When Paul Revere rode through Arlington, Massachusetts (then known as Menotomy) warning of the approaching British troops, he passed by a some old water-powered gristmills. Old to Paul Revere, that is. English Puritan colonists had first settled in the area in 1630’s and by 1637 the first mill was built, powered by the briskly running waters of the Mill Brook which drops over 150 feet in two miles. Soon others were built.
The Olde Schwamb Mill is the most well known old mill in the area. The site of the mill stands is considered the oldest continuously operating mill site in America. The mill that stands there now dates from 1864. It was rebuilt after a fire and became, under the ownership of Charles Schwamp, the foremost creator of oval picture frames in the country. Their frames can be found in nearly every major museum in the United States as well as the White House, The Vatican and Buckingham Palace. The mill avoided demolition in 1969 by a community preservation effort and appears today as if untouched for a century. It welcomes visitors as an all volunteer mill-museum.
Closer to the route of Paul Revere’s ride is The Theodore Schwamb Mill (pictured here) named for Charles Schwamb’s brother. This mill is older then the Olde Schwamb Mill and was also powered by the Mill Brook, which was reduced to trickle on my visit. Theodore’s mill manufactured high quality piano cases for the burgeoning Boston piano industry. For a time, it was the largest business in Arlington. The Schwambs, five brothers in all, were immigrants from Germany in the mid-1800’s and they employed many skilled fellow German immigrants in mills that they owned. The invention of the radio hurt the piano business and the mill turned to architectural woodworking, surviving into the 1970’s. Today, the connected mill buildings house small businesses and artist studios.