always interesting to uncover the roots of a town or city. That
discovery is a bit easier when the town once had a mill. Obviously, a
17th century mill had to be in close proximity to water to run the
machinery necessary to create fabric, to grind grain or to saw wood.
Workers were necessary, and they needed living quarters, food sources, a
stable, a general store and a post office. Once the mill's product was
created, there was a need for manufacturing it into something else, or a
place to trade it. That is how individuals progressed economically and
socially into a township in the 1600s, and that's exactly how the Great
Mills area was established.
"At the birth of Southern Maryland, the son of the second Lord
Baltimore, Cecil, was granted 420 acres of land on both sides of the
head of the St. George River, later called the St. Mary's River by
1800," says Pete Himmelheber, researcher and winner of the 2007
Volunteer Saint Mary's County Historic Preservation Service Award.
According to Himmelheber, the two tracts of land were called The Mill
and The Mill Damn when granted in 1665. Charles' young son, Benedict
Leonard Calvert, fourth Lord Baltimore, acquired an additional 2,400
acres called Mill Manor in 1675. "This proprietary manor was upstream
from The Mill and The Mill Damn. Additionally, sometime between 1675 and
1681 a mill in the area was known as His Lordship's Mill. In official
documents the property was within a larger area known as St. George's
Back in those days, "a 'hundred' was the definition for an entire
district," Himmelheber adds. "Each district contained a jurisdiction in
which local government was performed by their own justices of the peace,
constables, a voting and taxing district, and assembly members
representing them in Annapolis."
From a 1790 survey map of the Mill Manor lands Himmelheber once studied
he said, "There once was a Great Mill and it was serviced by the Great
Mill Pond. This was the approximate location of the original Lordship's
Mill of Charles Calvert."
That same 1790 survey shows four millponds in the vicinity, including
Watts Mill Pond, Indian Bridge Mill Pond, Middle Mill Pond and Great
Mill Pond. A later map of the area found at the St. Mary's Historical
Society archive and dated 1823 portrays the area with one cluster of
buildings labeled Great Mill, on the Great Mill Pond, and the factory
located on Middle Pond, said Himmelheber.
The factory was a failed business attempted late in the 1700s to early
1800s. Sometime in the early 1800s the factory sold and was renamed The
Clifton Factory. Clifton Factory was a textile mill that was one of a
handful of St. Mary's manufacturing industries in the early 1800s.
However, they also manufactured flour and meal in the basement level of
the building. By 1828 there was a tavern with 11 boarding rooms as well
as the support infrastructure associated with a bustling town.
By 1834, the factory property was advertised for sale in a Baltimore
newspaper that gives a glimpse of what a 19th century industrial town
consisted of. The newspaper advertised the property as follows:
One factory house, three stories high and containing the following
departments, machinery and fixtures. One Cotton Gin, (20 saws)… one
Picker and the equipment for spinning woolens, two pairs of grist stones
and gearing. A Weaving House, Sulfur house, and a Saw Mill now used as a
warehouse, a Tan House with tools and fixtures. One Tavern with kitchen,
Smoke House, Dairy, Stables, a Tailor's House and shop, Shoemaker's
House and shop, Manager's House, dwelling house adjoining four other
houses for the hired hands and Store House with three rooms. Attached to
the Factory house is a tract of land, containing five hundred and twenty
acres, more or less principally, in wood, with one tenement, distant
less than a mile. The above factory and village are advantageously
situated, near the head of St. Mary's River, and less than a mile from
In 1879, William W. Cecil bought the mill once known as The Clifton
Factory and renamed it Cecil Mill on a handshake. The sale was recorded
in 1882. At the time of sale the property consisted of a grist and saw
mill, a dwelling house, a store house, a mill house, a blacksmith and
wheelwright shop, a carriage house, a corn house and a tenement house.
In 1890, Cecil purchased a mill just to the north called Indian Bridge
Mill to rid himself of competition. Indian Bridge Mill was situated on
the Indian Bridge Pond, and washed away in a flood in the late 1890s.
William W. Cecil then sold Cecil Mill to his sons John Thomas Cecil and
George B. Cecil in 1890. Around 1900, John tore down the upper levels of
the old Clifton Factory right down to the original 1810 foundation to
erect a new three-story mill. Both the grist and sawmill were powered by
water until 1927.
In the early 1900s, when flour brands like Lily, Sperry or Cherokee were
better known than baked bread from a manufacturer, the Cecil family
milled their own brand.
"They would often maintain a 24/7 schedule of grinding to accommodate
demand," said Regina Combs Hammett in an excerpt from St. Mary's County
Historical Society's monthly bulletin, Chronicles of St. Mary's.
"Usually customers would bring their own grain to them to have it
milled. The Cecil Mill was the first in St. Mary's County to install a
roller mill. The process produced five levels of useable products. The
first being bran, the second was middlings, which was used for pigs'
feed, the third was grudgins similar to buckwheat, the fourth produced a
dark flour used to make brown breads, and the last step was to sift the
flour through silk screens, which produced white flour. It took five
bushels of wheat to make one barrel of flour. Bran and middlings were
acceptable to the miller for payment."
The gristmill was converted to diesel power in 1927 and continued
serving the community until 1945. However, the saw mill remained open
and in working order until the sudden death of one of the owners and
operator H. Robb Cecil in 1959.
In 1978, the store and the mill were placed on the National Register of
Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior. They are part of
Cecil's Historic District, Inc., a not-for-profit educational trust. It
is open for tours mid-March through Dec. 30, seven days a week. The
diesel engine for the saw mill has been reconstructed and is
operational. In 2002, the double-overshot waterwheel was also restored
and is likely the last existing waterwheel that is still operational in
True to its name, the mill in Great Mills played an important part in
preserving the Cecil's business that became a town, which was once part
of the Industrial Revolution in Southern Maryland.