Strange Case of Ye Olde Tide Mill

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"Our Town" By James W. Tucker

Hampton Union

Thursday, December 31, 1959

Recently a bridge has been built over the creek or river at the site of the old Tide-Mill, which, for two centuries lacking a few years, was a notable landmark in our town and one of many small centers of commerce. Tide-water was used for power in this unusual grist mill completed, probably, in 1683 and finally abandoned in 1879. The site of the ancient mill, and the location of the new bridge that makes possible a direct road across the marsh from village to beach, is at the easterly end of Tide Mill Road.

Marsh Crossing

It is an out-of-the-way spot and probably only a few hundred of the more than 5,000 residents of our town have ever visited it, but it will gradually become better known as the direct highway from village to beach is completed and put into general use. This new road, built by means of the system of landfill disposal of public waste, will shorten the distance between the two main sections of Hampton by several miles. Citizens have looked forward to this marsh crossing for half a century.

New Year's Resolution

The new bridge of steel and cement will probably be known as Tide Mill Bridge long after the fact is forgotten that a tide-mill for grinding the corn of the early settlers once stood at the bridge site. One of the best New Year's resolutions that our community can make collectively is that all the historic sites in Hampton be marked in enduring bronze. Such markers will enable us better to appreciate the worth of our heritage and will be of great interest to our summer recreational visitors many of whom come to this section of our country because of its great historical significance. We are an integral part of the nation's birthplace. If the new bridge is adequately marked, the fact will never be forgotten that nearly three centuries ago the town fathers gave permission to build an unusual type of grist mill on the river at the site of the present bridge crossing.

Interesting Discovery

It will not be important to remember that the ancient mill, once rebuilt following a fire, and believed completely demolished, was found in 1959 on Drinkwater Road in Hampton Falls where it now serves as a barn. It has been moved twice, once from its original site to Grapevine Run, then a tidal creek down back of the old John T. Batchelder place - now in the Swain-Marston family - on Brown Road formerly Stage Coach Road, in Hampton Falls. It was installed as a grist mill but it was never operated successfully. From there it was moved a little over a mile to its present location. Here is the tale of the old Tide Mill.

Grinding Town's Corn

At the town meeting on October 13, 1681 only 43 years after Hampton was settled, it was voted to allow James Johnson and Jacob Brown to make use of the tidal river near the easterly end of the Highway, which is known today as Tide Mill Road for building a grist mill ; "provided they build it and keep it in good order for the grinding of the town's corn; and that they make convenient gates to let out the water, that the flow not any man's hay in hay-time and do grind the town's corn brought to them for a sixteenth part thereof; and have the mill ready to grind within two years from the date hereof." It was clearly specified that the privilege was for a tide mill.

Legislature Decides

Eighty-eight years after the town of Hampton granted the tide-mill privilege to Messrs Johnson and Brown the structure burned. This was in 1769 and the mill was then owned by Samuel Brown, Jr., and Gideon Shaw. Brown was a grandson of Jacob Brown, one of the builders of the original mill. He wanted to rebuild following the fire. Gideon Shaw, his partner, would neither agree to rebuild, nor sell out to Brown, nor buy Brown's share. Because of the impasse, Brown took his case to the N.H. General Court although no records exist concerning the decision. Brown must have been successful in obtaining relief, for he rebuilt the mill around 1771, salvaging all of the original structure, which was "usable". But there is a sample evidence that the mill building came into the possession, probably by purchase or gift, of John Thayer Batchelder, a prominent wealthy resident of the area and was moved to Grapevine Run a small tidewater river in the rear of the home in Hampton Falls, Grapevine Run is now lost in the little lake created in the area when the New Hampshire Toll Road was built.

Perkins Ownership

The tide-mill remained in the Brown family until about 1818, when it was purchased by Capt. David Brown and David Nudd of Little River. In 1824, or thereabouts, the mill was sold to Moses and Benjamin Perkins. It changed hands again in 1834 when they sold to their brother Deacon James Perkins who immediately installed a new undershot wheel, twenty feet in diameter. In 1855, he fitted new gearing and otherwise repaired the old mill. Later, the Deacon's son, Henry J. Perkins became the owner and proprietor, operating it during the Civil War period.

For Benefit of Marshes

In 1879 - practically two centuries after the town originally gave permission to build the tide-mill, citizens came to believe that impounding water to furnish power for operating the ancient grist mill was ruining the (salt-hay producing?) value of the marshland, so "for the benefit of the marshes" the town bought the mill from Henry J. Perkins for $1,500 which, in those days was a considerable sum of money.

Grapevine Run

According to Dow's History of Hampton, the mill, at that time, "was demolished". We believe that the dam, the wheel, the gates, the sluiceway and certain of the gearing - those parts of the mill which might affect the value of the marshes - were demolished. But there is ample evidence that the mill building came into the possession, probably by purchase or gift, of John Thayer Batchelder, a prominent, wealthy resident of the area, and was moved to Grapevine Run - a small tidewater river in the rear of his home in Hampton Falls. Grapevine Run is now lost in the little lake created in the area when the New Hampshire Toll Road was built.

Frugal Folks

For that part of the tide-mill tale concerning how the ancient structure came into possession of John Thayer Batchelder, we have to depend on stories handed down by word of mouth in the Batchelder, Brown and Cannon families. We know that folks were frugal backs in those days and it is difficult to believe that anything usable - especially a grist mill - would be demolished. And we have no direct knowledge as to how it was transported to its new site.

Moving Problem

It may have been moved intact over frozen marshes during the winter by mixed teams of oxen and horses. Or there is a possibility that the sturdy building may have been dismantled in whole or in part and carted by team to the new location. The fact that some of the great hand-hewn beams bear painted numbers which correspond to numbers adjacent to mortises into which they are fitted would tend to bear out the latter theory. On the other hand they may have been numbered when the mill was originally constructed.

Grinding Problem

The problems that were involved in securing possession of the ancient tide-mill which had been condemned by the Hampton town fathers, and moving it to Grape Vine Run must have been many and difficult. But apparently they were simple compared with the problems which John T. Brown encountered in getting the mill to operate after he had installed it on tidal waters down back of his farm in Hampton Falls. According to the word-of-mouth stories handed down from generation to generation - some of which are humorous -- it never did grind corn successfully, so Mr, Brown sold the mill to his neighbor, Mr. Cannon who lived down the road about a mile and who needed a barn.

Home at Last

Fred Perkins, Nat Batchelder and Harry Brown moved the old mill and it was no small task, for the structure makes up in weight for what it lacks in size. It is now owned by Alfred Baillargeon, who lives on the East Side of Drinkwater Road, a little way south of the Hampton Falls Town Hall, and he uses it as a barn. On the mill-barn is painted the farm name "Few Acres". The acres may be few but they are exceptionally well kept and they make a good setting for Hampton's ancient Tide Mill.