Peirce Mill re-opened on October 15, 2011, milling grain for the first time in 18 years. Before the millwheel shaft split apart in 1993, the mill had informed generations of Washingtonians about early American technology and the agrarian past of the Nation’s Capital. The restoration project represents a new era: for the first time, a public-private partnership took responsibility for repairing, and is now managing a major destination within Rock Creek Park.
The non-profit, volunteer-led Friends of Peirce Mill (FOPM) was formed in 1997 by Richard Abbott, a former docent at the mill, when it became apparent the National Park Service didn’t have the funds to restore the mill. The “Friends” concept was one that had worked at other historic and natural sites around the country, bringing volunteers, private contributions, and corporate/foundation funds together in support of a valued public resource.
The Friends’ first step was to retain Quinn Evans Architects and Robert Silman Associates (structural engineers) to perform a series of architectural and engineering studies of the structure. At the same time, FOPM engaged Derek Ogden, a leading millwright and mill restoration expert, to examine the condition of the wooden milling machinery and to recommend repair or replacement of parts required to make it operational.
The restoration work had three phases:
Phase 1: Repairs to the internal structure of the building, including the columns and beams which support the first floor, and selected floor joists.
Phase 2: Repairs and/or replacement of elements of the wooden milling machinery, including the hurst frame, water wheel, main shaft, and internal gears and shafts.
Phase 3: Installation of a pumped water system using city tap water to move the mill wheel and mill stones. The closed system re-circulates the water rather than dumping it into Rock Creek.
The Friends of Peirce Mill raised $1 million through donations and grants, which leveraged an additional $2 million from the Obama Administration's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to complete the restoration. The work included removal of the asphalt parking lot and comfort station, which makes the site more closely resemble its appearance in the 19th century. A bus parking area was built just uphill from the visitor center where school buses can safely offload students visiting the mill.
In the spring of 2012, classes from DC elementary schools began visits to the mill to receive curriculum-based lessons from park rangers on waterpower, gravity, simple machines, and agriculture. The young learners saw the millstones grind corn into meal, and operated hand-cranked model milling machines to understand the process better.
That same year, the Friends of Peirce Mill planted the first trees in a re-creation of the Peirce Plantation apple orchard. In partnership with the National Park Service, FOPM will use the orchard to teach schoolchildren about apple horticulture and history, and the nutritional benefits of fruit as well as whole grains.
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