water-powered up-down sawmill

sunrise at home, 5:46 am, May Day
40°F, clear with periodic clouds, light wind from the north at 7 mph
4.30.22 ~ Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill, Ledyard, Connecticut

For May Day weekend we decided to visit the historic water-powered Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill, which is only open on Saturdays in the spring and fall. Earth’s energy has shifted again as this hemisphere begins traveling closer to the sun in the brighter half of the year. All the mill’s windows and doors were wide open so it felt pretty safe (covid-wise) to go inside and see what the process of sawing wood was like in the late 1800s.

millstone, the sawmill operated briefly as a gristmill from 1858-1860
headgate controlling pond water flow through the dam into the mill water tank
vintage salesman’s model of the John Tyler Water Turbine

The finely cast and machined 19th century model is about four inches wide and has an operating gate and rotating runner.
~ Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill website

“Turning the handwheel opens and closes the turbine gate,
controlling water flow from the holding tank into the turbine.”
“The vertical turbine shaft is geared to a horizontal shaft
that ends with a heavy iron flywheel and crank under the saw.”
“A wooden pitman arm connects to the crank to the wooden saw sash,
converting the rotary motion of the flywheel into
an up and down (reciprocating) motion.”

After watching the saw operating for a minute we went outside, down some huge stone steps and into the lower level to see the turbine in action.

the turbine pit in the mill lower level

And then we went back upstairs to see more of the sawing.

“The saw cuts on the downstroke and
the log moves toward the saw on the upstroke.”

It was quite loud and the whole building vibrated while the saw was operating.

diagram of both levels

The sawmill has a great website for any who would like more details: Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill.

My father, when he was still alive, had visited this place after it was restored and opened to the public in 1975. He often said he wanted to take me to see it some day. Sadly, that never happened, but he was very much on my mind as we looked around and listened to the operators tell us about its history and how it worked.

After our trip back through time we decided to take a walk around Sawmill Pond and see what visual treats the brightness of spring had to offer.

red maple seeds
tiny bluets, a childhood favorite
an eastern painted turtle for Tim

And then, for me, a new life bird! I heard it singing and looked up into the nearest tree and there it was! What a nice surprise, the last sort of thing I was expecting to find on this day. 🙂

chipping sparrow, #69

Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina: Widespread common migratory breeder mid-April to November; rare and local in winter; in areas with short grass and trees, residential neighborhoods, parks, open upland forest.
~ Frank Gallo
(Birding in Connecticut)

Thank you, little chipping sparrow, for singing so sweetly that I couldn’t miss seeing you!

29 thoughts on “water-powered up-down sawmill”

    1. My dad was definitely there with me, probably scolding me for taking so long to get there! 🙂 I love how so much power was generated with water and not with fossil fuels.

    1. Thank you, Peggy! It was good to reflect on how it is possible for technology to co-exist peacefully with nature.

  1. Chipping Sparrows are here too, Barbara. Handsome crown he wears. I listened on all about birds. Happy for you that you saw a new life bird!!

    My favorite photo on this post is the turtle. The reflection of its colorful stripes are pretty.

    1. Thank you, TD! It was as if the turtle was doing a yoga pose, greeting the sun. I was so happy I spotted him. 🙂 It’s hard to get good pictures of turtles. Then hearing and finding the chipping sparrow was icing on the cake!

      1. New bird for me,Barbara! I got so excited like you. I just wanted to tell you about it. I didn’t leave; I just stood there inside looking out my glass back door onto the patio at the bird that flew onto the bench. It’s markings were unusual to me. So I watched. The bird hopped around the seat of the bench, then to the ground. It looked underneath the seat of the bench at an odd angle. Then very quickly, the bird snatched something from underneath the seat. My eyes opened wide. The bird rearranged itself to get a better grip of whatever it snagged.

        Then I saw it. The lizard which I had just seen about half hour ago on the side of my house. A man was visiting to repair my gate and when I saw the lizard I laughed telling the repair man about the lizard next to us.

        Apparently this bird saw it too!

        It took awhile to research, but I was able to find the new bird. You can see and listen to it too. Birdnote dot org backslash listen backslash shows backslash loggerhead-shrike

        Have you ever seen one? Yes, exactly like icing on the cake! I’m giggling now with you at yoga turtle!!

        1. No, I’ve never seen a loggerhead-shrike. Congratulations on your new bird, TD! What an interesting assortment of songs and calls it has. From the range map I see that we don’t have them here. Lucky you, such a pretty bird!

  2. I’d never heard of a chipping sparrow before — he’s really cute. You got a great shot of the turtle, too. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see the mill with your dad, but how cool that your thoughts turned to him when you were there — and he must’ve been smiling from Heaven knowing that!

    1. Thank you, Debbie! I did feel my dad’s presence with me very strongly. I felt some sadness that we missed seeing this place together but then I remembered all of the many places and things we did get to see and do and realized there is no way any of us can squeeze everything into our lives! (Papa loved birds so much that I think he might have had something to do with the appearance of the chipping sparrow. 🙂 )

  3. It’s cool to see how things were done ‘back in the day.’ I remember seeing the sawmill at Old Sturbridge Village operating and it was quite fascinating.
    I love chipping sparrows! We usually get a mated pair nesting in the yard every year. Heard my first male singing over the weekend. Birdsong is one of the best parts of spring!

    1. I remember going to Old Sturbridge Village on a school field trip way back when I was in 3rd grade. (1965ish?) I still love living history museums and spend a lot of time at Mystic Seaport these days, which is much closer to home. How lucky you are to have chipping sparrows in your yard! You must have some good real estate there for their nests. Love all the birds singing in the spring, too!

  4. I suspect your dad was there with you on your visit. 🙂 I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chipping sparrow. What a lovely sighting.

