Mills of Montgomery County

Have you ever wondered why so many Montgomery County roads are named for a mill?  It’s not just a whim on the part of developers.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the mill was an important part of the local economy.  Mills could be found all across the county, in the twelve watersheds (an area that drains into a particular river, stream or body of water) that make up Montgomery County’s land.

Until the invention and perfection of the steam engine in the 19th century, water was one of the most efficient power sources available.  Water-powered mills were used to grind corn and wheat into meal and flour; saw lumber and cut stone for construction; prepare wool for textiles; and operate bellows at forges and factories. By 1800 there were 44 mills operating in Montgomery County, serving 15,000 residents.  

By the end of the 19th century, new power sources reduced the need for water-powered mills, and improvements in transportation meant that flour and other products could be shipped in from out of state instead of made locally (although several modern mills, powered by steam engines and turbines, existed in Montgomery County in the 20th century).  There are a few restored mill buildings in county parks, such as Hyattstown and Black Rock, and some other traces remain in the landscape, but for the most part the county’s milling legacy lives on only in the form of many road and neighborhood names that can be found throughout the county, such as Kemp Mill, Burnt Mill, Muncaster Mill, Veirs Mill, Bowie Mill, Watkins Mill, and Bells Mill.

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