End Jan 01, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Oldest Grist Mill in Texas

Records show that by 1794 the Franciscans built a grist mill and located it outside the walls of San Jose near the church by the acequia. By this time the natives had become good Spanish citizens. Everything had been changed for these people, except for one thing; their diet. Spanish ladies and gentlemen eat only wheat, not corn. Therefore a mill had to be built to reduce wheat to flour.

Entering the mill you see a very simple mechanism. Wheat is put into a hopper and is fed into a shoe.

There are two mills stones weighting three hundred and fifty pounds apiece. Both rough on top and smooth on the bottom with grooves (farrows) cut into them. The top stone is called the running stone and the bottom one the stationary or bed stone. They are placed so that the two flat sides come together, but do not touch. They are separated in distance by the thickness of a piece of paper. The wheat is fed into the eye of the running stone by the action of a stick (known in Britain as a damsel) which bounces along the rough surface of the running stone and vibrates the shoe releasing a small amount of wheat at a time. The wheat settles on one of the farrows of the bed stone and the running stone starts cutting it like a scissors. Thinks of the action of your home blender or coffee mill. The cutting there is done by steel. Here stones, made of quartzite, do the cutting. There is no grinding at all. The wheat works its way between the stones, being reduced more and more as it goes. It finally comes out a small chute and falls into a bucket. This is called the run of the mill. The miller takes some of the wheat between his thumb and index finger and tests the fineness of the run. This is called the miller's rule of thumb.

The entire process is done by water power. The most important structure in the Mission is the acequia, the irrigation ditch which brought the water from the San Antonio River to the 300+ acres of farmland. The majordomo, the person in charge of the workings of the acequia tells the miller that the people need flour today. The mill can produce sixty pounds of flour per hour. Only a couple of hundred pounds of wheat would be milled in a day, because the flour would become rancid within a few days without refrigeration.

The miller would open the sluice gate which diverts the water from the acequia to the forebay, a ten foot deep pool. At the bottom of the pool is a gate, which is opened and closed by a long pole. When the gate is opened, the water under all that pressure rushes through the gate down the flume and strikes the horizontal water wheel, causing it to spin. The wheel is connected to the running stone by a metal spindle. This simple design was taught to the Spanish by the Moors before the Spanish evicted them from Spain.

A few things more about the mill. Notice the stones. They move counterclockwise. The only countries this happens in Europe are Spain and Portugal. The stones are thought to have been mined in France at that time.

What is original? We know for certain that the bottom seven feet of the forebay and all of the stone work below the ground is original. We are pretty sure that the stone are also original, because they were found near the acequia during the archaeological dig during the 1930s and good quartzite stones will last for more than one hundred years..

The mill has been operational since 2001 and produces flour five days a week (Monday and Tuesday closed). Pioneer Mills on San Antonio furnishes the wheat and we give the flour back to them. They, in turn, donate it to farmers who feed it to their animals.

In conclusion, what does this tell us about the Spanish and the French. First, eventhough the French and Spanish did not play well together, they continued to trade with each other. Second, the Spanish sank a lot of money into making these towns viable. They bought quartzite stone, the most expensive ones in the world.
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