- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

There are dozens of places along Route 7 in western Fairfax County to get a bagel, a croissant or a loaf of bread.

There is only one stop, however, where visitors can get a look at how grain once was milled to make such items. The Colvin Run Mill Historic Site, located at Colvin Run Road and Route 7 in Great Falls, mixes historic architecture with the science of a water-powered mill and the art of turning corn, wheat and barely into fine flour.

The Colvin Run Mill was built in the early 1800s and for decades was one of two dozen mills in Fairfax County that made flour to be shipped locally, nationally and internationally.

The grounds take visitors back to a time when life was indeed slower and nature provided the mill's power. The building has been restored to show how the mill worked nearly two centuries ago. Its contents include a replica of the overshot water wheel, the 24-foot wheel that powered the mill; 3,000-pound burr stones used for grinding the flour; and the series of pulleys, levers and grain elevators that made the mill work.

"This is a little patch of land here in Northern Virginia that is like stepping back 100 years, says Jim Hogan, a volunteer docent at the site, which is owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority. "Mechanically, the mill preserves the past very well. The people who built and used the mill were very scientific. They understood horsepower before its time."

From 1883 to 1934, the mill was owned and operated by Addison Millard and some of his 20 children, says Mary Allen, the mill's volunteer coordinator. At its peak, the mill produced nearly 8,000 pounds of flour daily.

The mill then sat empty until 1965, when the county purchased the property which is believed to have been owned by George Washington and set about restoring it. It reopened in 1972 as an operational water-powered gristmill.

The mill is awaiting more renovations, including plans to replace the 30-year-old waterwheel, a project that should be completed by spring. In the meantime, flour production has been suspended. Even so, the mill is still a pleasant place to remember the past.

"The art of making one of these wheels has been somewhat lost," Mr. Hogan says of the water wheel, which spins on an axle made of solid oak. "We need to take it apart and see how it was built."

Though tours of the mill are the heart of the historic site, there are other things to see and do there as well. It has a well-stocked general store where penny candy, crafts and books on the history of Virginia, Fairfax County and the United States can be purchased. During the first weekend of December, the mill holds a children's shopping day, when volunteers help children select and wrap presents.

There are a barn and blacksmith shop, both of which were built in the 1970s as reproductions of 19th-century life.

Near the mill is the miller's house, built in 1809. It and the grounds have been restored and turned into a museum and garden. The museum gives a good look at the rural lifestyle that once prevailed in what is now one of the District's most affluent bedroom communities.

Visitors can observe how the millrace (the riverlike run that powers the mill) ends in a pond that is home to geese and ducks. Duck feed is available for purchase at the general store. A shaded picnic ground is on the other side of the property.

The mill is wrapping up its summer activities schedule, which featured storytelling and ice-cream making. The fall schedule will begin Sept. 2 with woodcarvers offering free lessons.

Other events include an autumn festival Oct. 14, which will feature cider making, quilting demonstrations and a performance by the Fairfax Symphony German Band; a scarecrow-making event on Oct. 20 and 21; and a Halloween festival Oct. 28. Puppet shows for preschoolers are presented every Thursday at 1 p.m.


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