The mill was reconstructed in 1939 on the foundations of the original Lee mill which records indicate was constructed in the early 1740s by Thomas Lee. The huge waterwheel of the reconstructed mill turns wooden gears that power its millstones. Corn and wheat are ground, just as they have been for nearly 250 years, and are for sale at the Stratford Hall Gift Shop.
A public wharf and tobacco inspection station was built at Stratford Landing in 1759, which probably increased business at the mill. Philip Ludwell Lee’s estate inventory (1776) listed a slave “Bab” and “hoggs” at the mill. The “middlings” discarded from grinding were a handy source of feed for hogs. In the 1780s, accounts show that the mill underwent repair and possible modifications by a millwright, blacksmith, bricklayers and other workmen. Philip’s estate slave inventory of 1782 listed a slave named James as miller.
Archaeological investigations around the mill reveal continuous changes to the mill. It’s likely that the native fieldstone foundation dates from the latter part of the 18th century and replaces an earlier foundation of brick. Mills–and especially their waterwheels–frequently needed repair and/or rebuilding from constant exposure to the elements.
Not much is known about the mill’s history during the first half of the 19th century. In the late 1860s, a one-story mill with a single set of grindstones was constructed on the site by Muse and Jenkins, who leased the mill from Stratford’s owner Elizabeth Storke.
Dr. Richard Stuart, who owned Stratford in the late 19th century, resurrected the mill as a combination grist and saw mill. He also ground up marl for fertilizer. After the mill dam broke a second time around 1905, Stuart discontinued using the mill. By 1929, when the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation purchased Stratford from the Stuart family, the 19th-century stone structure had collapsed, leaving only parts of its walls intact.
Around 1935, with labor provided by the C.C.C. camp at Westmoreland State Park, the road to the mill site was opened and the millpond site was cleared of trees. The millpond dam, a third of which remained, and spillway were rebuilt. A mill was constructed in 1939 on some of the old stone foundations according to drawings by restoration architect Fiske Kimball. Timbers and columns from Providence Forge Mill near Williamsburg, as well as wooden machinery from the Klinefelter Mill near Lineboro, Maryland, were used in the building.
Since 1939, Stratford’s mill has undergone many repairs and the mill dam has been replaced once. By the late 1990s, it was obvious that the mill would require extensive reconstruction. Noted English Millwright Derek Ogden, with over 50 years of experience in the repair and reconstruction of windmills and watermills, was initially in charge of the reconstruction effort. Millwright Ben Hassett, who apprenticed with Derek Ogden, took over the mill repair until its completion in late 2003. The restored structure is a tangible reminder of the significance milling has had for mankind throughout the ages. Visit the mill at Stratford and witness the wonders of water power.