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,
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
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
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
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.