- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

Northern Virginia's close association with high technology dates back to the 18th century, when George Washington embraced the latest marvel: a gristmill.
The Mount Vernon Estate has reconstructed the mill that Washington built on his plantation in 1771 as part of a $1.2 million project. The gristmill will open to the public today.
The gristmill building was reconstructed in 1933 by the state and operated as a state park a mile or two down the road from the Mount Vernon mansion. But it drew only a few thousand visitors a year.
In 1996, the state approached Mount Vernon about taking over the gristmill building. It agreed but decided the only reason it would want the building was if it held a working mill.
Estate representatives spent the next five years researching and building the mill to the specifications of the time. A water wheel powers the gears that turn the stones that grind the grain into flour.
"This was one of the highlights of 18th-century technology," said Gus Kiorpes, the master carpenter on the reconstructed gristmill. "This is a hard-working, efficient machine with an incredible amount of power. This is the nuclear power plant of the 18th century."
Mr. Kiorpes said the woodworking required extraordinary precision.
"The gears were definitely the most difficult aspect," he said. "If the teeth don't mesh precisely, things would start snapping off. There's not a lot of room for error."
Mount Vernon Associate Director Dennis Pogue says he is optimistic that about 10 percent of the 1 million annual visitors to Mount Vernon will make the short drive to the gristmill, which also encompasses the site of Washington's whiskey distillery. Archaeologists are combing the distillery site for artifacts and clues that will help them reconstruct the distillery. They hope to begin construction on that site in 2004.
"Mount Vernon was a working plantation, and people don't always get to see all things associated with that," Mr. Pogue said.
The gristmill and the distillery show Washington's entrepreneurial side. As a farmer, he was never enchanted with tobacco, which ruined the soil, was labor intensive and had to be exported as a raw product to England.
He switched to grain and quickly came to the realization that he could make even more money if he milled the grain himself. Other farmers would pay Washington to use his mill.
The mill trailed only the farm and the distillery as Mount Vernon's most profitable venture. By 1798, a year before his death, Washington made a profit of 277 pounds, the equivalent of $25,000 today, from grinding 275,000 pounds of wheat into flour.
Some concessions to modern times had to be made in the mill's construction. In Washington's day, workers dug channels from the river to the mill to fuel the water wheel. The reconstructed mill uses a recycled water source.

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