Thurston mill copy 2

Thurston Mill Sack

Among the “Attic Treasures” that will be in this year’s Portsmouth Historical Society’s annual display is a paper sack.  Much of what we know about the item is printed right on the bag.  The bag held wheat ground at Thurston Mill at Melville, Rhode Island.  It also tells us that the mill was once owned by D. Almy.  Starting with this information, we began our research into our questions:   Where was Thurston Mill?  When did it operate?   What did it look like? What happened to it?

Where was the mill?  If you are familiar with Portsmouth you might think that it was located on the westside of Portsmouth near the old Melville Navy area.  The Melville post office, however was located on East Main Road by Clearview Avenue.  1907 Map CUCMaps from 1907 give us a clearer answer. It was just down East Main Road from the Christian Union Church which is Portsmouth Historical Society headquarters today.  The Melville Post Office is right next to it.

When did the mill operate?  The sack itself lists D. Almy as a previous owner.  We know from newspaper articles that Almy Mill was operating in 1886.  It seems that Richard Sisson’s horse, “Bootsey Barker” ran into an arm of the mill while it was grinding.  (The horse was unharmed.).   Newspaper articles also tell us that the mill passed from Almy to his niece who was Edward Thurston’s wife.  Mills were a community gathering spot in Portsmouth and farmers from all around would bring their grain to the mill to be ground into flour.  This bag is for wheat flour, but corn meal was commonly ground as well.  The miller was entitled to a portion of the flour he ground.  Thurston (and Almy) would have sold his portion of the flour to make an income.

What did the mill look like?  Fortunately there isThurston Mill copy a postcard of the Thurston Mill.

What happened to the mill?  In April of 1959 Thurston’s Mill was destroyed in a fire.  A newspaper article tells us that it had stopped operating forty years before, so it had been used for storage before the fire.  Among the photographs in the PHS collection is an image of the mill on fire.  Thirston Mill Fire ~1961