Breneman-Turner Mill

This Historic Mill ...

Rebuilt millThe mill, built ca. 1800 by Mennonite pioneer Abraham Breneman along Linville Creek north of Harrisonburg, Va., survived the burning of the Shenandoah Valley by Union troops during the Civil War. The mill was authenticated March 2006 as “a prime historical property” by being listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a Virginia Historic Landmark. The last miller, Howard Turner, died in 1988 and in 2003 his family donated the mill to Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center.

plaquededOfficials of the Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center and the Breneman-Turner Mill Preservation Committee installed new historic plaques in a ceremony attended by over 30 people on Nov. 12, 2006.
Pictured below mounting the plaques is Ken Weaver, who chairs the committee that is raising funds to preserve the mill (far left), Elma Collins, the miller’s daughter adds a screw, assisted by Dale McAllister and Robert Alley (left to right).


plaque Collines Mcallister Alley

Photo Credit Tom Sawin

Preserving the Mill

For several decades during the J. Howard Turner era the brick and stone south wall of the mill had been cracked and sagging or bulging outward. Braced wall

In 2005, after the mill was donated to the Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center by the Turner family, the wall was braced to keep it from falling. It took three years to raise funds to rebuild the wall.

J. Allen Brubaker photos

 

Volunteers removed old mortar from the dismantled brick. In this picture, James Flory, the lead mason, talks with Turner descendants Elma Collins, Jim Turner and granddaughter Geri Crawford, who spent several hours cleaning and sorting bricks.

Ken Weaver photo


 

James Flory, owner of Renaissance Stone Masonry, lays brick on the south wall.

 

J. Allen Brubaker photo

 

 

 

 

This photo shows the rebuilt wall and the water wheel, with window jambs reinstalled.

J. Allen Brubaker photo.


 


The Mission of the Mill Preservation

rebuilt mill

The Breneman-Turner Mill is the only surviving pre-Civil War mill in Rockingham County with all the grist mill equipment still in place, and by preserving it, we retain a vital connection to the generations of pioneers who settled along Linville Creek about 1800. Grist mills formed one of the strategic centers for community life among those early pioneers, and this particular mill provided the setting for some unique events during the burning of the Valley by General Sheridan's troops in late 1864.

The Preservation Committee has identified two strategic purposes for the mill: To preserve and enhance the Breneman-Turner Mill as a strategic historic legacy, and to achieve, in the words of  the late Valley historian, John L. Heatwole, "the preservation and interpretation of the historic Breneman-Turner Mill, which promises to invigorate and strengthen our sense of community and add to our understanding of the world in which our ancestors lived and prospered."
By preserving and refurbishing the Mill, it will facilitate the telling of stories of pioneer agriculture in the former Native American hunting grounds of the Shenandoah Valley, the importance of mills in the daily lives of the communities, the development of the milling industry, the systematic burning of mills and farms by the Union Army in 1864, and the unique testing of faith convictions and lifestyles of the Brethren and Mennonites during the Civil War. These are part of the roots in the development of Virginia's agri-business today.

Shantz Stone


Ruth S. Jost tells stories during an open house at the mill (left, above)

At right , Paul Roth speaks with visitors on the third floor of the mill.

J. Allen Brubaker photos.




Shantz Stone The preservation process requires refurbishing of the internal equipment of the mill. Professional millwright Derek Ogden (r.) trains Gordon Shantz, a local volunteer, on how to dress the mill stones (as shown here). Ken Weaver photo.







2010 Progress and Achievements

Our long range goal of demonstrating the grinding of grain has been achieved. On Thursday, June 17, 2010, the volunteers met to turn on the power and fine tune the motorized ‘Pony Stone.’
rebuilt mill

Grinding Corn

Gordie Shantz, Larry Martin, and Harry Brunk did the stone dressing, mounted the motor and gear box, provided custom made parts, and assembled the system. Wilmer Hertzler, a descendent of Abraham Breneman, installed the wiring, electrical controls, etc. Broadway Metal contributed the motor and gearbox, which are mounted out of sight below the floor.

