Isaiah Younglove recognized the need, by the local inhabitants of what is now Chester Township, for a gristmill to grind flour for home use and a coarser meal for animal feed. While traveling across the Black River on the Washington Turnpike, he realized this area was an ideal site for water power. Above the Washington Turnpike, the Black River is very swampy and flat, a poor area for water power, but at the road the river begins to flow rapidly downhill for several miles creating an ideal site for water power. Isaiah built a gristmill and sawmill at this location. He began grinding grist for the local farmers before the 1760s. Isaiah’s mill was a custom mill. Farmers brought their grain to the mill to be ground to their specification. The farmers paid Isaiah for this service, and took their grist home with them.
Isaiah’s mills changed owners several times. In 1825 it was for sale to settle the estate of Elias Howell. Nathan Cooper was a business man and saw the opportunity to expand his business ventures into the milling area. That year he purchased the gristmill, saw mill, mill dam, mill wheels, including all the machinery, and 4 ½ acres of land for $750. Nathan Cooper tore down the old gristmill, replacing it with a larger mill capable of at least twice the production of flour. Nathan’s mill was a merchant mill grinding wheat into very fine white flour. His flour was probably sold as far away as Easton, Pennsylvania and Morristown, New Jersey. Nathan used many of Oliver Evans’s grist mill improvements.
Oliver Evans, an inventor of the late 1700s and early 1800s, revolutionized the flour milling industry by designing and building a gristmill that once started by water power, could run by itself, cleaning the grain, grinding it into flour, and bolting or sifting the flour, then putting the different grades of flour into bins to be bagged.
In the late 1800s the production of wheat had moved to the Great Plains in the Midwest. Gristmills followed right behind, increasing tremendously in size and run of stones. This was the start of some of the big flour companies, and the demise of the smaller mills in the east.
In the 1870s, Nathan’s son Abram took over the Cooper Gristmill, and by 1914 it had completely ceased grinding. In 1929 and 1930, square dances were held on the stone floor, the main floor of the mill. The band played on a platform installed over the millstones and the regulars danced on the rest of the floor around the posts. Over the years most of the machinery was removed
In 1963 the Morris County Park Commission (MCPC) became stewards of this 14 acre property.MCPC contracted Richard and John Federowicz to restore the mill. Operating one run of millstones powered by a Fitz steel overshot waterwheel, The Cooper Gristmill opened in October of 1978. Visitors could see the 16 foot waterwheel turn the millstones on the main floor and go down the stairs to observe the meal/flour coming down the chute into the meal bin. Over the years, many other restoration projects have opened up new sections of the building to the public.This includes: the miller’s office and the 2nd and 3rd floors with all the machinery for 2 runs of millstones. On the upper floors visitors can see the cleaners and bolter and bag hoist operating. All the additional machinery is still powered by the Fitz steel overshot waterwheel installed in the 1970’s.
By: L. Ivins Smithh III