NEW WINDSOR – In the mid and late 19th century, farmers drove their flatbed wagons over the winding roads of north- central Maryland until they stopped under one end of Sam McKinstry’s gristmill at Sam’s Creek.
There, the miller hauled their grain through a trapdoor up into the main portion of the mill, occasionally treating farmers’ sons to a ride on the pulley system, while the horses rested next to the stone-and-mortar foundation.
As the farmers waited for their corn and wheat to be ground into meal, they could get supplies at the general store, buy new shoes for their horses, catch up on the news of the day and even get ice cream made from the mill pond ice.
The now-empty mill and five surrounding buildings make up one of the few surviving 19th-century industrial hamlets in Maryland, said Carroll County historian Ken Short. Because of that, the site on the border of Carroll and Frederick counties, about 20 miles northwest of Baltimore, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Some of the architectural features of the mill and surrounding houses help tell the history of McKinstry’s Mills and echo Carroll County’s agrarian past.
Around the corner from the mill’s carriage port, a stone proclaims “Built By S. McKinstry, 1844.” It is one of several left behind by Sam McKinstry, the mill’s most industrious owner, to mark a building campaign from 1840 to 1860.
On the same side of the mill as the date stone, faded paint advertises “H. ZUMBRUN MANUFACTURERS OF CRACKED CORN HOMINY & CORN MEAL.”
The Zumbrun family began leasing the mill from the McKinstrys in 1895 and bought it in 1915. The mill closed in 1950 following the death of Thomas Zumbrun.
In 1895, the mill was converted to steam power. The remnants of the turbine are red metal pipes and tanks that jut out of the mill where the water wheel used to be.
The damn that created a mill pond from Sam’s Creek is now overgrown and decaying, and the once orderly stream bed that fed the mill is a tangle of eroded gullies.
Patricia Ruth, who lives in one of the remaining homes at McKinstry’s Mills, said she hopes someone will buy the mill and restore it, although few people even take the time to slow their cars and take a look.
“Generally, it gets passed by,” Ruth said.
Ruth’s house was built by Sam McKinstry in 1849 as a home for the mill operator. It is built mostly of weathered red bricks and has a wooden porch that faces the mill.
Her kitchen is fully refurbished and betrays little of its history except a dumbwaiter that connects the kitchen to a second cooking area in the basement.
Also in the basement is a 9-by-9 room that used to be hidden behind a built-in cabinet and was only accessible by removing shelves.
Ruth speculates the hidden room may have been used as a safe house for the underground railroad prior to and during the Civil War. Sam McKinstry was not a slave owner while many other wealthy Carroll County citizens were.
A simple two-story house sits across Sam’s Creek from the mill in what is now Frederick County. Built in 1760, the house is probably the oldest in the settlement, but extensive renovations have covered many of its historical features, including a date stone.
“We haven’t been able to find out definitely, but it could have been the home of George Pusey,” Ruth said. Pusey was the first owner of the what became the McKinstry’s Mills settlement.
Across Sam’s Creek Road from the mill is the McKinstry Homestead built by Evan McKinstry, Sam’s father. The homestead’s yellow main house sits on a hill looking down on the mill.
Five barn-red outbuildings dot the yard behind the homestead house. Small outbuildings are a common feature of the houses that surround McKinstry’s Mills. They use to be summer kitchens, poultry houses and barns, but now usually serve as workshops and garages.
A bright-red brick house that sits about 200 feet from the mill and homestead properties looks out of place compared to the more weathered structures. It was the general store and also served as the home for the store owners.
Its most interesting feature is a rounded portion that looks as if it might have stood alone as an octagonal tower, but is swallowed up by the right angles that characterize the rest of the house. An old “Gulfcoast” gas pump sits outside the abandoned storefront.
Insurance records from the 1840s show a sawmill was also located near the gristmill, but the only evidence of it today is the hamlet’s plural name.