Pictured above, on the left is Gordie Shantz, who engineered design and installation, pouring in one of the first scoops of corn. Watching is Wilmer Hertzler, who designed and installed the electrical system and electronic controls. On Friday, June 18, 2010, the Mill Committee met at the Mill for their planning work and tried out the grinding process. Becky Messerley, a local community member of the Mill Committeee, is pictured here with a scoop of corn to be poured into the hopper for grinding.


A new era of showing the Mill to visitors started almost immediately. On Saturday, June 19, 2010, John Martin and Reta Lehman brought their respective family reunion groups, who are Breneman descendents, to the Mill for tours. They also participated in grinding corn on the old burr stones, which we are told date back to their ancestor Abraham, who built the mill in ca. 1800.

Historic Bridge Work
The original Brenneman Church Road came around the east and north sides of the Mill until the early 1970’s when the Virginia Highway Dept. built a new section on the west side of the Mill. The old gravel road passed over the trace/tail race of the Mill. Two stone walls lined the sides of the tail race under the roadway. At each side of the roadway where the water passed under, one could see large logs across the waterway resting on the walls. We often wondered when it was built and what type trees would last that long.
Mill Trace Road Rebuild Early in 2010 a heavy snow fall followed by rain washed out much of the gravel and created a small pond in the road over the tail race. In the next several days two sink holes appeared as dirt and gravel were washed into the tail race. Excavation revealed that the logs were only used at the ends and appeared to be added to widen the road at a later time. The center consisted of large flat lime stones laid on the walls of the tail race. Other stones were laid over the cracks and then covered with clay. We discovered that the largest stone, measuring approximately 6 x 8 feet, had broken just inside the south wall, allowing the roadway above to wash into the tail race.
Photo at right: First log and stones over tail race with debris in the waterway. These pictures show the scene before and after it was partially opened, and the unique structure. We consulted with James Madison University historical and archeological personnel regarding the value of this discovery and how to preserve it. For additional pictures of the volunteers removing the material above and under the flat stones, click on the Photo Album at the end of this section.
Photos below: Sink hole in the roadway. Photo below right: Large stones held up the roadway above tail race.
Mill Trace Road Rebuild 22 Long Stone in Trace 05
stone placement To preserve the historic bridge but provide access to other properties beyond the old bridge special renovations were required. A concrete pier was constructed in the tail race to support the broken stone. A walking bridge was built for visitors to see the unique bridge, and cross over the tail race to see the water wheel. Also a vehicle bridge is being constructed at the far side. See pictures below of the crane moving the 6,300 lb broken stone back into place, a view of the restored stone bridge, the wooden walking bridge, and the concrete abutments for the vehicle bridge. Richard Martin photos.

Mill stone rebuilding Long Stone in Trace 05

Mill Designated a Civil War Trails Site

The Civil War Trails (CWT) organization recognized the mill in late 2010 as a Long Stone in Trace 05Civil War Trails site and has erected both a sign and a storyboard by the parking lot at the mill (see photos). It won this recognition because it survived two unsuccessful attempts to burn it during General Sheridan’s burning of the Valley in 1864. This designation by CWT includes being listed in the new CWT guide, as well as signage along Route 42 two miles north of Harrisonburg at the Brenneman-Church Road exit that leads to the mill. This designation coincides with the 2011-15 national sesquicentennial celebration of the Civil War.

J. Allen Brubaker photos.

bus parking space2 historical marker

Visit the Mill

You are invited to come and see this historic mill, hear its stories and help preserve history. You may walk around the mill at any time. It is located a few miles north of Harrisonburg. About two miles from the city on Rt 42, turn left (west) on Brenneman Church Road, go about a mile and the mill will be on your right. For dates and times when the mill will be open and grinding grain from May 15 to October 30, call 540-438-1275. To schedule an appointment for a private tour of the mill, call Ken Weaver at 540 432 5504.
Click here to Visit the Photo Album of Breneman-Turner Mill Progress
Click here to Read Erica Wagner's "Breneman-Turner Mill - Weaving Families Together"