    1. Thanks, Robin. Papa was definitely there with me and probably had something to do with the chipping sparrow sighting. 🙂

  5. The saw mill is an interesting piece of history; so glad you saw it and thought of your father while doing so.
    The Chipping Sparrow is adorable! Congrats on adding that one to your life bird list.

    1. Thank you, Suz! The chipping sparrow was the sweetest little bird and I was grateful he stayed put long enough to let my zoom lens find its focus. It was amazing to see and hear the sawmill fully operating, transporting me back through time.

  6. I, too, think your dad was with you in spirit as you toured the sawmill. Did you and he share many similar interests? As for the Chipping Sparrow, how sweet you could be blessed with his song and sighting.

    1. That’s an interesting question, Kathy. I think my father had a very wide range of interests and was very curious about the world. He made any subject interesting to me! He was a research scientist (virology), a history buff, an avid gardener and an amateur etymologist. We used to have endless discussions, dictionaries in hand, about word origins and how to use them correctly! Thanks for sparking me to remember all these facets of his personality. 🙂

  7. That was an interesting tour Barbara. We have an old saw mill at Heritage Park, but it is no longer in service, so no tour to offer. How lucky for you it wasn’t crowded, no doors to open or deal with, as COVID cases ramp up again. I looked at their site. I never thought about harvesting ice back in the day but I do remember my grandmother’s ice box and she had old pics with it. Then you topped it off with a nature walk. Beautiful Chipping Sparrow (which I’ve never seen here) and Tim’s cute turtle (which I have seen and used to have a Painted Turtle as a pet).

    1. Yes, I was grateful for the good ventilation the open windows and doors offered.

      The ice harvesting tools made me think of my great-grandfather who, my grandfather told me, worked for a Mr. Dudley peddling ice. The ice was harvested from Mill Pond and the wagon served the city of Brockton, Massachusetts. Sometimes the ice was harvested with horses. The horses pulled chisels which cut the ice, which then floated down the pond where machines pulled it up to the ice house. Sometimes a team of horses would slip into the water. Ladies would have to order the ice desired, and a meat cart came once every two weeks. My grandfather and his brothers would wait for the cart and a slice of bologna was often tossed out to them. (I wrote this story down when Grandfather told it to me. 🙂 )

      With climate change I have the feeling that most ponds don’t ice over in these mild winters any more.

      My grandparents called their refrigerator an ice box, too. What was in the old pictures your grandmother had?

      1. I see kids running on the Creek ice at the Park and think how dangerous it is and there are often ice shantys that crash through the ice or a car goes out on the ice and has to be towed out.

        I was surprised to see that the ice was harvested from a pond as I assumed, even in those days, thy had an “ice house” of some sort where they created the blocks of ice. I don’t know the brand my grandmother had, but she lived in Toronto, so it was likely a Canadian brand. I know my grandmother would tell me he had a big strap around the ice which he brought through the living room to the kitchen on a big wagon, then hefted it into the icebox. I don’t recall seeing any old pictures in the kitchen with the icebox, but my grandmother mentioned “The Ice Man” from time to time. I can remember her mentioning it when she got a new refrigerator.

        They had people delivering lots of goods in the neighborhood on certain days – I remember her saying that. Most of the men in the neighborhood worked at manufacturing plants in downtown Toronto where they made various food or other items. My grandfather worked in a factory that made those high black rubber boots with the red soles and my grandmother worked at Planter’s Peanuts and Rowntree’s Chocolates. Whenever there were “seconds” they were either given to employees, or they could buy them for next to nothing. So neighbors often traded their “seconds” for neighbors’ “seconds” and it was pretty lucrative to do so.

        1. We used to drive by an ice house in Mystic, and now there is an Ice House Lane nearby. They must have brought ice there from the ponds. The operator at the sawmill said they used sawdust from the mill to insulate the ice. Listening to our grandparents’ accounts of their daily lives helps us to appreciate history. I think that’s why I love living history museums so much. That’s wonderful that you know the names of the factories where your grandparents worked. And I love the way neighbors helped each other by sharing their “seconds.” We can still get milk delivered to our homes from the local dairy around here. My father had a milk box on his porch until the day he died. (I’m lactose intolerant so we don’t use the service, but I love the idea.)

          1. I took my mother to Greenfield Village to their museum of farm implements and vintage cars, clothing and it is full of history of the way of life in Henry Ford’s day. My grandmother had such a good time walking around pointing to hats or button-shoes or a farm implements (they had huge machines in the museum) she remembered from years past. We have Calder’s Dairy here in my city. They have the dairy farm out in a rural area and you can tour it, but they make the ice cream here. Their skim milk tastes like whole milk and their strawberry milk is like a milkshake. I have thought about delivery but we have porch pirates and I assume they knock. Most of their dairy products are whole milk and I try to use Green yogurt and skim milk products. They’ve been doing home deliveries as long as I’ve lived here (56 years).

          2. Our local Buttonwood Farm, where we’ve been going to enjoy and photograph those sunflowers during the pandemic, is also a dairy farm, famous for their farm fresh ice cream, made from the milk of their grass-fed cows. Before the pandemic we used to go stand in line for the ice cream, and take the horse drawn hayride through the cow pasture and the sunflower field. And buy a bunch of sunflowers to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I’d love to do that again some day but don’t want to sit close to people in the hay cart, even though it is outdoors. That’s a wonderful experience you shared with your mother and grandmother at Greenfield Village. I’m sure they loved the trip down memory lane!

    1. Thank you, Donna!! When least expected, a new lifer arrives on the scene. 🙂 It was a lovely spring day with blue skies, birds chirping and new life blossoming and the sounds of an old sawmill across the pond…

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