Green Guide

Group working to keep water-powered sawmill in operation

Posted 12:24 p.m. Saturday
Updated 12:26 p.m. Saturday

— A nonprofit group in Vermont is working to repair an early 19th century, water-powered sawmill to serve as a living history site where the public can watch trees cut into lumber in much the same way it was done 200 years ago.

The Robinson Sawmill group in Calais has received an $8,500 grant from the Vermont Arts Council to restore the mill's penstock, a metal pipe that carries water to the sawmill machinery.

Replacing the penstock is part of a $200,000 project involving the 1803 mill that includes repairs to the dam, the mill building and dredging the mill pond.

"When our restoration is complete, we believe we will be the oldest water-powered sawmill in the country and a focal point for education about historic preservation, bygone technology, sustainability and environmental stewardship," said Larry Gilbert, president of the group's board of trustees.

"Our education curriculum planning is underway, and we hope to attract people ages 1 to 100 to enjoy the mill and to learn," he said.

The mill was built by Joel Robinson, a Massachusetts man who moved to the town just outside Montpelier. It stayed in operation until the 1940s, although at some point the water power was replaced with a gasoline engine.

Efforts to restore the building began in the 1960s, but no one attempted to resurrect the machinery itself until the 1990s. The mill first cut wood again in 2003.

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