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Bisbee Mill Museum

by Charles A. Bisbee and Paula White on August 13, 1998

In the absence of diaries or other notes, it has been necessary to read and reread the old deeds involved and try to interpret them in the absence of more complete explanations of certain transactions; from conversations with my father, Charles A. Bisbee, Sr., 50 years ago, from the few notes which he did make and from information submitted by other family members and local historians. In this, I appreciate the help of my good friend Paula White in piecing together various details of the transactions.

In 1823, a deed from Bela Stetson to Elisha Bisbee, dated December 8, 1823, recorded in the Registry of Deeds, Book 53, page 411, has a description of the parcel of land in part as follows; "Beginning at a stake and stones a little west of the said Bisbee's new mill, ----." The deed describes the parcel on which the original section of the Mill Museum was erected. It also agrees with other information concerning the building of the canal in 1823.

The original location of the gristmill is believed to have been the one referred to in the deed from Nathan Storrs to Elisha Bisbee, dated March 24, 1820, which was on the East side of the Dead Branch and a sawmill on the West Side. This is the same property once owned by Benjamin Pierce and Benjamin Pierce, Jr.

There was a pond created by a dam in the Dead Branch which supplied water for both the grist mill and the sawmill. This pond was just west of the present mill pond.

The grist mill is believed to have been moved to a location two rods north of the original shop building between 1823 and 1835 and used water from the canal along with the new wood-turning mill. There is evidence of a structure having been there and a tunnel of sorts indicating a possible raceway to the Dead Branch. This conclusion is drawn from the deed transferring the shop ownership to Orin and Osman Bisbee.

It also established the occupation of Elisha, Orin and Osman Bisbee. The grantor, Elisha Bisbee, lists himself as a "Millwright". This is a man whose occupation is planning and building mills or setting up machinery. One who takes care of and maintain equipment in a mill. A "Wheelwright" is a maker and repairer of wheels and wheeled vehicles." (Webster's Dictionary) The differentiation of the two occupations makes it clearer why Elisha retained the Grist Mill and Orin and Osman, and later others, pursued the wagon and buggy wheel making in the shop.

The canal provided water for the grist mill and also the woodworking shop but apparently by separate flumes. There is reference in one of the deeds that the grist mill would have first priority, then the wood-turning mill which indicates that there could have been two waterwheels or early type turbines to operate same. Also a gate to shut out water from the wood-turning mill when the grist mill was used. The deed transferring the so-called woodworking or "Turning Shop" to Orin and Osman Bisbee dated April 3, 1835, stated that they have "the priviledge of using the water from the canal on which shop is located at times when there shall be a surplus of water over and above what is necessary for the use of said grist mill or any machinery equivalent thereto". This indicates that the grist mill was moved from the original location between 1823 and 1835. No further reference can be found to a grist mill on the East side of the Dead Branch.

At a subsequent date, not recorded, after Orin became involved, the grist mill was moved to it's present location thus using only one waterwheel or turbine. A guess would be that it was between 1854 and 1859.

There is also evidence in the deeds that the original sawmill on the West side of the Dead Branch was still in existence as late as 1859 when the canal and present mill pond was built.

On March 12, 1841, Elisha Bisbee deeded to Elisha Bakers, Jr. and Daniel E. Baker, his sawmill on the West side of the Dead Branch which also included a broom handle shop on the South End of the Sawmill and a small homestead situated a few rods West of said stream. These buildings would appear to have been located between the present building and the Dead Branch stream. On February 26, 1844, the said Elisha Baker, Jr., and Daniel E. Baker deeded the property to Orin Bisbee, who at that time considered himself a "Carpenter".

In reference to the "small homestead" referred to above, if I remember correctly there used to be an old well just south of the old shed which was east of the present museum building. This could have been the water supply for the small homestead referred to. It is also logical to believe that lath and plaster were on some of the walls of the small homestead.

History tells us that at times, old grist mills also had lath and plaster. Therefor, it appears logical that when the grist mill was moved and attached to the shop building that parts of both buildings could have been used to create the new so-called Grist Mill addition to the east end of the original shop. Timbers indicate that they were used elsewhere prior to their use here. Also the siding on the shop as well as the west end of the grist mill building indicates that the building came from elsewhere. Probably taken down and re-erected at this location.

