The Historic Stony Brook Grist Mill in Brewster
Brewster’s Stony Brook Grist Mill has enjoyed a fascinating history—and a thorough restoration
Photography by Scott Laughlin and Stan Godwin
Nestled in a small, scenic valley and between a babbling brook and Stony Brook Road is a two-and-one-half story, wood-frame building. Understated in its New England simplicity, the only outward clues to the structure’s historic significance are a small sign on the shingles and a 12-foot, wooden water wheel dipping its paddles into the brook.
Known as the Stony Brook Grist Mill, the building was constructed in 1873, but the site’s historical ties for Brewster and the Lower Cape date back even further. The mill is the last building that remains of “Factory Village,” which from the late 1600s to the early 1800s was one of the largest centers of industry on Cape Cod.
Visiting the property today—it’s a quick detour off Route 6A in Brewster—one can learn about the mill’s fascinating history from artifacts in the museum, chat with volunteer docents who staff the mill in summer, and enjoy a little taste of Cape Cod life as it existed a few centuries ago.
Harnessing the power of water was not a new concept for the country’s earliest European settlers as mills were common in Europe during the 1600s. In fact, a functioning mill proved a necessity of survival and was often the means to a prosperous community in those early Colonial years.
According to Andrew Shrake, a Brewster resident and millwright by trade, most early New England villages had a gristmill where corn, rye, and barley were ground to provide staple ingredients for cooking. In the absence of a natural, running water source, windmills were also common, but Shrake says gristmills were by far the most efficient.
“Every gristmill is special because it’s a relic of how people used to live,” Shrake says. “Gristmills were a focal point for communities.” Dried corn could keep for months, but once ground, it would only remain unspoiled—in the days before refrigeration—for a few weeks. This meant individuals from most local households would make routine trips to the gristmill.
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