Pennsbury Mill at Hilandale Farm is a historically significant twentieth-century hydro-electric and pumping mill located in picturesque Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Owned by John Danby, a Wilmington, Delaware, banker, the mill and dam were built in 1919 by the Fitz Water Wheel Company before a commercial supply of electricity was available in Chester County. The technology was simple: water flowed from the dam through a race to the wheel which was connected to a generator. The resulting electricity powered lights for the property’s house and barn. The execution of the mill, however, was quite complex. Numerous calculations and extensive planning were required before construction started. Nevertheless, the completed mill was considered state-of-the-art. The Fitz Water Wheel Company used its image for advertising, local electricians Garrett Miller & Company had photographs of it on their office walls, and there was government interest in it as a prototype.
Unique Historic Resource
Dawson Mill’s importance lies in its uniqueness – although grist mills were plentiful in Chester County, hydro-electric mills were rare. To restore Dawson Mill to its original generating capacity and to preserve its ten acre tract would be to save an important cultural and historic resource in Pennsbury Township. The rustic design of the mill corresponds to the early twentieth-century “back to nature” trend; its physical appearance is a mature expression of the arts and crafts movement.
The mill was extensively restored to return it to its 1918 state. There is a new cedar shake roof, repaired windows and doors, and new buckets on the water wheel. The pond was dredged to increase velocity of water through the raceway to turn the wheel. The raceway was cleaned out and the pipe restored. Footbridges, stone retaining walls, stairs and footpaths were constructed. All mechanical works were restored. Lighting, security, fencing, parking, signage, and restroom facilities were installed.
Pennsbury Mill “is an excellent site in terms of preservation, history, waterpower resource, and physical beauty,” says Robert A. Howard of Anchorage Productions of Wilmington, DE, the contractor responsible for the restoration of the mill. The documentation and research process took him through the archives of the Pennsylvania Department of Dams and Waterways as well as Hagley Museum in Wilmington, DE, home to the records of the Fitz Water Wheel Company of Hanover, PA, which planned, designed and built Pennsbury Mill.
The educational program for the mill was developed by the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District’s science teachers and Coordinator of Elementary Education Mr. Thomas Marinelli. Designed for 4th and 5th grades on electricity and its history and aspects, children are able to watch as flowing water is transformed into direct current power. Educational opportunities abound—students will learn about the water cycle and electricity and will gain an understanding of the physical mechanics of the mill by studying its levers, gears, belts, and pulleys. Math skills will be used to calculate the yield of electricity from falling water.
Planning Your Visit
Pennsbury Mill at Hilandale Farm is located on Fairville Road, just off Route 52 in Chadds Ford, PA. It is operated by the Pennsbury Township Historic Preservation Commission, 702 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, PA 19317, 610-388-7323.