There is also reference to a separate blacksmith shop building owned by Orin and Horatio on land owned by Horatio. My theory is that the separate blacksmith shop was always used especially in reference to horse and oxen shoeing, but Orin found that he needed a small blacksmith operation nearer to the wheel-making activities and thus installed the chimney and forge on the second floor over the gristmill.

That separate blacksmith shop shows up again in the deed from Orin Bisbee's heirs to Horatio in 1888. A quote from the deed is as follows, --"Also a blacksmith shop now standing on land of said Horatio with all the tools belonging to said shop". It can be noted that in cleaning the blacksmith area in the Museum, there was little evidence of tools used in horse and oxen shoeing. A news item in the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 1889, one year later that the blacksmith shop burned included the tools and stored whip butts.

Inasmuch as there had to be a stairway all ready in existence to reach the top floor of the woodworking shop area and apparently existed where the trap door was and is still located, he did not need to make another stairway to the blacksmith shop area. There of course is no date for this happening but it could have been soon after the grist mill was built or at the same time, witness the placement of the chimney which also shows up in pictures taken in 1862. My thought is the blacksmith shop in the museum dates to the 1854-1859 period.

As I reread these old deeds with their boundaries, it now is uncertain to me as to whether or not there ever was a flood that washed out the original dam on the Branch which flooded the so-called pond bed. For reference to this I refer to a deed dated the fourth of April, 1854, concerning the sale of the property to Orin Bisbee and Calvin Damon in part as follows: "---easterly by the Dead Branch so-called and the Mill Pond containing two or three acres more or less and being all the land which I now own on the West side of the Branch and Mill Pond and the same on which my old grist mill stands."

The 1859 deed referring to the description states in part, "---thence northerly along the line of said proposed ditch at such line as shall raise the water three feet above the water level of the 'big rock' so-called in said Bisbee's old mill pond."

These two deeds would seem to establish the fact that the old mill pond was still in existence as late as 1859 as that was the time when the new mill pond and canals were supposedly made. There appears to be no reference to any flooding out of the old pond as indicated in the Bicentennial History as being in 1835. It could have flooded out and rebuilt but this is doubtful as the shop canal was in existence since 1823 and it seems they would not have rebuilt the old one in the same location.

I do not believe that we can develop any line of ownership up to 1888 without using a little logic and conjecture as to what happened based on the information stated above and in the deeds referred to. From that date on, until 1919, everything was owned by Horatio Bisbee.

On January 1, 1919, the partnership of Charles A. Bisbee, Sr. and Homer R. Bisbee owned the entire property operating under the firm name of Bisbee Brothers. In January of 1955, it became a Massachusetts Trust under the same name.

From the above I believe that the initial shop building was built in 1823, the grist mill section between 1854 and 1859, the southwest addition in 1888, the rest of the front section in 1929, the back section in 1954.

Trying to determine the dates of the grist mill stones is a little difficult. The deed from Orin Bisbee to Horatio Bisbee dated May 1, 1868, deeming a one-half interest in his property, reference is made to "the two-run or set of stones in the gristmill--."

As the grist mill was moved between 1854 and 1859, it is logical that the two sets of stones then came into existence, as it was only a few years later that the reference to the number of stones appeared in a deed. It is conceivable that the northerly-most bottom stone could have been the original one coming from the East side of the Branch. If so, it could have been in operation as early as the late 1790's.

At least one or perhaps both stones in the southerly stones could have been replaced around 1919 or 1920.

In old pictures, a building is shown on the west end of the shop, now the museum. This was called the "Hearse House" which belonged to Orin Bisbee. This was subsequently moved to become the center stall in the three-car garage now owned by the Monroes.

Because of the many items of agricultural and industrial interest given to the Chesterfield Historical Society, it was found that additional space was needed in order to properly house such items. As ideas were being explored it became known that the old shop building owned by Bisbee Brothers was available for Museum purposes. This seemed the ideal solution and in December 1995, this building with its old grist mill, woodworking shop and blacksmith shop --and space to display items already in the possession of the Historical Society-- was accepted and deeded to the Historical Society for $1.00.